On paper, the 46th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) has solved the problems that have beleaguered the annual Christmastime event.
Let’s acknowledge the most obvious: because of the pandemic, the 2020 MMFF is foregoing the traditional theatrical releases.
Instead, the movies this year can be seen via the new streaming platform Upstream from Friday, Dec. 25, 2020 to Jan. 7, 2021. Tickets are sold for P250 per movie.
Upstream has no location restrictions, so viewers outside the Philippines can watch the MMFF entries.
A welcome change?
The shift to digital streaming addresses one of the key problems of the film fest: distribution.
Every year, filmmakers decry the alleged unequal allocation of cinemas per movie, with potential blockbusters reportedly getting more theaters compared to less commercially viable entries.
This isn’t a problem online, obviously, where viewers can watch any movie from the MMFF lineup any time. All movies have equal chances to be seen. At least, in theory.
But the digital shift is also an interesting baptism by fire for the film fest, a traditionally potential cash cow for local film producers hoping to attract viewers who are looking to flock the cinemas to watch a movie during the holidays anyway.
There are many reasons why the usual MMFF audience should support its 2020 run.
For one, it’s cheaper. A whole household can watch a whole movie for 250 pesos, the average price of a movie ticket per person in a physical theater in Metro Manila.
And both consumers and producers have embraced online streaming this year. Media companies produced content for YouTube and other online platforms, while viewers consumed content available online in record numbers.
This could be an indication that the local audience is ready for an online video on demand MMFF.
What are the entries?
Instead of the usual eight, this year’s MMFF has 10 entries.
Notable this year is the absence of Vice Ganda, Vic Sotto, and Coco Martin, actors whose movies are staple in the annual film fest.
The lineup is an interesting mix: From the usual suspects to movies that would only work in an MMFF edition that’s fully online:
Director: Adolfo Alix Jr.
Cast: Jinggoy Estrada, Sylvia Sanchez, Ariella Arida Edgar Allan Guzman, Martin Del Rosario, Vin Abrenica
What is it about: A family drama about Benny (Estrada), an overseas Filipino worker married to Salve (Sanchez) who engages in an illicit affair with Mercy (Arida) while in Qatar. When he suffers from a serious disease, Salve takes care of Benny and their family.
What you should know: The movie was originally part of the first Summer MMFF, which was ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic.
Why should see it: “It’s a story of reconciliation. I think the family drama is a very powerful material to show the experiences of the (Filipino family). Maganda pa ring platform ang family drama kasi (it’s for) all ages,” Alix said.
Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Charlie Dizon
What is it about: Avelino plays himself in this dark coming of age film that sees a young Jane (Dizon) spending the night with him, her idol. But the movie’s tagline—“Never meet your hero”—tells us this isn’t a fun wish-fulfillment story.
What you should know: The film premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival this year.
Why you should watch it: Fan Girl tackles the contemporary Pinoy fan culture. “It seems very interesting,” said Jadaone. “When we watch our idols onscreen, wala tayong masyadong linya kung ano ang reality at fantasy. For us, kung ano yung nakikita natin sa idols natin, sa characters nila onscreen, parang feeling natin outside the movie ganun din sila.
Isa Pang Bahaghari
Director: Joel Lamangan
Cast: Philip Salvador, Nora Aunor, Michael de Mesa
What is it about: Dom (Salvador) returns to his family after being missing for several years. His family—including his paralyzed wife (Aunor) and his children—are expectedly not welcoming his return. But Dom hopes to win back his family, with the help of his gay friend Rhey (De Mesa).
What you should know: The movie feels like a spiritual sequel to Lamangan’s 2018 MMFF entry Rainbow’s Sunset, which won that year’s Best Picture plum.
Why you should watch it: A movie about sexagenarians may not seem that exciting, but Lamangan said that, at its core, Isa Pang Bahaghari is all about love, forgiveness, and redemption—emotions and issues everyone, regardless of age, can relate to.
Director: Christian Acuña
Cast: Miggs Cuarderno, Elijah Alejo, Princess Aguilar, Josh Eugenio
What is it about: Four kids are transported to the magical world of ‘Magikland,” a mobile game they all play, where they are given the mission to collect relics in order to stop the evil forces trying to conquer the mystical in-game land.
What you should know: Iconic director Peque Gallaga, who died earlier this May, co-produced the movie with longtime collaborator Lore Reyes. If tabloid reports are to be believed, the movie cost around P100 million to make.
Why you should watch it: It’s not everyday we get a locally produced, high-budget, CGI-heavy high fantasy movie, so that alone is worthy of interest. According to reports, the movie took almost three years to complete.
Mang Kepweng: Ang Lihim ng Bandanang Itim
Director: Topel Lee
Cast: Vhong Navarro, Barbie Imperial, Joross Gamboa, Ryan Bang
What is it about: Also part of the cancelled 1st Summer MMFF, Mang Kepweng: Ang Lihim ng Bandanang Itim is a sequel to the 2017 movie Mang Kepweng Returns, about the titular hero (Navarro) whose newfound popularity following the first movie makes him conceited. This arrogance leads to the appearance of a new villain, Maximum Tolonges (Gamboa), who Mang Kepweng has to defeat with his friends.
What you should know: Mang Kepweng is a classic local pop culture property played by the late comedian Chiquito in the 70s.
Why you should watch it: Fantasy-comedies are a staple in the annual film fest, as they are marketed as family-friendly. Navarro’s Mang Kepweng fills that genre void that Sotto and Martin usually occupies in the MMFF.
Director: Al Tantay
Starring: Janno Gibbs, Dennis Padilla, Andrew E, Jerald Napoles
What is it about: The movie is about four married men who attempt to win their wives back after being unfaithful.
What you should know: The movie feels like “throwback” to the raunchy comedies of the early 90s. Viva Films, the movie’s producer, released a title of a similar vein last year with Sanggano, Sanggago’t, Sanggwapo, with the same lead cast minus Napoles. The 2019 comedy is supposedly a hit, hence the existence of Pakboys Takusa.
Why you should watch it: If you miss '90s style Pinoy comedy, this should be a treat for you.
Suarez: The Healing Priest
Director: Joven Tan
Cast: John Arcilla, Alice Dixson
What is it about: The movie is a biopic about Fernando Suarez (Arcilla), a Catholic priest who performed faith healing.
What you should know: Suarez, who died in February, was a popular but controversial figure. He attracted crowds—and high profile personalities—in his healing masses. He faced sexual abuse cases; the Vatican absolved him from these charges in January, weeks before he passed away.
Why you should watch it: Biopics typically don’t do well in the MMFF, but the movie boasts of Arcilla, whose performance as Antonio Luna in the 2015 historical movie Heneral Luna is still etched in the minds of local moviegoers to this day.
Director: MacArthur Alejandre
Cast: Alfred Vargas, Iza Calzado, Shaina Magdayao
What is it about: The movie is about Allan (Vargas) and Agnes (Calzado), an ex-couple who reconcile with each other in New York, and Tanya (Magdayao) who Allan meets in Hong Kong.
What you should know: Tagpuan is written by Ricky Lee. Vargas says Tagpuan is a love story between mature, middle-aged people—a departure from the usual Pinoy romances about young people and their young loves.
Why you should watch it: “When I finally read the script, I found it relatable and unique. Definitely not a fantasy on love. Tagpuan’s world is grounded. And it doesn't just talk about love. It talks about the influence of sexuality, the testosterone versus the progesterone in a relationship. It talks about forces affecting a relationship. Forces that we never thought would affect communication and perception of the ones we love and others,” Vargas said of Tagpuan.
The Boy Foretold by the Stars
Director: Dolly Datu
Cast: Adrian Lindayag, Keann Johnson
What is it about: It’s a romantic comedy about two young men, senior high school students in a Catholic school, who meet at their school’s religious retreat.
What you should know: The Boy Foretold by the Stars is labelled as a Boys Love movie.
Why you should watch it: It only makes sense that the only romcom in this year’s MMFF lineup is a BL, a genre that rose to prominence in the country earlier this year because of the lockdown. It’s interesting to see what a Pinoy BL movie presumably meant for a wide audience would look like.
Director: Easy Ferrer
Cast: Ritz Azul. Miles Ocampo, Joseph Marco
What is it about: Irish (Azul) is an architect suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after the death of her younger sister. Hoping to recover from her trauma, she flies to Japan with ex-boyfriend Job (Marco) for a project—the restoration of an old house in Saga, Japan. Horror ensues.
What you should know: The Missing is a Pinoy horror movie—produced by Regal Films, whose horror movies are a staple in past MMFF editions—with a touch of Japanese horror influences.
Why should you watch it: If you like Pinoy horror movies during your Christmas celebration—which a lot of people apparently do, given the popularity of horror movies in the MMFF—then this is the film for you.
How to buy tickets?
Movies will be available for streaming at the Upstream website starting Friday, December 25. You will need a GMovies account in order to buy tickets.
Payment options include credit/debit card, GCash, Globe credits, and over ECPAY over the counter payments.
Awards night and Parade of Stars
The MMFF will still hold its traditional Gabi ng Parangal this year, albeit virtual, on Sunday, December 27.
According to PEP.ph, the jury members for this year’s awards night include actor Richard Gomez, directors Paolo Villaluna and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, singer Jay Durias, news anchor Rico Hizon, and critic Gary Devilles, among others.
The MMFF also held its Parade of Stars online, streamed via Facebook on Wednesday, Dec. 23.
It’s unclear if the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, the agency in charge of the MMFF, will still release the list of top grossing movies in the festival as they did in previous years.