WITH its rich pool of talents driven by passion and ingenuity, Cebu has been bringing its brand of filmmaking to as many audiences as possible, poised to reclaim what was tagged as Cebuano cinema’s glory days.
But for actress Chai Fonacier and film director Ara Chawdhury, two of the industry’s young front-runners, there are ifs and buts in fighting for a sustainable environment for all the creatives.
Take for instance the Binisaya Film Festival, which is now on its sixth year. The film fest has been true to its aim to help reach out to more audiences by screening films made by Cebuanos, while at the same time overcoming the challenges of making both ends meet while learning how to mount a festival.
Established in 2009 by filmmaker Keith Deligero and friends, who wanted to share the beauty of Cebuano cinema, the film fest started with them bringing LCD projectors in coffee shops and bridge communities. Eventually, the film fest moved to bigger venues, most recent of which was the SM Seaside City Cebu Cinema, a first commercial theater to showcase Cebuano films.
This time, a filmmaker’s forum was held to flesh out concerns with no less than Liza Diño-Seguerra, chairperson of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), and film producer Bianca Balbuena in attendance.
Cebu Daily News had the chance to sit down with Fonacier and Chawdhury recently to tackle some of the existing problems of Cebu’s filmmaking scene discussed during the forum which need to be addressed.
THE LACK OF CINEMATHEQUE
Chawdhury, who has directed award-winning films like “Miss Bulalacao,” the lack of motion-picture hub for Bisaya classic and contemporary films in Cebu is one of the problems identified.
“One of the issues earlier identified before coming here was the lack of cinematheque. Bodies have been lobbying it for years,” she said.
In the forum, Liza shared that the mandate of the present administration is to develop the regions. And it was clear that the film industry’s non-contribution to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an effect of the disconnect between the filmmakers and the audience.
It also burdens the Cebuano filmmakers that the Cebu City government is asking higher percentage of screenings through amusement tax that costs around 30 percent.
This is despite a bill authored by Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. to lower the entertainment tax from 30 percent to 10 percent
after the Cebu City government won the 1993 case against the Film Development Council of the Philippines.
“Citing Section 140 of the Revised Penal Code of 1991, the City Government had pointed out that local government units (LGUs) have the power to tax and to create their own sources of revenue, including amusement taxes, within their territories.”
“For example, you earned P100 from the ticketing, P30 will go to the city government, while the P70 will be divided among the theater, distributor and the filmmaker. So, unsa nalay makuha sa filmmaker?” Chawdhury said.
“Sa kadako sa taxes, it discourages local productions from creating,” she added.
Fonacier seconded Chawdhury’s stand, saying that it is not at all conducive for the environment that they are trying to build.
“Mo-encourage na hinoon ang ingon sa katiguwangan nga walay pera sa art, unsaon man? Walang pera sa art because we are the ones who make it so. So how do we solve it? We have to put value in it,” said Fonacier.
BUREAUCRATIC RED TAPE
To gradually introduce Cebuano filmmakers to the world, foreign co-productions have been made in the island together with film houses like Above The Lines Productions.
However, asking permits can be a tough job even before the film starts rolling.
“When you work in co-productions, we have to work on a lot of permits and kahibaw baya ta anang bureaucratic red tape which greatly affects the production timeline, which can only mean one thing, mas dako ang gasto,” said Fonacier.
The problem includes the Customs bond where the local film partner has to pay a cash bond that can only be taken after the production has already concluded.
“When foreign co-productions come here, it would be cheaper to bring their own equipment so that’s a lot of equipment and gear to process, ingon pa naa kunuy kailangan nga cash bond nga mudagan og P6 million. Kung naay mahitabo goodbye ang cash bond didto,” Fonacier said.
That means, if all things went smooth, they are free to get the cash bond in whole and yet if something untoward happens, they will have to start bidding goodbye to the cash bond that even ranges to millions.
“It’s really discouraging for international productions to come here,” said Chawdhury.
CEBUANO TALENTS LEAVING FOR MANILA
During the conversation, Fonacier cited the scarcity of talents showing up for casting calls for film projects.
“Unlike anywhere nga naa nay nagdagan nga industry in film and TV. There are agencies, schools that manage talent mao nga taas kaayo ang linya. Pero diri kong patawag ka’g auditions, ikaw pay muana sa imong kaila nga free ka ugma? Pwede ka mu-audition sa among casting unya?” she said.
Fonacier, who won Best Supporting Actress at CinemaOne Originals for “Miss Bulalacao,” shared how she had been tempted at times to leave Cebu for better opportunities in Manila. However, she chose to stay.
“Because, indeed there are no opportunities here so they leave. The reality is, Cebu is not even keeping its talents in. How can we say we can present something to the foreign co-productions who come here when, if there’s an opportunity, we have to fly in some people from Manila since our artists always leave for Manila,” said Chawdhury.
Both Fonacier and Chawdhury agreed that if Cebu’s filmmaking scene becomes sustainable, this may help bring back its homegrown talents. Among notable ones that have transferred to Manila and elsewhere to pursue their careers are actress Dionne Monsanto, filmmaker Kenneth Dagatan and Warren Santiago, sound designer of “Ang Gugma ni Olivia.”
For both Ara and Chai, there are a lot of factors that need to be addressed first before Cebu can aspire to become an international film hub as per argument of Cebu International Film Festival director April Dequito during the filmmaker’s forum held at the University of San Carlos.