The stress on commercialization and monopolization has had debilitating effects on the profession. There are too few trained actors and actresses, and stories are based on "hot" stars, especially those willing to undress. Less expensive, quicker, and easier to produce, sex films thrive, making up well over half of a year's total production and taking on their own persona—typed as FF ("fighting fish"), penekula (derived from "penetration"), ST ("sex trip," featuring young actresses having sex at socially appropriate times), and TT ("titillating," with split-second frontal nudity), and featuring actresses who are named after soft drinks or hard liquor, such as Pepsi Paloma, Vodka Zobel.
There have been breakaways from these genres, particularly the works of Marilou Diaz-Abaya (b. 1955), such as José Rizal (1998), on the life and death of the national hero; Muro-ami ( Reef Hunters , 1999), on child labor in the fishing industry; and Bagong buwan ( New Moon , 2001), about personal loss in war-torn Mindanao. Starting in the late 1990s and continuing into the present, a new generation of filmmakers has come into prominence. Among its members are Chito S. Roño, who made three thrillers in 1995 alone and later did Bata, Bata … Paano ka ginawa ( Child … How Were You Made? , or Lea's Story , 1998); Joel Lamangan, whose most successful work was The Flor Contemplación Story (1995), based on the true story of an overseas worker who killed her Singapore boss; and José Javier Reyes, a prolific filmmaker who wrote and directed twenty-one movies between 1991 and 1996. Also encouraging is the increasing number of independent directors of films and videos who are working either on the periphery or outside the mainstream. These include Raymond Red (b. 1965), who made two historical films, Bayani ( Heroes , 1992) and Sakay (1993), and Nick Deocampo (b. 1959), who finished Mother Ignacia, ang uliran ( Mother Ignacia, the Ideal ) in 1998. These and other nonmainstream directors have experimented with format, technique, and content, and, increasingly, they hail from areas outside Manila, such as the Visayas or Iloilo.
After the 1997–98 economic debacle, film had a short-lived rebirth. In 1999, the Philippines was the fourth largest film producer in the world, but the number of productions has dwindled precipitously—to eighty-nine in 2001, and fewer since then. A number of factors—some old, some new—account for the slump, including the expensive star system, prohibitive taxation (at least seventeen different taxes that take as much as 30 to 42 percent of earnings), the lack of a quota on imported foreign films, rampant film piracy enhanced by technology, and censorship. Both Toro ( Live Show , 2001) and Sutka ( Silk , 2000) were censored, and, at times, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (served beginning 2001) directly intervenes in the filmmaking process. Escalating production costs, especially in the face of the tenuous national economy, continuing government turmoil, and decreasing cineplex audiences have forced some major studios to cut back production schedules. The industry has also faced stiff competition from cable television, video, DVDs, and VCDs.
These are critical times for Filipino film, but they are not necessarily fatal. With the increased worldwide interest in Asian cinema (particularly from China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, and Taiwan)—and the global tendency of film to reinvent itself through universally appealing content, lavish multifunction theaters, clever capitalization schemes, digital technology, and tie-ins with other media and visual forms—some hope can be held out for film from the Philippines.
SEE ALSO National Cinema
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John A. Lent