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In response to: “On Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism in the Philippines – A Roundtable Discussion and Videos” by Patrick Campos, published at the Plaridel Journal
A response paper for my Advanced Film Theory and Criticism class
After watching over 3 hours, 40 minutes of productive discussion of the University of the Philippines Office of Research and Publication project entitled “On Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism in the Philippines – A Roundtable Discussion and Videos,” it was interesting and eye-opening to learn so much from the participating film critics as they presented their papers and responded to questions by film and media students, educators, and practitioners, as well as cinephiles.
According to the brief at the Plaridel Journal website, the said project invited seven critics to a roundtable discussion “to reflect on the changing landscape of film criticism and to listen on their thoughts on the history and development of film criticism in the Philippines.” The film critics were asked to address the following broad questions:
- What has been the history of film criticism in the Philippines?
- In your view as a critic, what is or should be the future of Filipino critical practice?
- What have been the principles and presuppositions of your own critical practice, through the years, that could shed light on the foregoing questions?
The roster of critics in this roundtable discussion included: members of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP) Bienvenido Lumbera, Nicanor Tiongson, and Rolando Tolentino; members of the Young Critics Circle (YCC) Film Desk Patrick Flores, Eulalio Guieb III, and Choy Pangilinan; and independent film scholar and historian Nick Deocampo. A lot of grounds were covered in the discussion. I highly recommend that these Youtube videos documenting the roundtable discussion be watched by film students, practitioners, reviewers, critics, and scholars, as well as cinephiles and those involved in Philippine and Asian film/media studies, to have a better grasp on the sensibilities of Philippine cinema, including its history and development, alongside the evolution of Filipino critical practice in the world of film. Each of the videos range from anywhere between 15 to 38 minutes long and I suggest watching each at one’s own pace and time.
While there were undeniably a lot of crucial points discussed, I intend to focus this relatively short response paper on how film criticism has evolved through the years.
Tiongson mentioned a very good insight about film criticism and film journalism – with the latter, from my understanding, is where most film reviews in print media fall under. He said that film criticism can be categorized into two: popular criticism, which is said to be the journalistic one; and the other being scholarly criticism, which is expected to have academic rigor. Yet, he implied that one cannot discount the value of film journalism, and its not being geared towards scholarly writing doesn’t mean undermining the quality of what should be published. In the case of writing about films on a newspaper, there is no need to state film and communication theories, not even mentioning film jargon the general public doesn’t encounter in the day to day. He believes that the critic writing for a newspaper can still explain theories and insights about a film using words that are relatively digestible to regular newspaper readers; thus, making the writing more accessible to the target audience. Flores also mentioned the use of “calibrated” language, as he shared his plight as somebody from the academe who’s also a columnist in a newspaper. He discussed with his editor how to contend with his scholarly background and his manner of writing for the newspaper. His editor said, there’s a niche market looking forward to his academic insights and he should keep up with that. Of course, in other cases, film journalists would end up prioritizing the use of language the public can better understand.
Tiongson said that the critic is a product of one’s background. He or she should be equipped with enough knowledge and skills in his or her domain, which means becoming a product of continuing education and appreciation of the language of film, as well as striving to get a firm grasp of the history of cinema. These are important, as film is a cultural artifact and a popular medium that is powerful enough to shape the consciousness of people. He further added that “Above all, the critic must have the attitude of balance and fairness, free of personal agenda and self-promotion.” This shows how professionalism and ethics are essential in the field, especially at this time and age of the Internet where lambasting films, smashing all other critics, and using clickbait strategies in online articles are often the name of the game. As a critic, one needs to practice discipline and social responsibility, even if both “cinema and criticism are material, historical, and political, in the sense that there is always partisanship,” as stated by Tolentino.
Lumbera expressed how film criticism should have “critical understanding of the film,” which is generally not the case in those writing about film in many newspapers. At some point, it may not even be clear to them which films are essential beyond mere entertainment and escapism. In denying this position of criticism in local publications, there is “no sustained effort to view films from a specific intellectual perspective and to analyze them with critical tools that have been honed from the best products of Philippine filmmaking.” The film critic should be given a role in shaping social values and promoting national development through her or his contribution to this domain. Pangilinan explained how Philippine film criticism is in crisis, especially with the proliferation of neoliberal thoughts in the society. He said that many Filipino critics lack contextualization, and often merely discuss the formalist aspect of films. The participating film critics in the discussion collectively believed that critics, in general, don’t talk about films well enough. Guieb even added how he eventually realized that there is no regional cinema – there is only national cinema in the regions. Tolentino expressed how the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI), after more than 30 years of providing film education in the country, has produced way more filmmakers than film scholars. Deocampo noted that film history is essential when writing about “our own cinema.” However, the Philippines has many limitations when it comes to historical resources, as there are not enough materials, records, and mode of archiving to provide historians with personal experience of films mentioned in history. With this lack of access, the sense of duty and activism in writing film history lose much of its touch. Deocampo even mentioned how Philippine documentaries, short films, and student films should have a space in Philippine cinema history.
Each of the two film critic groups also shed light on the canon used to select Filipino films for awards. Clearly, as two well-respected award-giving bodies, they do not base their canons on the films’ box office potential. Not influenced by any other consideration but quality, they believe it is a form of service to the public to provide criteria where films are not just for spectacle, they can be socially impactful and they deserve scholarship and many avenues for intellectual discourse. In the case of MPP, it is worth noting how the discussion showed MPP members collectively deciding on which films of the year showed artistic unity and integrity, while very importantly, also living up to a statement reflecting the Filipino culture and/or society. In acknowledging these films, the public can have better opportunities to learn more about liberal artists committed to their craft, while using their voices in saying something relevant about the Philippine society and the world at large.
The audience in this roundtable discussion paved way for an interesting exchange of views about the rise of the online platform for all kinds of film writers. According to Tolentino, blogs are mostly intended to create buzz and there is often no intention to go deeper than discussing a film’s narrative elements – such being the center of the writer’s discourse. More often than not, the target is for a blog post to go viral, get more likes, and receive more attention, whether for praising or castigating a film and/or the filmmakers/producers/actors behind it. He also added that many film blogs lack a sense of accountability. They have a readily accessible platform, but there is typically no wager on the bloggers’ part. Finding more value to film criticism requires more philosophical, and at some point, academic writing with acknowledgment of historicity.
After watching all the videos, the statement of Tiongson saying that each artist has his or her own role, whether keeping up with what’s already there or going outside tradition or breaking existing frontiers to explore beyond what is comfortable, helps promote a more positive perspective of Philippine film criticism, despite the field’s unhurried development and the public’s usually negative connotation of it. He further added that, in using right tools of analysis, both art films and commercial films play significant roles in the development of Philippine cinema and the sensibilities of Filipinos. For me, given art films’ contribution to culture, history, and society, film critics help make these non-commercial works reach more people. Meanwhile, given the economic requirements of the film medium, I couldn’t entirely blame mainstream studios in keeping up with the tried-and-tested formula for movies meant for mere entertainment. Clearly, money has a crucial impact on filmmaking and film criticism. In this third-world country, many film writers, regardless of how much passion they have and how far they want to push their insights and advocacies to more people, they need to contend with having to pay the bills. It is no secret that film criticism, especially in the Philippines, is not a lucrative job. In fact, film critics who continue to write about films generally have other writing projects or even other professions to sustain themselves economically. I am not sure if the critics in this roundtable discussion would agree with me, but I think this economic issue also inhibits the development of film criticism in the country.
While I agree with them when they said that film criticism should engage in theory, historical sensibilities, sociopolitical factors, among many other aspects in the society more than just talking about a film’s narrative and form, I believe that not everyone has access to scholarship and opportunities for deeper introspection of films. I do notice though that many Filipinos have passion for film, alongside those who love to express themselves after watching films, and they have many accessible platforms online to tell the world about how they feel and/or what they think. Whether film practitioners, film critics, film scholars, or cinephiles, I believe that everyone who loves film should first advocate film literacy (literacy in making films, viewing and reading films, and critiquing films) instead of finger-pointing on who is at fault on this and that, who is right and who is wrong. I don’t think there can be a singular means of helping Philippine cinema and there is no one savior who can readily uplift the industry. We should achieve the right dynamics with those involved in the world of film. In our own ways, we should begin to empower the public through film literacy. This is what we need to elevate the people who are not (yet) in par with the very essence of film criticism. They should not be treated like evils in the larger scheme of things. Instead, they should be given more means and better opportunities to reach the film literacy advocated by those who are said to be more enlightened. And since not everyone can go to the academe for such, we can take advantage of the most easily accessible online platforms for this endeavor.
Campos, Patrick F. “On Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism in the Philippines – A Roundtable Discussion,” Plaridel Journal, 2016, https://www.plarideljournal.org/article/round-table-discussion-poetics-practice-film-criticism-philippines.
“Videos and Podcasts: Poetics and Practice of Film Criticism in the Philippines,” Plaridel Journal, 2013, https://www.plarideljournal.org/videos.