Quibranza: Art takes heart (Part 2)

AN emotional exchange between local filmmakers and a film festival founder during a filmmakers’ forum held last Sept. 23 at the University of San Carlos, School of Architecture and Fine Arts Design theater, shed some light on the local film scene.

Ara Chawdhury, award-winning filmmaker who also served as forum moderator, shared during the forum: “A lot of us [filmmakers]—we’re not doing this sh*ts and giggles… It’s a very difficult thing to invest in a career in film so we tend to be very protective of ourselves.”

I never really got the chance to know my late grandfather more—bless his soul. But it wasn’t until years after he had passed in 2005, when I heard from my dad, how my lawyer grandpa also had his contributions to Cebuano cinema.

Apparently way back, Luis Sr. invested the money he earned in a logging business and went into film making.

“Why did lolo go into cinema?” I asked my dad.

“For business.”

“But didn’t that seem like an odd idea to invest in the arts coming from a business like logging?”

“It was. But he was a dreamer,” my dad said.

As his way of staying true to his creative side, Luis Sr. founded Southseas Productions in the ‘70s, which produced Awit Sa Damgo, a drama/musical about a man who fell asleep by the waterfalls, who then woke up to the greeting of a fairy. As the executive producer/producer, Luis Sr. had the crew build an entire stage under the river by the waterfall, to make the cast appear as if they were dancing on water.

What happened? The movie didn’t do well. My grandfather ended up losing tons of money, and according to my dad, he even complained how some people might have mishandled the funds along the way.

It’s a story that’s all too familiar, and why Chawdhury’s statement hit the right note when she said that local filmmakers needed to band together to protect the craft and business.

“We all have to work together,” said Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) chairperson Liza Diño-Seguerra. “Respect is very important… I think, it won’t hurt if we all just show that we’re here for the [film] community. We’re coming from different sides but we’re all going toward one vision,” said the FDCP head.

Diño-Seguerra enumerated a few plans that the FDCP has in mind for this country’s film industry. She mentions the need for a cinematheque in Cebu, the consistent watch for film opportunities abroad, holding Filipino film festivals in other countries, bringing more Filipino films to universities etc.

“When it comes to arts and culture, it’s heart that drives us and not money,” shared Diño-Seguerra.

After listening to all these things, I’ve come to realize a few things that might serve as good reminders.

Build a business around the art, not the other way around.

The business model is what it is—a model. A model is a framework that can be detached and attached to an already-existing brand. Becoming business-savvy for the arts is not only good but integral to long-term success and security. But the business aspect per se, shouldn’t be the primary essence of a particular brand or art work. It is dangerous to market something which it is not.

The popular Japanese band Babymetal is a rare “success” story. The group’s music fuses heavy metal with Japanese pop music. The band is made up of adults—musicians all involved with their own rock bands, and three young girls—idols, they call them in Japan—take up vocal duties. Although the product is undeniably catchy, innovative and therefore lucrative, the creation was birthed from a business-first approach as producer Kei Kobayashi, thought of fusing a pop group of girls and giving them an all-star selection of Japan’s best metal musicians. Babymetal wasn’t created in a garage where musicians thought about making music. It was a business concept.

Art is never about the money—at least, at first.

I recall a particular story just recently when a local alternative rock band, through its vocalist, complained how the school had a budget for promotions and the sound system but could only pay the band P1,500. It set social media ablaze and some musicians claimed that it’s never about the money.

Of course, it never was about the money. But to tolerate a culture that is apathetic to the plight of its local artists—who are most likely at the bad end of a deal subject to abuse and exploitation—by merely saying “money is not important,” is also wrong. It’s about mutual respect. People pay for gas money to get to a bar gig. How do you think musicians get to a bar with all their equipment? Bicycles?

It’s not just an art thing; it’s a life thing. Everybody needs to be a little business-savvy to better dissect deals that are presented in front of them; to differentiate a chance of a lifetime from a simple scam. Of course, it hurts when people who have no clue about what they’re talking about start talking smack. There are real artists out there who have worked their hearts out for the love and beauty of art.
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