THE prime motivation for the mall owners’ request for the reopening of its mall theaters, it turns out, is in anticipation for the supposedly upcoming Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) in December, the one festival whose raison d’etre boils down to money, to haul in the crowds for the box office.

In June, the MMFF cancelled its summer festival, but nevertheless announced its initial four features, namely, “Praybet Benjamin 3,” “Magikland,” “Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan,” and “The Exorcism of My Siszums.” This initial list will most likely be part of what the MMFF will release in the theaters in December if local governments allow the reopening of cinemas.

Year in and year out, the MMFF has been known to churn out selections of films patronized by a large market, although the parsimonious among us mostly see these movies as unworthy of life and limb.

To have brought the matter of the MMFF, therefore, on the table as mall owners negotiate for the mayor’s permission to reopen the theaters already exposes the scary scenario of inviting crowds while we try mighty hard to suppress any possible surge of infections.

Councilor Joel Garganera, deputy chief implementer of the Cebu City Emergency Operations Center, said the theaters are the farthest from his mind as of the moment. But the mall owners have pointed out the Inter-Agency Task Force’s rule on modified general community quarantine, which allows limited operations for theaters. Thus, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella had asked the proponents to draft their proposed guidelines that will ensure the safety of moviegoers. Initially, an occupancy of 50 percent of the theater capacity and a limited screen time were proposed.

The City Government is yet to decide on whether to give in to the request or not.

These restrictions come at a time when the movie industry also reflects the kind of losses that many businesses are experiencing during the pandemic. However, even as mainstream cinema is waning in terms of revenue, there is a growing interest in Philippine independent cinema as proven by the deluge of support it is getting in online live streaming festivals during the pandemic. This is to say that the Filipino audience has not lost an alternative even while theaters remain shut as a matter of safety protocol during the crisis.

This phenomenon may cause a reset in the country’s mode of cultural production, particularly in cinema. The public is getting more than the commerce-driven selection of the MMFF and could be finally getting the kind of cinema that directly speaks of their realities.

In the end, two things may be gained if we hold for a while the reopening of the theaters—we eliminate a possible venue for health risk and we allow the industry and the movie-going public to breathe and rethink their values.