WHY PHILIPPINE CINEMA DECLINED IN THE 80s
by Princess Wendam
 

The Philippine Cinema experienced its second Golden Age during the 1970s, the decade that we can equate to repression and oppression. But why, in such years, did our local cinema flourish? Despite the repression of the media that happened during that time, the local cinema had managed to flourish and gain several international citations. It is in this period that the local cinema had made its mark. After the so-called "decline" in the year 1960s, the film industry had managed to make a come back and raise itself again. What caused this?

When a person's hands are tied up, he somehow struggles to get free. He would want to free himself so badly that he would find and try all available ways and means to do so. The same thing happened to the local film industry. When Martial Law was declared, our media industry became comparable to a person who had his hands tied up. The industry wanted itself to be freed, thus, it found ways and means to express itself. The repression brought by the government during the Martial Law period served as a catalyst for our industry to uplift itself. Somehow, we can call it a "blessing in disguise", if ever we can call it that. It was in this very decade where some of the most talented Filipino directors started to gain acclamation.

After that Golden Age, a drastic decline occurred in the industry. What had happened? Why did our local cinema decline, all of a sudden, after a very fruitful decade or so? What factors contributed to such negative change?

It has been said that after the Martial Law, in the decade of the 1980s, the local cinema was plagued with numerous problems. In Dr. Nicanor Tiongson's essay entitled The Filipino Film in the Decade of the 1980s, he wrote:

   
  "In 1984, director Ishmael Bernal was asked in an interview (Cleto 1984) how he would sum up the film industry then. He replied:
 
   
  A valley of frustrations! Producers who meddle, actors who come late, films that get censored for wrong reasons. Producers who don't want you to grow, producers who are afraid.
   
  Given these conditions, Bernal, who by then had created such Filipino film classics as Pagdating sa Dulo, Nunal sa Tubig, Manila By Night, and Himala, openly wondered whether his best cinematic effort were making any difference in the industry and in larger society.
 
   
  And then you don't know whether you've really accomplished anything. All the work and the pain… And when you ask, what for? There's no clear answer. If there is appreciation, it seems to come from a very small part of society. Have we touched the rest at all?
   
 

Bernal's observation sums up not only the plight of the serious director and the art film but the major issues as well of the industry in that decade of momentous economic and political changes. What he does not identify, however, and what we must trace for ourselves, are roots of the problems which have afflicted the local film industry decades before and during the 1980s." (Tiongson. The Urian Anthology 1980 - 1989.)

   

The local cinema had faced many problems during this time. One of the foremost issues faced by the film industry was the excessive tax that the government puts on the industry. According to Espiridion Laxa, director-general of the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP), the Filipino film industry is "one of the most heavily taxed entertainment industries in the country today [1989] and yet it charges the lowest admission prices in the world." (Tiongson. The Urian Anthology 1980- 1989).

Another problem faced by the local industry was the low quality of the films that were made during that time. This is mainly because of producers who are mostly "profit-oriented." Coupled with stiff competition coming from Hollywood movies, the local film industry was in deep trouble.

Sometimes, the audiences are to be blamed for what the local film industry produces. On the essay of Prof. Tiongson, he wrote:

   
 

"When attacked for the vacuousness or silliness of their products, producers are wont to shrug their shoulders and say that those are what the "bakya" crowd wants anyway. C, D and E audiences, they argue, are used to and can only understand the formulaic plots and cardboard characters of genre movies which make them weep, laugh, and cheer for their favorite stars. Artistic scripts, non-conventional plots, flashbacks, and subtle storytelling just fly over their heads." (Tiongson. The Urian Anthology 1980 - 1989.)

   
But are the audiences really the ones to blame? Besides, don't they just consume what our industry has to offer? On the essay of Prof. Tiongson, he wrote:
   
 

"The question of whether it is the bakya audiences who demand bad films or bad films which create bakya audience is like the question of the chicken and the egg; it is not worth answering. Suffice it to say, that the bakya crowd, if it exists at all, has been used by many producers as an excuse for cutting down on good scriptwriters, directors, production designers, and cinematographers. Amidst keen competition from foreign film that are well- made, using bakya crowd as an excuse for not doing one's production homework is like burying one's head in the sand." (Tiongson. The Urian Anthology 1980 - 1989.)

   
With the democracy back at our people's hands, the repression of the industry lifted, and with all the problems faced by our local cinema-censorship, "bakya" audiences, excessive taxation, and so much commercialism-how can our local industry possibly be able to rise again? Will it be able to rise again? Still, these questions are waiting for answers. Who knows what the future has for our local film industry. Will it be able to lift itself or remain lying flat on the ground, while the local cinemas of our neighboring Asian countries begin to make their names? I guess we just have to wait and see.
 

This site was created by the Ishmael Bernal group as a final requirement for their Film 102 class under Mr. G. Dormiendo.