These are happy days for the Philippine film community with local productions increasingly holding their own against the regular incursions from international blockbusters.
The past 12 months have seen two films break the all-time box office record in the country, with last December’s comedy “Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy” (with takings of around 430 million Philippine pesos, or $9.7 million) being followed in February by the romantic drama “Starting Over Again,” which grossed $11.3 million.
“Philippine cinema these days is very much alive in terms of box office and critical success,” says Rico Gonzales, international and local distribution head at ABS-CBN Star Cinema.
His company holds a 90% market share for local films, and is on course for a record turnover in 2014, while currently holding an overall market share of more than 30%, he says.
Gonzales says diversification has been the key to the recent upsurge.
“Even if we present it in the usual popular genre, we try to add something more than the usual so we can maintain our core audience,” he says.
Also, digital technology has leveled the playing field somewhat, says producer Josabeth Alonso, with more independent pictures coming on to the market.
“It is from the (work) of indie filmmakers that some studios have learned to gamble on lower-budget productions and given those filmmakers a second look, which was almost impossible in the past,” say Alonso.
“The challenge lies in making people come (not just) to cinemas that show happy-ever-after endings, but which dare to show something novel onscreen.”
The Philippine government has this year been been making all the right noises about its plans to support the film industry — including tax breaks for productions shot in the country.
Gonzales says the growth of his industry on an international stage is vital to its future, and points to the fact that his company’s productions are now getting releases in both Europe and other Asian markets as a further indication of the positive state of play.