Millennial Traversals – Some Words on Film Awards

Here’s an article that took a long time to post because of its accompanying table. I wrote it during the year when a few friends and I founded Kritika, the film critics’ group that (as explained further in the article) we felt implemented our idea of how awards should be conducted. The group folded up after two years, since most members traveled abroad either as migrants or as graduate students – but, as I once wrote elsewhere, only semi-ironically, this was the best demonstration of how truly responsible (self-critical) critics should handle the irresolvable question of prize-giving: by self-destructing. The article originally came out in 1992 (date & pp. unkn.) in an issue of a short-lived magazine titled Mediawatch; I could not find an archival original anywhere, and my own faded photocopy does not include date or page numbers. Even the matrix illustrating 1991’s film awards was severely misaligned – and since my sources then were print reports, some of the entries could not contain the complete list of nominees if these happened to be missing from the news items. What the article aimed to do was provide a snapshot of a year’s award-giving activities; as it turned out, even more movie awards emerged since then, but none of them have been as innovative as Kritika purported to be.

Awards for Philippine film excellence have been around for the most part of the best years of local cinema. The early versions were first handed out during what is now called the first Golden Age of Philippine film (roughly the 1950s) while the current versions all developed during the second half of the Marcos period, or what is now alternately being called the Second Golden Age (my term) or the new cinema (per Professor Bienvenido Lumbera). Perhaps the most significant element in the formation of local film awards has been the presence of media commentators. In fact, even before the very first Filipino film awards were declared, newspapers undertook the task of clarifying for the public what they believed were the outstanding local films: in 1930, for example, the period’s leading critic wrote that Jose Nepomuceno’s adaptation of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere was “the best Filipino film to date…. It is interesting to speculate just exactly…how long it will be before another – naturally higher – standard is set for Filipino films.”

As if to further confirm this insight, the very first awards on record were instituted by a newspaper outfit, the Manila Times Publishing Co. Only two sets of trophies were handed out, in 1950 and 1951, before the concept, called the Maria Clara Awards, gave way to what was misleadingly called the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences, or FAMAS, Awards. Even this early it became evident that local film observers were aware of the pitfalls of existing award-giving bodies and made efforts to introduce reforms – not from within the institutions themselves, but by setting up new bodies instead. For example, the credibility of only one newspaper among many passing judgment on a complex art form would be limited by the expertise of that particular newspaper’s policies and personnel, so the need to have a more acceptable name – as “academy,” after the example of America’s Oscars (handed out by the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) – was the order of the day.

On the other hand, the influence wielded by the press was too strong, since after all, it had been the sole independent expositor of public judgment on local films since the inception of the industry. Not surprisingly, the FAMAS, despite its name, was actually dominated by various print practitioners – an improvement over Manila Time’s single-newspaper monopoly of the Maria Clara Awards, but definitely far from the nature of an authentic academy. For about a quarter-century this was all we ever really had, unless we count in the special case of local-government awards (the Manila Film Festival, begun in 1965 and late merged with other city-based efforts into the still-current Metro Manila Film Festival) as well as the occasional international festival prizes.

In the final analysis, one cannot deny that the FAMAS served a highly estimable function during its early years, with its record of having recognized a high? concentration of currently acknowledged film masterpieces during the first Golden Age. The decline in the quality of its recognition may initially be ascribed to the overall decline in the output of the industry itself, due to the downfall of the studio system during the 1960s. However, when other award-giving bodies managed to recognize some of the more innovative products of the Second Golden Age, the FAMAS was unable to keep up with the times, thus resulting in an extremely uneven lineup of honorees.

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New Bodies

In 1976, two new award-giving bodies were formed, partly as a corrective to the FAMAS’s increasingly unsatisfactory performance. The first was an expansion of the Catholic Church’s then-long-dormant Citizen’s Awards for Television, which used to give out occasional prizes to film achievement, into the Catholic Mass Media Awards, among which film was a crucial field. The second was the Urian Awards of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the first organized group of Filipino critics. The CMMA was laudable in its interdisciplinary scope, attempting to cover as wide a range of practice as possible, thus opening up the possibility of demonstrating interaction among various media. The Urian, on the other hand, can be regarded as a more idealized version of the non-academy FAMAS, since public-relations and otherwise unqualified writers were supposedly excluded.

Nevertheless new limitations in practice eventually emerged – more immediately in the case of the CMMA, since its espousal of non-aesthetic and non-materialist criteria (intended to be derived from religious doctrine) tended to mystify rather than clarify several of its choices. In the case of the Urian, its effectivity was circumscribed by the mode of practice that it assumed: although purportedly an alternative, it opted to play the same showbiz game as the others in announcing a set of nominees, then declaring the winners after a period of mounting tension, thus giving occasion to a highly visible (not to mention profitable) award-giving ceremony.

The other bodies that followed attempted either to improve on or to compete with these existing groups. The Film Academy of the Philippines became the true academy, consequently suffering the display of lack of critical evaluation; a lot of its choices, in fact, are regarded as no better than prizes for popularity. The MMFF was to the government what the CMMA is to the Catholic Church, thus being subject to its mother institution’s errors in historical perception (including the Marcos-era’s ill-advised “developmental” prescriptions), owing to its early-festival timing, of boosting the box-office stock of its winners. The Philippine Movie Press Club’s Star Awards may be seen as a force potentially more credible than the FAMAS and more powerful than the Urian and a true counterpart, in keeping with our observance of Hollywood trends, of the Golden Globe Awards. Alternatives to these necessarily mainstream bodies have been provided by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (formerly the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines) and the University of the Philippines, in their regular film (and, lately, video) competitions.

Expectations remained highest in the case of the Urian, however, since this was the group that mandated itself with the propagation of critical activity. Apart from the fact that most of its members tended to write less (partly due to the constricting high-art formalist nature of its awards criteria), the impact of the award itself began to diminish in significance with the emergence of several overlapping bodies; moreover, film artists, starting with the late Lino Brocka, began expressing gripes that could be traced to the absolutist nature of the prizes – only one winner per category could be declared over all the rest during each annual edition. At one point (in 1987) the Urian decided not to give out any prizes whatsoever, but this only made matters worse, aggravating the charges of elitism and its fostering of divisiveness among film artists.

The latest set of awards to have emerged has attempted to build on the more positive lessons provided by the experiences of these existing bodies. Like the press bodies, the group called Kritika (The Filipino Critics Circle), is expected to comprise active writers in media; like the CMMA, it is interdisciplinary in nature; and like the Urian, it commits itself, if only in name, to the pursuit of critical discourse in the country. (Its historical predecessor was actually the MPP, via first the breakaway group Young Critics Circle, followed by a further split in ranks resulting in Kritika.)

Unlike the previous groups, however, it has eschewed the traditional means of award-giving. Winners are announced forthwith, without having to go through the trauma of competing with colleagues and awaiting a high-profile ceremony; several winners – whether works, individuals, or institutions – may be declared within flexible levels of achievement, in recognition of the fact that complex media forms (especially film) can accommodate innovations in differing aspects of achievements; attainments also need not be penalized according to their respective modes of production – hence alternative works may stand their own alongside mainstream ones; lastly, what the group hands out in addition to trophies, which connote finality and closure, are previously published citations, wherein the reasons for the prize and the choice of winner are explained in full. What this new form of prize-giving will result in still has to be seen, but meanwhile a whole new perspective on the role and responsibilities of critics has opened up, constituting a challenge to all the previous awards practitioners.

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1991 as Sample

To demonstrate the cornucopia of issues that could result from the multiplicity – and redundancy – of having all these awards bodies in place, we could use a sample year as basis for observation. The last set of awards, all for 1991 productions, covered roughly a year; but only the festival prizes (Manila, CCP, and Metro Manila events chronologically) were handed out during the year itself, while the rest, logically enough, had to wait until the year was over. The CMMA, for its part, opted not to give out any awards this year, citing the numerous (and still ongoing) human-caused and natural disasters that demanded church ministration. Thus a total of eight sets of trophies became available, but then again, it would be impossible for any institution or individual to sweep the entire list for the same production, simply because the two local-government festivals could only allow the participation of entries in either one or the other. One could note here that, while the CCP festival can be justified as an alternative in most respects to the other festivals (not to mention the mainstream), the spectacle of having a filmfest for Manila, a part of Metro Manila, may be a tad too much – especially in the light of the re-emergence of Cebuano-language cinema, the regional production alternative.

Among the best-film winners, two – Ang Totoong Buhay ni Pacita M. and Ipagpatawad Mo – share three trophies each, although the first has one loss (a nomination from the FAP) while the second has two (the Star and FAMAS). Kailan Ka Magiging Akin and Sa Kabila ng Lahat have one prize each, while five others, including Ipagpatawad, have what may be considered qualified triumphs: MMFF second- and third-best for Juan Tamad at Shooli sa Mongolian Barbecue (The Movie) and Darna respectively, and Kritika Silver Prizes for Huwag Mong Salingin ang Sugat Ko, Ynang Bayan, and Masakit sa Mata, and a Particularly Noteworthy Prize for Ipagpatawad. Would this make Pacita M. the more quantitatively unqualified winner, or do the two thrice-winners equal out because of Ipagpatawad’s additional nominations?

An even more interesting case would be that of Yuta, which may be seen to share the rank of the two contenders by virtue of its CCP, Kritika, and Urian prizes, but which actually has one more – an FAP trophy – from the previous year. On the other hand, what to do with awards like the FAP’s and the Urian’s that declare a film’s excellence in a category separate from others simply by virtue of non-artistic limitations that may not be the fault of its maker(s) at all? Eleven other titles have remained on the level of best-film contenders, some of them (mostly festival entries) not even bearing any crossover distinction in terms of being nominated by the other bodies. Hihintayin Kita sa Langit holds the record for non-winning nominations with three, followed by Kislap sa Dilim with two. Una Kang Naging Akin, Boyong Mañalac: Hoodlum Terminator, and Makiusap Ka sa Diyos actually yielded prizes for their respective talents – all performers – in other categories, with Hihintayin coming up with an impressive seventeen. Pacita M. has nineteen in addition to its best-film prizes (plus a competition-level participation, in effect a nomination, from the Singapore International Film Festival), while Ipagpatawad has nine. Can a final over-all winner now be determined?

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Individual Contenders

Pacita M.’s director Elwood Perez, writer Ricardo Lee, and actress Nora Aunor share four trophies each from various bodies, with Lee winning an additional two for story and Aunor a FAMAS Hall of Fame for her past accumulated prizes. Christopher de Leon belongs to the same four-trophy circle for his performance in Ipagpatawad, along with Gaudencio Barredo for the sound of Hihintayin. Among other performers, Dawn Zulueta won three awards, one for the lead category, while Eric Quizon had prizes for lead and supporting categories and Eddie Gutierrez, two of the latter. The late Lino Brocka has one prize for direction plus a FAMAS Hall of Fame, while another late talent, scriptwriter Orlando Nadres, had two trophies, as did Olivia Lamasan. Surprisingly, cinematographer Johnny Araojo copped one prize more (three for Juan Tamad) than Romy Vitug (two for Hihintayin). Other double winners are editors Jesus Navarro and musical scorers Danny Tan and Ryan Cayabyab; George Jarlego won twice for different films, while George Canseco also won twice for theme-song composing, including a supposedly disqualifiable FAMAS (owing to Canseco’s Hall-of-Fame stature).

The one-time film-prize winners of 1991 include director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna; actors Richard Gomez (in lead capacity), Leo Martinez, and Gabby Concepcion; actresses Vilma Santos (lead), Tetchie Agbayani, Mona Lisa, and Nanette Medved, visual designers Hesumaria Sescon and Julie Lluch Dalena; musical scorer Jaime Fabregas; editor Efren Jarlego; and theme composers Willy Cruz and the late Lucio San Pedro. Many other questions may be raised regarding the accompanying listing – notice, for example, the manner in which singers rather than composers were announced as nominees for the FAMAS’s theme-song prize, not to mention how the prizewinner was not the nominee, who in turn was not the theme composer in the first place. All in all about one hundred forty prizes were handed out by eight bodies, which averaged about eighteen trophies per body, the actual range starting from Kritika’s nine up to the FAMAS’s twenty-six (inclusive of four memorial awards). Five is the standard number of nominations per category, with the MMFF and Urian having only three, and Kritika, as emphasized earlier, none whatsoever. The accompanying chart, sourced from media announcements, illustrates the database for this reading, with winners listed first and separated from the nominees by a semi-colon. One could only hope future charts would be simpler to draw up, less obsessed with star categories, and…well, more critical toward both the titles under scrutiny as well as the award-giving process itself.

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Table of 1991 Film Awards


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About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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