MMFF Suffers From Uneven Theater Counts On Day 2

This year’s MMFF feels like a compromise. Four films were selected via the re-instituted script selection process. Some advocates of independent films were removed from the committee in favor of theater chain owners. The importance of commercial appeal and viability was re-introduced, leading to four resignations from the execom.

Despite the denials, we all know why these things are happening: 2016’s MMFF grossed only half the usual, and there is a need to increase profitability. After all, a portion of the amusement taxes gathered from the festival are given to various beneficiaries such as the Mowelfund, FAP, Motion Picture Anti-Film Piracy Council, OMB, and the FDCP. And so, we welcome back Vice, Vic, Coco, and Jennylyn to save the day.

But is this drive for “commercial appeal and viability” also responsible for lopsided theater counts of the eight competing films? Is the MMFF complicit in allowing theaters to have complete control of which movies to option and how many slots to give them? Below are my three observations based on my experience on opening day:

  • I watched Ang Larawan yesterday at Vista Mall Las Pinas (and wrote a glowing review of it). But checking ClickTheCity now, it’s been replaced on Day 2 by the Revenger Squad. Granted Day 1 receipts may be below expectations, but even a movie as good as Ang Larawan can’t possibly generate enough word of mouth in just 24 hours. In replacing it from the line-up, you’re just not giving it a chance.
  • In the original listing, there weren’t any The Revengers Squad screenings in Robinsons Las Pinas, but it was added in the afternoon of the 25th.
  • Possibly connected to this is the fact that smaller theater owners are given the shorter end of the stick — Vista Mall Las Pinas and Robinsons Las Pinas barely had the high rollers on Day 1, versus SM Southmall or SM Mall of Asia, for example. As such, they changed their lineup at the earliest window possible. I think there’s much more at play here politically in how the films are assigned.

I looked further at Day 2 stats. As evidenced in the table below, The Revenger Squad has more than twice the theater count of All of You, Haunted Forest, Deadma Walking, and Siargao — and less than thrice of Ang Larawan. The Revenger Squad, Ang Panday, and Meant To Beh comprise half of all available theaters out of all films. Is it because the booking and distribution department of Star Cinema is too strong? Maybe.

Theater Count as of December 26 Manila %
The Revenger Squad 76 21%
Ang Panday 58 16%
Meant to Beh 43 12%
All of You 38 11%
Haunted Forest 38 11%
Deadma Walking 37 10%
Siargao 36 10%
Ang Larawan 28 8%
354 100%

The spread is probably worse outside of Manila, with three films comprising around 60% of all theaters in both Cebu and Davao. Fans of Deadma Walking and Ang Larawan better watch them now as they risk being displaced. I also wouldn’t be surprised in the next few days for Davao’s Abreeza Mall to replace Deadma Walking and Cebu’s Colonnade Mall to replace Siargao with The Revenger Squad.

Theater Count as of December 26 Davao % Cebu %
The Revenger Squad 6 21% 9 27%
Ang Panday 5 18% 6 18%
Haunted Forest 5 18% 3 9%
All of You 3 11% 2 6%
Deadma Walking 3 11% 1 3%
Siargao 3 11% 4 12%
Meant to Beh 2 7% 6 18%
Ang Larawan 1 4% 2 6%
 *Not counting NCCC Mall Davao 28 100% 33 100%

In my home turf Camarines Sur, it’s even more problematic, with four movies completely left out, as has been the case in the past several MMFFs (especially as the festival doesn’t have a hold outside Manila). Haunted Forest’s two screenings at that share cinemas with Ang Panday and Meant to Beh!

Theater Count as of December 26 Naga %
The Revenger Squad 5 42%
Ang Panday 3 25%
Haunted Forest 2 17%
Meant to Beh 2 17%
All of You 0%
Deadma Walking 0%
Siargao 0%
Ang Larawan 0%
12 100%

The reasoning behind this blatant disparity is theaters giving in to audience demand; indeed, strike while the iron is hot. But is this a decision you make on Day 2? It’s the same case as what happened for Sunday Beauty Queen, 2016’s MMFF Best Picture. It generated good reception but was pulled out of most theaters too soon. It then had to rely on grassroots campaigning and special viewings.

This is also very different from how other film festivals are run, such as Cinemalaya, Cinema One, and QCinema, where organizers strictly enforce an equitable distribution of screenings, with the exception of having a couple of extra ones before the festival ends for box office titles. I’m aware the MMFF operates differently, but shouldn’t there be more care exercised in favor of not just a few but all entrants?

With the MMFF awarding ceremony scheduled this week, maybe the other entries still stand a chance to turn things around. Such was the case for 2014’s English Only Please, which emerged as a sleeper hit. If demand is high enough, how could theater chain owners resist? Let money do the talking.

*Data carried from ClickTheCity listings as of December 26, 8:00 p.m.

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