[PHOTO AT LEFT - GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT: President Arroyo chats with Asian songbird Regine Velasquez (left) and singer Rachelle Ann Go after dinner at Malacañang Wednesday, when the Chief Executive appointed television and movie mogul Vic del Rosario as her consultant on entertainment. Photo by WILLY PEREZ]

MALACANANG, May 20, 2005 (STAR) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo swore into office Wednesday night Vicente del Rosario Jr. as presidential consultant on the entertainment industry.

Press Secretary Ignacio R. Bunye said Del Rosario, a film producer himself, would submit his recommendations on addressing piracy and advancing the cause of good quality films.

Bunye said Del Rosario would also assist in the fight against the culture of corruption as the entertainment industry is a powerful sector in communicating and shaping the right values particularly for the young and vulnerable sectors of society.

Earlier, the President called for a broad-based national initiative against the culture of violence, stressing the need to call on "cultural role models," to help bring under control the glorification of violence in both the movies and television.

The President said Del Rosario would also act as a "rainmaker" who personally knows some foreign producers that he could lure into investing here.

To help the local entertainment industry, Pres. Arroyo suggested tapping the 3.5 million Filipinos in the United States and Indonesia which are considered good markets for Filipino movies and entertainers.

RP film industry sees hope in Cannes The Philippine Star 05/19/2005

In the three decades after World War II, Philippine cinema reveled in its glory years as one of the world’s largest movie industries, packing cathedral-sized cinemas with patrons and creating the country’s biggest and most idolized stars.

By its heyday in the 1970s, the local industry was regularly churning out 200 feature films a year, mostly gangster and romance flicks in the Filipino language, for domestic movie-goers in the world’s 12th most populous state.

But a brutal tax regime, creeping mediocrity and later piracy drove the industry into the ground the following decade and, despite a short-lived upswing in the late 1990s, it remains in a poor state.

Laurice Guillen, head of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, tells Agence France Presse she realized how far the local film industry had fallen behind as she wandered around the huge global film bazaar at the Cannes festival last year.

There was not a single booth for Filipino films.

"We felt so sad," she says. "It’s the biggest film festival and market in the world. If you don’t have a film there, they forget about you."

One of the most heavily taxed industries in the world, Philippines film production shrank to 53 last year, down from an average of 82 films yearly between 2000 and 2003 and 164 films annually between 1996 and 1999, according to Espiridion Laxa, head of the Film Academy of the Philippines.

Hollywood films are now preferred at huge movie houses in Metro Manila and other cities.

Guillen says high taxes, piracy, cable television, and low-quality films drove many of the moviegoers away, while fading movie stars are taking their acts elsewhere by running for public office, giving the word "entertainment" a whole new dimension in the Philippines.

"There are fewer people with jobs now because there are fewer films being made," says Guillen.

"They say that first, they do films. And then when their films don’t do so well anymore they go into television. And then when their TV stints end they go into politics," she chuckles.

At the industry’s nadir in the 1980s, soft-porn films that were shot in seven days were practically the only productions making money.

"The local film industry is dying and will make way for something new," says independent Filipino director and film distributor Tony Gloria of Unitel Pictures.

"I think we just lost the audience because our films were not evolving. People got sick of the ‘hero, shoot ’em up, bang bang,’ and the ‘hero gets the girl’-type films. And the low budget, star-led, B-grade sexy movies," he tells AFP.

Yet amid the gloom, the industry has high hopes this year could see a turnaround. Four of its better-quality releases of the past four years, along with two short films, are to be screened at an out-of-competition section of Cannes festival on Friday.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s "Bagong Buwan" (Crescent Moon), "Dekada ’70" (Seventies) by Chito Roño, Olivia Lamasan’s "Milan" and actor-filmmaker Cesar Montano’s "Panaghoy sa Suba" (Cry of the River) were among four films from seven countries invited at the inaugural exhibition of the "Tous les Cinemas du Monde (Cinemas of the World)."

The films, three of them produced by Star Cinema, provide a socio-political tableau of the impoverished former US colony, which exports millions of citizens abroad to earn hard currency as its government grapples with social unrest and bloody communist and Muslim separatist rebellions.

Guillen says Cinemas du Monde official Serge Sobczynski told her he was "very impressed by the originality and the quality of the films."

These films present "something specific to the Philippine setting, something that they (Cannes organizers) are not accustomed to seeing," French embassy cultural attaché Martin Makalintal says.

The plight of Filipino maids in Italy is the subject of the drama "Milan," while "Bagong Buwan" has the rebellion-wracked Muslim regions of the southern Philippines as its backdrop.

For Robbie Tan of Seiko Films, Cannes offers the mouth-watering prospect of a global market.

"We will not only be depending on the Filipino market anymore," he says.

"The only way we can sustain the industry is if we market outside," Guillen agrees.

If filmmakers depend on the local market alone, turning a profit would require two-week box receipts that are more than three times the capital outlay, she says, because the producer, movie houses, and the government split the proceeds equally.

Under these conditions, few businessmen are willing to risk the P10-million to P30-million capital to produce a film, while of those that are made even fewer make money.

"We are paying the highest taxes in the world," says Laxa, who estimates the total levy to be at least 50 percent of gross receipts. On top of a 30 percent amusement tax, there is a 10 percent value-added tax on film companies plus a 10 percent tax slapped on the movie houses.

By contrast, Hollywood only has to deal with corporate income taxes, he says.

"Our counterparts from other countries tell us we are geniuses because we’re still alive," he added.

The film sector saw a false dawn when one of its own, Joseph Estrada, became the first movie star to be elected president in 1998.

The hard-drinking action star’s short rule brought more entertainment than what the people bargained for, at least in the political arena, and he was toppled in a military-backed popular revolt in 2001.

The hated amusement tax stayed and Estrada remains under house arrest while standing trial for corruption.

Even then, a second actor and Estrada’s friend, Fernando Poe Jr., came within a million votes of unseating President Arroyo in last year’s polls. Poe died of a heart attack last December.

Industry players note that the local television industry, which is not subject to amusement tax and where stations earn money through advertising revenues, is not doing as badly.

"TV has had an impact on the local film industry. Some of the TV stories are even better than film," Gloria says.

"People just migrate to television because it’s free, and our telenovelas (soap operas) are doing well regionally in Malaysia and Indonesia," Guillen adds.

The late Lino Brocka, widely considered to be the greatest Filipino film director, broke ground at Cannes with the showing of "Insiang" in 1976. Four of his other films were shown over the next 13 years, some in competition.

Mike de Leon’s "Batch ’81" and "Kisapmata" (Blink) followed in 1982, but there was to be a long drought before Filipino director Mario O’Hara’s "Babae sa Breakwater" (Woman at the Breakwater) was given an out-of-competition screening at Cannes last year. - AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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