How Incentives Boost PH Cinema’s Global Presence

The columnist with Balbuena and Thai producer Raymond Pathanavirangoon (center).

Gone are the days when we only had one Filipino film competing in an A-list festival for any given year. For this year 2022 alone, a Filipino film has been presented in almost all major international film festivals.

From local filmmaker Martika Escobar’s “Leonor Will Never Die,” which won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance; “Plan 75” by Japanese filmmaker Chie Hayakawa, which won the Camera d’Or award at the recent Cannes; “Arnold is a model student” by Thai director Sorayos Prapapan, who played in Locarno; to “Autobiography” by Indonesian filmmaker Makbul Mubarak; and Lav Diaz’s “When the Waves are Gone”, which recently premiered at the Venice Film Festival – the Philippines has become a figurehead in the global space through these co-production feature projects.

A new trend is occurring in Philippine cinema – the country is beginning to rise to the forefront of global collaboration as a co-production partner for various international films, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Naman Ramachandran of trade publication Variety recently published an article featuring Epic Media’s current slate of global film project co-productions with award-winning Filipino producer Bianca Balbuena. Among the projects mentioned are five film projects supported by our country’s global incentive fund, the FilmPhilippines Incentives.

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Creative producers Armi Rae Cacanindin (producer of 'Arnold is a model student' and 'Autobiography'), Bianca Balbuena, (producer of 'When the Waves Are Gone') and Alemberg Ang (producer of 'Plan 75') at the Berlinale .

Creative producers Armi Rae Cacanindin (producer of ‘Arnold is a model student’ and ‘Autobiography’), Bianca Balbuena, (producer of ‘When the Waves Are Gone’) and Alemberg Ang (producer of ‘Plan 75’) at the Berlinale .

The FilmPhilippines Incentives is the first global film incentive program in the Philippines that I conceptualized and created during my time at the FDCP in response to the growing need for local and regional filmmakers for public funding.

With technical support from film consultant Agathe Vinson, former FDCP Executive Director Ria Anne Rubia and the team at FilmPhilippines, we launched the program in 2020 to promote the Philippines as a film destination and center co-production for foreign productions. One of its unique support programs is the Asean Co-production Fund (ACOF).

This regional government grant offers financial incentives to Southeast Asian filmmakers who partner with a Filipino producer. This financial incentive program which offers between 2.5 and 7.5 million pesos in co-production funds has helped to change the landscape of financing and funding in the Southeast Asian region.

Liza Diño-Seguerra with filmmaker Lav Diaz and actor Arnold Reyes

Liza Diño-Seguerra with filmmaker Lav Diaz and actor Arnold Reyes

Funding has always been a challenge for filmmakers in the region as, unlike in Europe, national and regional funds are not available for local filmmakers to help produce their films. Thus, most filmmakers in Southeast Asia are forced to apply for grants and European funds to complete the financing of their projects.

While these programs benefit filmmakers, they can also become costly due to the spending and production requirements of the country where they have applied. This practice sometimes produces more costs at the end of the project because they have to spend in euros instead of their local currencies. Therefore, regional incentives are crucial in the financing structure of a film project, as they help a filmmaker to reduce production costs, as filmmaking is more reasonable in Southeast Asian countries.

Creatively, producing their films in the region also helps maintain the local character of a project as the need to incorporate European perspectives into their stories is minimized. These national film funds in the Southeast Asian region also encourage filmmakers to collaborate and work together, especially when the fund’s required expenditure is to hire key local creators from that country.

Since its launch, FilmPhilippines has supported more than 30 international co-production projects with local expenditures estimated at 2 billion pesos. Some of these films are now part of various international film festivals, while some have started principal photography this year. The feature films mentioned above have all received support from the FilmPhilippines Incentives.

I remember in 2016, when I started leading the agency, our annual budget was less than 80 million pesos. Year after year, we would push for more funding, developing white papers and cost-benefit analyzes backed by rationales on why we need public funding for producers and filmmakers.

Especially during budget season, we were literally knocking on the doors of House of Representatives and Senate legislators asking for financial support so that we could launch our crowdfunding program with enough revolving funds to substantially support projects.

Fortunately, we found champion legislators who understood the importance of attracting more global collaborations through incentives and boosting our local market by investing in film projects, from development to production, publishing and the distribution. Six years later, as I finished my term as head of the agency, the FDCP budget is now nearly 290 million pesos, and much of it is allocated to global and local incentives.

Through these incentives, enhanced collaborations between Filipino and South Asian filmmakers are occurring and enhancing the presence of South Asian cinema in the world. While these support mechanisms are still very new to Southeast Asian cinema, you can already feel this new wave of creativity surging in the region, fueling the growth and ambition of filmmakers to be more globally competitive.

This exciting alternative film and audiovisual content industry is beginning to make its mark and impact globally, allowing us to discover and develop new talent in the region.

About Monty S. Maynard

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