Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Since the first Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) in 1975, the festival has seen some of the greatest moments in local film history and more than a few duds cinemagoers would rather forget. It’s become a festival with a mixed legacy, marred by allegations of corruption in its selection and awarding processes.
No more has that been true than this year, with the 43rd MMFF beset by controversy over a dubious selection process and the resignation of a few MMFF committee members.
Despite this mixed legacy, it’s undeniable that some of the country’s best films and greatest filmmakers were once part of the festival. Since the old MMFF can’t come to the phone right now, we thought we’d pick some of the highlights of the festival’s 42-year run.
“Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?” (1976)
Christopher de Leon and Gloria Diaz star in Eddie Romero’s “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?,” a classic drama produced in the early years of martial law but set at the turn of the 20th century, in between the Spanish and American occupations. Stunningly crafted with lush cinematography and colorful period costumes, the film raised questions about national identity and the nature of history.
“Insiang” (1976) and “Bona” (1980)
These are two of Lino Brocka’s most well-known films played at the MMFF in their respective release years. “Insiang,” which eventually became the first Filipino film shown at the Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of Insiang (an unforgettable Hilda Koronel), a poor young woman who learns to take revenge on her oppressors. “Bona” tells the story of another martyr-like heroine (Nora Aunor in a hypnotic performance) who does everything for her lover Gardo (Phillip Salvador) until she reaches a breaking point. Both films serve as rich allegories of abuse, and tell stories of the unique strength of Filipino women.
“Burlesk Queen” (1977)
Celso Ad. Castillo’s “Burlesk Queen” tells the story of Chato (Vilma Santos in a star-making turn) who works backstage at a burlesque show, then finds herself substituting for a dancer (Rosemarie Gil). She’s an instant hit and gets swept into the risque life of a burlesque girl, which quickly takes her on a downward spiral. Best remembered for Santos’ performance, the film won Best Film, Best Director, as well as all the acting awards at that year’s MMFF.
“Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising” (1977) and “Kisapmata” (1981)
The singular Mike De Leon (whose supposed return to cinemas “Citizen Jake” has been delayed) had two of his earlier films play at the festival. “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising” is a romantic drama with Christopher de Leon as a young student and Hilda Koronel as a married woman who starts an affair with him in Baguio.
The film is a delight for the way De Leon begins a love story in already-doomed circumstances, and how it simply lets the two characters unravel before you. “Kisapmata,” on the other hand, flexes De Leon’s capacity for psychological terror, following Dadong (Vic Silayan), a controlling father who sets out to ruin his daughter Mila’s (Charo Santos-Concio) life as she decides to get married. “Kisapmata” won nine awards in 1981 including Best Picture, Best Actor (Silayan), and Best Supporting Actress (Charito Solis).
“Brutal” (1980), “Moral” (1982), and “Karnal” (1983)
Treated by the director as a loose feminist trilogy, Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Brutal,” “Moral,” and “Karnal” are three rich, emotionally packed stories about women and human nature. “Brutal” begins in the wake of a triple murder by a young woman (Amy Austria) and tells the story of a journalist’s (Charo Santos-Concio) efforts to uncover the story behind it. “Moral” follows four friends (Lorna Tolentino, Gina Alajar, Sandy Andolong, and Anna Marin) and their interconnected lives over the course of four years. “Karnal” tells the story of a young bride (Charito Solis) preyed upon by her father-in-law (Vic Silayan) for her resemblance to his dead wife.
Ishmael Bernal’s landmark film “Himala” premiered at the 1982 MMFF. The film, written by Ricky Lee, tells the story of Elsa (Nora Aunor in arguably her greatest performance) as a young village girl who sees a vision of the Blessed Virgin and begins to perform healing acts. The film deftly navigates questions about faith, objective truth, and morality while telling a deeply human story. It’s a film that remains resonant, that still has as much to say about Filipino society today as it did over 30 years ago.
“Itanong Mo Sa Buwan” (1988)
One of Jaclyn Jose’s first onscreen performances (which garnered her a Gawad Urian that year) came in Chito Roño’s “Itanong Mo Sa Buwan.” In the film, she plays Josie, a hostage in a failed bank robbery. She’s the sole witness of the crime and the film follows the unraveling of the facts after the incident. It’s a mesmerizing film, a testament to Jose’s raw talent as a performer. She won the MMFF’s Best Supporting Actress that year.
“May Minamahal” (1993)
This unforgettable romantic comedy by Jose Javier Reyes won nine awards in the 1993 festival, including Best Director, Best Story, and Best Screenplay for Reyes, Best Actor for Aga Muhlach, and Second Best Film. In the film, Muhlach plays a young man suddenly faced with an all-female household (including Boots Anson-Roa, Agot Isidro, and a young Claudine Barretto) after the death of his father. Throw in Aiko Melendez as a boyish yet quirky romantic interest and it’s a recipe for rom-com magic.
“Magic Temple” (1996)
Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes’ fantasy adventure “Magic Temple” swept the 1996 MMFF’s awards, winning a total of 14 trophies including Best Film and Best Director. The film follows three boys — Jubal (Jason Salcedo), Sambag (Junell Hernando) and Omar (Marc Solis) — on a quest for the titular temple to save the world of Samadhi from the evil forces of Ravenal (a deliciously evil Jackie Lou Blanco) and Sifu (Jun Urbano). The film is best remembered for its sharply crafted narrative, stunning visuals, and singular world-building.
“Tanging Yaman” (2000)
Three estranged siblings (Edu Manzano, Johnny Delgado, and Dina Bonnevie) and their children come together in their ancestral home to settle familial disputes, as their mother (Gloria Romero) comes to terms with her waning years in Laurice Guillen’s “Tanging Yaman.” Old hurts resurface and three generations must fight their way to redemption in this poignant portrait of the Filipino family. The film is notable as well for early performances from young actors such as Marvin Agustin, Jericho Rosales, and Shaina Magdayao who would later become stars in their own right.