Aw, shucks! RP’s Dolly de Leon missed the Oscar best supporting actress nomination mostly likely by just one slot. That is what most film observers believe. She was probably No. 6 in the ranking and only five were needed in the list of nominees. However, her film, Triangle of Sadness (where she had been receiving rave reviews for being superb in her role as “toilet manager”) made it to the Oscar best picture list.
But we are still proud of her. After all, she was named co-winner in the best supporting performance in the Los Angeles Film Critics Award and got nominated in the Golden Globes.
And yes, she is among the nominees in this year’s British Academy Film Awards – or BAFTA. She also won best supporting actress in an award-giving body in Sweden.
As Filipinos, we should all be content with the honors she had been giving the country. Sadly, the Philippines was colonized by America for half a century and had always looked up to Hollywood as the yardstick of greatness. And Dolly missed that one.
The disappointment was such that there was even a congressional hearing to find out why the Philippines couldn’t get into the Oscars. According to what had been coming out in social media, the Philippines had been sending entries to this Hollywood-based awards body since 1953, but has yet to make a dent.
There really is no clear record as to the years the Philippines sent entries to the Oscars. It’s quite difficult to confirm if there had been efforts among local filmmakers to compete in the Academy Awards from the 1950s to till the early 1980s. Perhaps some tried, but for sure, the attempts didn’t happen yearly.
In 1985, however, the National Oscar Selection Committee was formed and the jurors were representatives from the Film Development Foundation of the Philippines, the Film Academy of the Philippines and one from the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino.
The chairman was the great Alejandro Roces, who later would become National Artist. Screenings and deliberations were held at the Manila Film Center and the entries considered were films from 1983 until the first half of 1985.
Included in the shortlist were Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L., Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Karnal and Peque Gallaga’s Virgin Forest. The group decided not to include Lino Brocka’s Kapit sa Patalim (Bayan Ko) anymore because it was a film too hot to handle that time.
Ninoy Aquino had just been killed two years earlier and the country was in chaos. There was strict censorship and the producer of Kapit sa Patalim, Tony Gonzalez (he later became Tourism secretary during Cory Aquino’s time), had to go to court for his film to be released commercially. Kapit, in fact, had to be smuggled out of the country to be able to take part in the Cannes Film Festival in France.
The theme of Kapit, as per the censors then, painted a negative image of the country. It cannot be denied, however, that Kapit is a superior film and will always be considered among the best Philippine movies ever produced.
In the 1985 Gawad Urian, it won several major prizes, including best picture, best screenplay (by Jose “Pete” Lacaba), best actor (Phillip Salvador) and best actress (Gina Alajar). But sending Kapit to the Oscars would have been very difficult that time due to the political climate then.
With Kapit sa Patalim out of the picture, the jurors in the National Oscar Selection committee began choosing the local film that was deemed Oscar-worthy.
The first to be shot down was Sister Stella L. The theme was about labor unrest. But while this social issue was – and still is – relevant to the country, films about workers’ unions in the Philippines may look like kindergarten stuff in Hollywood since there are bigger labor problems in America that are more complicated. To the Oscar voters, Sister Stella L. may be nothing but Norma Rae goes to the convent.
As for Virgin Forest, the future National Artist Eddie Romero thought it had too many symbolism – like Sarsi Emmanuelle as Mother Philippines and Miguel Rodriguez representing oppressive Spain. In the end, it was Karnal that was chosen as RP’s bet to the Oscars.
When told that it was her Karnal that was going to be sent to the Oscars, Marilou Abaya whooped with joy. From her house in Lt. Artiaga in San Juan, she called up anyone who was willing to join her celebrate the good news. There were no takers. It was already close to midnight by then and most of her friends just wanted to sleep.
Although Marilou considered it a great honor for her Karnal to be sent to the Oscars, she eventually realized that taking part in this Hollywood event wasn’t all that simple. VHS copies of the film had to be distributed to voting members, ads had to be taken out in trade papers and a PR man had to be hired to work on the Oscar campaign. All that needed money and that was the problem.
The Philippines stopped sending entries to the Oscars after that. The next time around, another Marilou Abaya film, Milagros, was chosen to compete in the Academy Awards in Hollywood. This was in 1997. Once more, it failed to make the grade.
The Film Academy of the Philippines had since taken on the task of selecting RP’s delegates to the Oscars. In 2008, Judy Ann Santos and friends raised money to fund the participation of Ploning to the Oscars. Unfortunately, it didn’t make a mark in the Academy race.
Perhaps the local movie industry should change tactics. Instead of pouring all energies into a film product, maybe it could help farm out Pinoy talents to various productions abroad – just like in the case of Dolly de Leon who gained the respect of the international film community by getting cast in the Swedish production of Triangle of Sadness. At no expense on the part of the country, the Philippine flag was raised in Hollywood and else where – thanks to Dolly. Two other Filipino actors – Soliman Cruz and Chai Fonacier are also getting noticed in their respective foreign film projects.
Let’s admit it: The Philippines is rather destitute to come up with an Academy Award winner. While we have good directors and screenwriters capable of mounting a masterpiece, taking part in the Oscars requires an abundance of resources, which, sadly, we do not have.
From the beginning, the people in this archipelago hardly relied on its rulers to get on with life. The colonizers had screwed the citizens of this country big-time: the Spaniards, the British (although only for a while and within the Manila area only), the Americans and the Japanese. Sigh, even the various governments that ruled this nation were of no much help either.
Since the establishments can’t do – and don’t do - much, the Filipinos have learned how to be self-reliant. Thank heavens we have the OFWs to help keep the economy of this country afloat.
Apparently, it’s no different in the field of arts, which had never been a priority in this side of the world. But we are rich in acting talents.
Maybe the only way for the Philippines to get on the Oscar map is for the Filipino actor to continuously persist in seeking acting jobs in foreign-funded movies. Trust the Filipino individual to find vehicles to shine abroad.
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