Can Pinoy films ever win a top Oscar?

February 19, 2020

“Parasite is a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains,” South Korea’s acclaimed filmmaker Bong Joon-ho said of his stunning masterpiece that won the much-coveted Best Picture at the Oscars last week.

The amazing success of Parasite which also won three other major awards – for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film (formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film) –  was truly phenomenal and it has all the ingredients of a great film. Moviegoers wouldn’t feel sorry for spending time and money on it.

It had suspense, drama, exuberance and humor woven into intricate storytelling. It’s no wonder that it finally shattered the glass ceiling after 92 years. Ever since the US-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences started in 1929, the Academy Award (popularly known as Oscar) for Best Picture has never before been bestowed on a non-English-language movie, until Parasite shined on the global stage.

Before last week’s awarding ceremony, the Academy had the perception of being “obsessed with English-language films made by white people.” Amid the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, it had seemed improbable for foreign films, especially Asian films, to hit it big at the Oscars.

Before director Bong Joon-ho, the closest an Asian filmmaker could get to the pinnacle of Oscar success was in the case of Taiwanese movie genius Ang Lee who was nominated for nine Oscars. He won three: Best Foreign Language Film for “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” in 2000; and Best Director for both “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005 and “Life of Pi” in in 2012.

Will the success at the Oscars of Asian filmmakers inspire Filipino counterparts to excel more? While many of our local filmmakers have earned honors in many other prestigious international film festivals, they have yet to attain the level of prestige an Oscar is perceived to have.

Since 1953, starting with Manuel Conde’s epic “Genghis Khan,” our country has been sending entries to the Academy Awards, yet the prestige of even just being nominated has always been elusive.

Many thought our chance for an Oscar was in 2013 in “Bwakaw,” the Cinemalaya entry directed by Jun Robles Lana about an old gay man and his dying dog.

A CNN Philippines article of Don Jaucian said: “‘Bwakaw’ had the makings of a strong Oscar contender. It premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews, and generated significant buzz when it was screened at the New York Film Festival. The New York Times hailed the performance of lead actor Eddie Garcia, calling him ‘a Filipino Clint Eastwood.’ In a glowing review, Variety magazine called the film ‘a quiet charmer.’ And industry website bet that the film was a top contender for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

“But when the shortlist for the Best Foreign Language Film category was announced, ‘Bwakaw’ was nowhere to be found. This, despite the fact the film was backed by Fortissimo Films, an international sales company that represents acclaimed films such as Wong Kar Wai’s “In the Mood for Love.” This, despite the multi-million peso advertising campaign, funded by a few good Filipino souls, that ran across Hollywood publications.

“Perhaps the biggest tool in the Oscar campaign arsenal is publicity. The film has to be seen and considered by Oscar voters. Films with constant press coverage and screenings can gather enough momentum to be included as Oscar nominees. The nomination can’t rely on merit alone. It has to be out there,” the article explained.

But there’s no doubt that merit plays a big part in attaining success at the Oscars. While some local movies, especially the Indie films, undoubtedly have “merit” and are truly deserving of success on the global stage, the perception is widespread that most Filipino films, particularly those shown at the Metro Manila Film Festival, are nowhere near the level of excellence of many movies nominated at the Oscars. (To be continued)