“Whether the Weather is Fine” features (from left) Rans Rifol, Daniel Padilla and Charo Santos.

It may be extra challenging, but it’s also very exciting,” said director Cathy Garcia-Molina, who is participating in the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) for the very first time this year with her romantic comedy “Love at First Stream.”

Molina may be used to her films becoming box-office hits, but she admitted to feeling thrilled to being part of a film fest. “At least I got to experience it before I retire,” Molina told reporters during the formal announcement of this year’s eight official MMFF entries.

“Love at First Stream” is among the 19 films that vied for the eight slots.

It features newcomers Anthony Jennings, Jeremiah Lisbo, Daniela Stranner and Kaori Oinuma. “I’m ready to participate in all the MMFF activities; I just don’t know yet what they are going to be. I actually didn’t know that I have to be present on Dec. 24 and 25 that’s why I booked a flight abroad earlier. I am now asking for a reschedule,” she said. “I’m excited to do this—it’s my first time to join the MMFF, first time to do it during the pandemic and first time since the resumption of cinema operations.”

From left: “The ExorSis” team of Melai Cantiveros, director Fifth Solomon, Toni and Alex Gonzaga

Close fight

The other entries are the following: Jun Robles Lana’s “Big Night,” starring Christian Bables; Law Fajardo’s “A Hard Day;” starring Dingdong Dantes and John Arcilla; Carlo Francisco Manatad’s “Whether the Weather is Fine,” starring Daniel Padilla, Charo Santos and Rans Rifol; Lester Dimaranans’ “Nelia,” starring Winwyn Marquez and Raymond Bagatsing; Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Huwag Kang Lalabas,” starring Kim Chiu, Beauty Gonzalez and Aiko Melendez; Fifth Solomon’s “The ExorSis,” starring real-life sisters Toni and Alex Gonzaga; and Louie Ignacio’s “Huling Ulan sa Tag-Araw,” starring Ken Chan and Rita Daniela.

“I think we have a good mix,” said Boots Anson-Rodrigo, newly appointed chairperson of the MMFF’s selection committee. “Our ruling on the genre distribution and the criteria for judging were all followed.”

On whether the committee had a hard time choosing the final eight entries, Rodrigo said: “Members were sent copies online of the 19 films that applied. The Secretariat gave us six days to view all films. After viewing, we then submitted our score sheets that were later certified by me. The Secretariat did the tallying. Today, we had our two-hour deliberation that turned out to be very cordial and congenial,” Rodrigo told Inquirer Entertainment shortly after the announcement held at the Novotel Manila Araneta in Quezon City.

“I looked at the scores and saw that the fight was close. When I talked with the members at the end of our deliberation, everyone was in agreement. There were a few questions here and there, and that I think it was healthy. There was much unison,” Rodrigo stressed.

Rodrigo made the announcement with Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chair Benhur Abalos last Friday. The MMDA is the overall organizer of the MMFF.

“Big Night” stars Christian Bables (right) and Eugene Domingo.

Behind the scenes

Joji Alonso, who is one of the producers of the social drama “Whether the Weather is Fine,” said she hoped that the awards that the film received from Europe would help boost the film. It won the Cinema e Gioventu Prize (Youth Jury Prize) at the 74th Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, while Manatad won best director at the 2021 London East Asia Film Festival in the United Kingdom.

“However, if it’s a guarantee that the film would do well, we have to be very realistic. We don’t expect that, simply because our film is in Waray. That is a major challenge, because not everyone would like to watch films with subtitles,” Alonso added. “It’s a film conceptualized more than seven years ago. It took forever for us to put up the budget of over P65 million for this. We don’t expect to recoup that money, but we hope to be able to return a part of the investment of those who helped make Carlo’s dream of making a tribute to Tacloban City during the time of Typhoon Yolanda come true.”

Lana’s previous two films, “Panti Sisters” and “Die Beautiful,” both featured Bables. He said he made sure a different Bables would be seen in this one. “We really sat down and talked about how this would be different. We focused on the character’s look and behavior. Christian has a Visayan accent here. He also walks differently. You will realize that the character has many interesting twists when you see the film,” he pointed out.

While the genre is comedy, the story is not something to laugh about, Lana stressed. “Big Night” talks about the Duterte administration’s nationwide anti-drug campaign and the issue of extra judicial killings. “My comedy films have always been like that. They carry serious themes. It’s the way I tell my stories. They reflect what is happening in our society right now. I think what’s sad is that we’ve come to a point wherein we’re already so accepting of what’s happening that we just laugh at our situation.”

Filmmaker Paul Soriano is coproducing “The ExorSis,” the film of his wife and sister-in-law. “It was born from one of our Sunday lunches. Their writer-director, Fifth, is one of their barkada. They simply told me, ‘i-produce mo ‘yan!’ Most of the time, I take them seriously. This is why we have this film,” Soriano explained. “This capitalizes on their being sisters. Horror-comedy is something that Toni hasn’t really done before, while Alex, as you know, is expectedly unpredictable.”

This year’s MMFF will run from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7. The films will be screened in cinemas nationwide.

New Metro Manila Film Festival selection committee chair Boots Anson-Rodrigo

Major makeover

The Gabi ng Parangal will be on Dec. 27. The annual Parade of the Stars will have a major makeover this year, according to Abalos. Instead of the usual motorcade, the MMDA is considering hosting a fluvial procession on Pasig River. It will cross cities such as Taguig, Makati, Manila and Mandaluyong.

He added that MMFF organizers could request local government units to help in crowd control along the water route.

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