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Liza Diño steers FDCP anew towards the dream of making the Philippines the next South Korea when it comes to film and TV production.

Undersecretary Mary Liza Diño had just finished watching “Business Proposal,” and she couldn’t help but gush over the treatment of the hit South Korean romantic comedy television series.

“It’s so cute, isn’t it? And it can be such a Filipino story since it’s about a rich boss and his employee. It’s so typical,” says Diño, referring to the love story about an employee who goes on a blind date in place of her friend, but finds out that her date is the CEO of the company she works at.

“But the treatment, it’s so engaging, it’s so new. They made use of things we see in social media apps where different backgrounds appear, right? To show that they’re really current,” she continues. “They’re really responding to their audience and use elements that serve the audience. I hope we could do the same; we can be that innovative and creative.” Asked about her favorite K-Drama, Diño is quick to answer “Start-Up,” the first Korean series she has seen. Being the Film Development Council of the Philippines’ (FDCP) Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), she can relate to the characters struggling to build their start-up company and coming together to achieve their dreams.

“Of course, as a CEO, their situation resonated. Oh my God, so it’s like that! You should have 51 percent ownership if you’re CEO, even if the finances didn’t come from you, things like that. I learned a lot, since they really dig deep into the world they create for the characters,” Diño remarks, lauding the characters’ vivid portrayal of conflicts felt by startup workers—from pitching ideas, finding investors, and building connections through networking events.

“The devil is in the details. And if we disabuse ourselves of the mentality that mediocre work will do, and post-production will just make up for it, we could do so many things,” she says.

There is no doubt that the Hallyu or the “Korean Wave” created a phenomenal growth of Korean culture, encompassing music, games, cuisine, and their cinema. It is this explosive success of the South Korean brand in the global market that she dreams of for the Philippines, as she continues to lead the country’s film agency for another three years with her reappointment.

While Diño is cognizant of the decades of consistency and intentional effort it took South Korea to get to where they are now—including the collaboration of their government and private sector in pushing for the global potential of their entertainment and media industry as a catalyst for building their country’s influence worldwide—she sees so much potential in Philippine cinema, particularly in the diversity of content and the wellspring of untapped narratives, genres and executions through regional cinema, animation, and documentaries.

“The Philippines is so rich and the people, so diverse. We’ve 7,641 islands. We don’t even know the stories behind most of these islands because the stories we hear almost always have Metro Manila as the setting. So, diversity is already something that we can check off the list,” she says. Moreover, South Korea, Diño adds, has always been an ally, as the Korean Film Council assists the FDCP in policymaking, exchange, and cultural collaborations.

Diño had already set her sights on a global Filipino film industry when she was appointed by then-President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. As her new term extends until 2025, she will carry on with her aim of finding audiences beyond the Philippines and enjoining Filipino filmmakers in creating content that can be up to par with international market standard. “The Philippines has been very, very insular. While we gathered a huge audience for Philippine cinema because of our insularity, we failed to tap the huge audience outside the country. So, that is what we at FDCP are working on, to come up with films that are meant not just for international festivals. We will actually have films that will resonate even in the commercial market,” she explains.

To fulfil the dream of being Asia’s next success story, Diño proposed the FDCP’s 10-Point Agenda for Philippine film industry, putting a premium on operational excellence in order to provide the most efficient service to their stakeholders. They are now working towards an ISOQMS certification that will streamline and standardize the programs of the divisions in the agency; a permanent building for the FDCP; and more plantilla positions for the organization that employs 130 workers.

The agency will sustain programs, such as the FilmPhilippines Incentives, which attracts foreign productions to make the country a go-to filming destination through cash rebates; the UniPhilippines program, which promotes Philippine cinema in the international film market; and the Behind the Scenes Academy, which professionalizes film workers through education and skills training in the technical and creative aspects of the industry.

“When I say workforce, I mean not only the directors, scriptwriters, cinematographers. I also mean the technical workers who aren’t given the opportunity to get an education: makeup artists, prosthetics, riggers, grip, and gaffers. We’ve gotten used to romanticizing things, like ‘Oh, I’m self-taught’ but at the end of the day, you need education. You really need a continuing learning strategy so you could better equip yourself, and that’s what we want to provide for our workforce,” Diño stresses.

For Diño, this is particularly important as she sees the need to embrace the best practices and “unlearn” old and traditional habits in favor of producing quality films.

“We tend to take for granted our post-production, sound, technical,” she says, harping on the need to challenge old norms in search of delivering movies that could be considered as world-class. “In other countries, before the story they look at the technical [aspect]. If you don’t meet the technical standards, they’ll reject your film. We do things the other way around.

For us, as long as the story is good, we don’t mind even if all you see on screen are blurry images of the characters.”

“So, we want to change that and enjoin our filmmakers to realize that. It has to go hand in hand. Kahit na sobrang ganda ng story mo, kung hindi naging pulido ‘yung paggawa ng pelikula, walang manonood, lalo na sa ibang bansa because right now, ang dami dami nang pelikula. So, ‘yung ganda, hindi lang sa istorya, pero ‘yung kalidad na puwede mong mabigay para maipakita yung pinakamagandang version ng mga pelikula natin (No matter how good your story is, if other aspects were not done well, no one will watch it, especially abroad, considering that there are so many films. So the film must be good not only story-wise but of high-quality overall if we really want to create the best version of our films). And that’s actually what we need to still work on,” she adds.

The television, film, and stage actress, who has appeared in several films for both independent and commercial studios in Manila, will also pick up the gains from the last six years in championing workers’ rights to fair wages and safe working conditions.

With Diño at the helm, the FDCP and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) signed Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) No. 1, Series of 2020, which formalizes the guidelines governing the working conditions and occupational safety and health of workers in audiovisual production.

The landmark agreement, which was crafted even before the untimely death of veteran actor Eddie Garcia—who tripped on a cable wire and hit his head on the pavement during a shoot for a teleserye—ushered in definite working hours, social welfare benefits, the “no contract, no work policy”, and insurance among others. “Without prejudice to my predecessors, they may have had different priorities before, but as an industry worker, I am fully aware of the issues we have to address. And film workers’ welfare has been unaddressed for so long. Even during the time of Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, and all those stalwarts of the industry who have preceded me, that has been a dream, to have sector-specific policies to address the occupational safety and health of the workers,” Diño says.

“So, we could say that my achievement [regarding this concern] in the last six years is that we saw concrete developments. There was actually a policy that was finalized between the DOLE and the FDCP as a transitional policy as we aspire for that enabling law, the Eddie Garcia Bill.” While Diño has yet to sit down with the new president, she feels that the film industry could play an integral role in Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s promises of unification and nation rebuilding, especially considering cinema’s power to shape people’s perception. “I hope that we can use cinema as a tool to bring the country back together by celebrating why we should be proud that we are Filipinos because we seem to have forgotten some aspects of our being Filipino,” she says, while pointing out that there is an abundance of other facets that filmmakers could tap aside from social realities the country is facing. For example, films that celebrate the beauty and diversity of the Philippines.

“While cinema is an important vehicle to highlight social injustices, these stories are only one part of who we are as Filipinos. I hope that in the next six years, doon naman tayo sa mga istoryang magshoshowcase sa iba’t ibang aspeto ng kulturang Pilipino. (We could go that direction where we give our filmmakers who are brave enough to still put in the forefront things that we need to address, but at the same time, let us intentionally make movies that celebrate different aspects of Filipino culture),” she stresses.

The film chief also allays fears of possible censorship of works that are critical of the next administration, noting how the first Marcos administration saw a number of films—namely from legendary auteurs Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal—were produced, distributed, and submitted to international film festivals.

“Normally when conflict arises in other countries, cinema gets censored first, movie houses get padlocked first. But in the Philippines, even during Martial Law, dito na-produce at naipalabas ang mga pelikulayang nagpakilala sa atin sa buong mundo like ‘Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag,’ ‘Manila by Night,’ and ‘Insiang.’ Moreover, the experimental Cinema of the Philippines, governmentowned corporation of the Republic of the Philippines produced films like ‘Himala’ by Ishmael Bernal and ‘Oro Plata’ Mata by Peque Gallaga,” says Diño, who remains confident that the Philippine film industry will maintain the freedom it enjoyed under her watch the last few years.

On September 29, 1972, then President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed a Letter of Instruction No. 13, s. 1972 pursuant to Proclamation No. 1081 which aimed to “safeguard the morality of our society, particularly the youth, against the negative influence of certain motion pictures.” The chairman of Board of Censors for Motion Pictures was directed to ban films which “intend to incite subversion, insurrection or rebellion against the State; intend to undermine the faith and confidence of the people in their government and/or duly constituted authorities; glorify criminals or condone crimes; serve no other purpose; offend any race or religion; tend to abet the traffic in and use of prohibited drugs; and contrary to law.”Although, it is worth noting that some of the acclaimed films made by directors Brocka and Bernal were released after said proclamation. For example, Brocka’s “Insiang” (1976) and “Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag” (1975) and Bernal’s “Himala” (1982) and “Manila by Night” (1980), all of which depicted harsh realities in the country. However, former first lady Imelda Marcos ordered “Manila by Night” to change its name to “City After Dark” and banned it for export as the film allegedly “maligns her city.” Same also happened to “Insiang,” whose initial release was halted by the first lady as it did not depict “a beautiful view” of the Philippines. After public protests, however, the ban on the film was lifted.

What worries Diño, however, is the preconceived notion that arts and culture—to which cinema belongs—is last among the government’s priorities when it comes to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whenever you are talking about the country’s recovery, of course you first have to think about food security, education, health, and all. And inevitably, arts and culture get sidelined and experience budget cuts. At times, it is regarded as not relevant enough,” Diño laments. “And I hope that we free ourselves from this perspective, because film, arts, and culture helped keep Filipinos at home during the pandemic.” While the film industry was able to restart productions adhering to specific health protocols as early as May 2020, cinemas were only allowed to reopen albeit at a limited capacity for fully vaccinated moviegoers within and outside Metro Manila in November 2021. Losses were felt industry-wide with 80 percent of the revenue pre-pandemic still coming from movie ticket sales. “Without music, content, TV, that we could watch every day to give us hope, distraction, and entertainment, a lot of us will be really, really suffering right now in terms of mental health. We are not non-essential. I hope that the government sees that value and instead of cutting down on budget when it comes to expenses to help Philippine cinema recover, it would instead be increased,” Diño emphasizes.

“Right now, it’s really important to understand how to navigate these new platforms, [face] these disruptions, and see this as part of the ecosystem of the film industry, and at the same time, empower our producers by providing them incentives, funding to jumpstart the industry again to create films.” With the passage of the Philippine Creative Industries Development Bill, which will govern the development and promotion of the creative industries as a legitimate economic sector, Diño hopes that the country will take a ‘whole-of-nation approach’ regarding the film industry as an untapped market both financially and patriotically. “There’s so much potential for this industry to be a big economic contributor for the country, and at the same time, be a tool for ged against leading film industries today, like those in Korea and FFrance, so that we can be the next South Korea,” she ends.

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