Independent a.k.a indie film makers were less than ecstatic when the government announced plans of reopening movie houses by next month.

As far as they are concerned, the trend has leaned towards online streaming where movie goers watch whenever and wherever they want, as long as they have PCs, laptops, or tablets.

Even in pre-pandemic days, indie film makers had struggled to find an audience. This, despite a number of local directors making their mark in the indie film circuit abroad, said one director.

Even the micro-cinemas – little more than large rooms that could accommodate a few dozen cinephiles – were closing down due to lack of business.

For example, the 60-seat Cinema 76 located in San Juan has fallen on hard times, a victim not only of the pandemic but also by the rise of online streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime.

Carlos Villa-Abrille, senior vice-president of the Cinema 76 Film Society, told local media, “Like all other non-essential businesses, Cinema 76 was forced to shut down when the pandemic hit the Philippines. With the rapid spread of Covid-19, management foresaw a prolonged lockdown but did not expect cinemas to be shuttered for an entire year.”

The pandemic forced some companies to go digital in order to survive.

In November last year, Cinema 76 launched Cinema 76@Home, a movie-on-demand platform “that allows us to continue bringing great content to our audience,” according to Villa-Abrille.

Others simply raised their arms in surrender, such as Cinema Centenario which permanently shut down its facility in Quezon City.

According to its owner/founder, “Safety and sustainability were important factors” in their decision to shut down. He added that “even if cinemas were permitted to open again, it won’t work with our situation.”

After the company closed its doors, it launched a premium video-on-demand platform.

Like Cinema 76 and Cinema Centenario, Black Maria Cinema saw the writing on the wall. Even before the government-imposed shutdown, its owner had converted the small cinema house into a mixed-use venue.

Angelo Santos said his Black Maria Cinema could no longer hold screenings because “there’s just too much liability when dealing with the public.”

Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) head Mary Liza Diño-Seguerra does not consider the situation as hopeless.

She said the council helps small cinemas by referring them to film producers who might want to stream their content. She added that the small players should capitalize on the growing demand for online streaming.

The FDCP owns cinemas in Manila, Baguio, Iloilo, and Davao, and has been hosting film festivals even during the pandemic. It also has its own online channel which showed no less than 90 full-length movies last year.

Diño-Seguerra said the shuttered cinema houses specializing in indie films could tie up with the FDCP so that their films could still have an audience.

But their need for independence, free from government influence on their content, may be holding the indies from taking the offer.

Villa-Abrille said, “the cinema business will return to form, although the timeline will depend on how the (anti-Covid) vaccine is procured and distributed to Filipinos.”

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