Last month's Metro Manila Film Festival wasn’t like previous versions of the annual celebration of Filipino cinema. There was no traditional parade of colourful floats down Roxas Boulevard to mark the festival’s opening, and no audiences in cinemas, because Covid-19 forced the event online for the first time in its 45-year history.
But this could hardly be classed as entirely unusual. What perhaps stood out most about last month's event was the all-conquering success of a film several times removed from the image of Filipino cinema that audiences are accustomed to.
The glossy studio films that achieve global recognition usually promise lashings of romance, a touch of comedy, and flawless, fresh-faced stars, frequently making up the uniquely Filipino concept of a “love team” – an on-screen pairing that attracts a fanatical fan following, with its individuals rarely seen alongside other leading men or women.
If these idols step outside their “love team”, they can attract incredible ire from fans. Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards discovered this when they abandoned their traditional on-screen partners to appear together in Hello, Love, Goodbye. Their pairing sent fans into a fury and sparked an online boycott campaign.
Antoinette Jadaone's new film Fan Girl has taken all these traditional elements of the genre, thrown them into a grinder and picked up every major award at MMFF in the process. It won Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay among its eight accolades. It is now set to be released to global audiences via The Filipino Channel’s IPTV service, its online sister channel IWantTFC, and global streaming platform KTX.ph.
Fan Girl begins with its star, Paulo Avelino, playing a semi-fictionalised version of himself, with his real-life love team partner Bea Alonzo. As they’re promoting their new film in a shopping mall, Charlie Dizon as super-fan Jane decides to hide in the back of her hero’s truck and follow him home from the event, however, things go decidedly off-script.
They say you should never meet your heroes, and over the course of an unpredictable evening in a remote villa, Jane learns that her idol is not the sugar-coated golden boy she thinks. The events are far from black and white, however, and the examination of her own troubled teenage psyche is far deeper and darker than we might expect from any love team.
It’s a brave departure, and Avelino admits he had some concerns about how his role might be received by his fans. “I’m playing myself, and it’s not in a nice way, so I was expecting it to have a lot of negative reactions from audiences here in the Philippines,” he tells The National.
But the opposite proved true. “I’d like to say that our audiences, nowadays, are smart enough to distinguish someone on-screen and someone out of it," he says. "They see the message of the film as a whole and not just nitpick at individuals, or negative things they do in the film.”
Jadaone began her career with the award-winning 2011 mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, but is best known for her work with perhaps the country’s most popular love team Jadine, aka James Reid and Nadine Lustre. The filmmaker says she was pleased to return to her indie roots with Fan Girl, though she admits she, too, had concerns about how it may be received.
"The trailer kind of suggests it is going to be a romcom, but instead I have portrayed idolatry and blind fanaticism. I thought there might be a backlash because it wasn’t the romcom they expected, but in fact I think audiences were really pleased to finally see this kind of representation in a film. As the director, I’m really happy with how they saw the film.”
Jadaone says it’s only recently that technology has allowed anything but the most mainstream studio productions to reach a global audience.
“There really are a lot of storytellers in the Philippines, and finally we are getting the attention that Philippine cinema deserves. Our cinema is 100 years old, but it’s only recently that we are able to expand our horizons and reach further to audiences. I’m really excited as to what else we can offer to the rest of the world with our movies.”
The film’s breakout star, Dizon, also reveals that she had her own fears over the reaction Fan Girl may inspire, but it wasn’t fans of the Avelino/Alonzo pairing she was worried about. “I was scared of my parents,” the starlet says, with a laugh. “I did a lot of new things, and I had to kiss Paulo. Fans getting mad is a really difficult thing to handle, but parents getting mad? That’s another level.”
Fan Girl is available in the UAE via ktx.ph until Sunday, February 7, and www.mytfc.com and www.iwanttfc.com until Thursday, January 21, at Dh17.99