Children’s cinema is a film genre that remains under-valued and undiscussed. In the country, much of the films for children are either imported from Hollywood or from the Metro Manila Film festival run. And this trend in the industry posits several problems and concerns. One, we continue to favor the colonial narrative when it comes to teaching the next generation. Two, the so-called family-oriented, comedy films during the MMFF bring no value to viewers, both adults and children. Often times, they propagate sexism, classism, and ageism to their audience. Meng Patalo, a 2015 film by Mikh Vergara, is a good reminder of the need to create children films in the country. The film teaches us how the use of children’s perspective in telling a story in film incites innovation and creativity. It shows us that tales, when seen and told in the eyes of children can be new and revolutionary.
Meng Patalo is about Meng, a 10-year old girl, and her band of loser friends. While the gang loves to play patintero, they became notorious for constantly losing. Until one day, a new character came in and promised them a fighting chance in the community’s grand patintero game.
First lesson we can learn from this film is that, even ‘small stories matter.’ Even things that seem boring and mundane can be a source of exciting narratives. While most films have the tendency to look at the grand stories, universal concepts, and issues that concern the general public, children’s films can focus on everyday activities and make them memorable and significant. They transform daily routine into seemingly new adventures.
In the case of Meng Patalo, focusing on patintero, a children’s game, allows the film to not only play to a classic Filipino game but also to touch on topics of friendship, loyalty, and honesty. Patintero becomes a metaphor for the game of life in general. And this metaphor is so well put that it can be extended to various levels and forms. It could relate to issues of society, politics and other grand concerns.
Second, ‘small communities tell great stories.’ A seemingly confined and small world of characters can actually bring complex issues as it allows the audience to navigate stories further and deeper. Most films, those that are set in big and complicated worlds can feel detached from the audience. At times, the one and a half hour of the film is not enough for the audience to immerse in the environment of the story. Meanwhile, in a small community, the audience gets to know characters in a deeper level. They get to empathize with them. The audience get to have more time to know the world of the film better.
In Meng Patalo, the world is set within the borders of Barangay San Jose. The story takes place in this small community. Through choosing to narrow down the story’s setting, the audience gets to be familiar with the context of the narrative. It’s become easier for them to get to know the high school antagonists occupying the sari-sari store or to appreciate the training session of the patalos in an abandoned building.
Third, ‘take nothing too seriously.’ Children’s films understand that there is beauty in comedy. Even serious matters can be portrayed in a light manner. Hence, children’s films can become an effective medium to discuss topics of poverty, discrimination, and inequality.
For Meng Patalo, the playfulness of the scenes gives a fun and entertaining experience to the audience. The quirky fight scenes give a glimpse to the rich imagination of children. Even scenes that may be low-brow for some work in Meng Patalo because the world it created is formed in the imaginative eyes of children. It becomes entirely acceptable to watch a world where nothing matters but the need to win a patintero game.
Philippine Cinema badly needs children films. For one, there is not enough local materials that cater to the young audience. We need films that not only pay tribute to the rich culture and history of the country but also imagines a better future. Also, children films prepare young audience to appreciate and critique films. At a young age, they become consumers of Philippines films thereby making them better in reading and understanding movies than the generations that came before them.
Our films need to replicate techniques and perspective offered by children films. We need to see more stories tackling mundane and everyday narratives. We need to watch more tales from small communities. And, we need comedy to criticize and parody our dire conditions.