Sometimes, a little inspiration can take you a long, long way. At the recent Udine Far East Film Festival in Italy, film-goers were treated to three works from the Philippines that were bright, inventive and engaging. But what's most impressive is that they hail from an industry that's virtually on its knees. Prohibitive taxes (up to 30 per cent of the gross), lack of government support, a shrinking economy and a dwindling audience base have had a crippling effect on the industry in the archipelago. From an output of about 200 films each year in the 1990s, they're now down to about 50 - most of them cheap, soft-core sex comedies. But in Bridal Shower, Gagamboy and Keka - the three featured at Udine - it was proven that, no matter what the restraints, there's plenty of life left in the Philippine film world. Of the three, Bridal Shower (a sex comedy with more to it than first meets the eye) is the most accomplished. Gagamboy (a dazzling take on Spider-Man) is the wildest, and the ultra-low budget Keka (a revenge thriller/comedy that would give Quentin Tarantino a run for his money) has the most natural style. All combined a refreshing take on a familiar premise, with more than a dash of subtle social commentary. As part of the Far East Film schedule, audiences were invited to participate in a round-table discussion with filmmakers Jeffrey Jeturian (director, Bridal Shower), Alfred Vargas (star, Bridal Shower), Robert Tan (producer, Bridal Shower) and Erik Matti (director, Gagamboy). It was chaired by noted film critic Roger Garcia, and proved to be a lively afternoon. 'In the case of our film [Gagamboy], we basically started with a rip-off of Spider-Man,' says Matti. 'But, of course, we had no money, so we decided to make it really small. We put it in the context of a Philippine community, and tried to make our characters as interesting as possible.' The importance of giving the product a Philippine edge was a cause Jeturian also takes up. 'I always try to inject a bit of social reality in my films,' he says. 'We have to show what's going on to make people laugh, but also to make them think a bit.' All agreed on the need to direct their films at specific parts of society if they're to survive in the marketplace. 'Like most places, our market is dominated by the big-budget Hollywood films,' says Tan, who has produced hundreds of films in a career spanning more than 20 years. 'So, you have to make films that are as attractive as possible to our audience. That means getting big stars from TV, otherwise you'll never make it. 'Most poor people can't even afford to go to the cinema. So, a large section of our audience has disappeared. We have a different market now - the middle class and the elite - and we have to address them.' Bridal Shower is a prime example of that trend. It stars the popular Dina Bonnevie as one of three successful women all looking for love. They represent the new, modern and more liberated Filipino - and play off each other cleverly, while questioning what they need, what they think they need, and the very nature of modern love. Gagamboy features rising star Vhong Navarro, and is a madcap romp, honouring the comics from which it draws inspiration, while saying a lot about the plight of the little guy in the face of a cruel world. And Keka is all about a young lady (the superb Katya Santos) who charts a course of revenge after her boyfriend is cut down by members of a rival gang. But even in the face of such promise - and obvious talent - these filmmakers have their work cut out. 'In the Philippines you have to use your own money to make films,' says Tan. 'Banks will not lend you money. So making movies can be very risky ... To be in this industry you really have to love films.' Budgets for Philippine films reflect the nation's moribund economy. Bridal Shower is considered expensive at US$400,000. Most come in about US$200,000, and the most spent would be about US$600,000, the filmmakers say. 'It can be hard,' says Jeturian. 'Most companies spend about US$50,000 and shoot, at most, for 10 days. These are 'sex' films, and you have to make them in order to do the things you really care about.' December's Metro Manila Film Festival is one time when local output dominates, as cinemas adhere to a 'Philippines only' rule. Meanwhile, these films are gradually reaching the wider cinema-going world, thanks to events such as the Hong Kong International Film Festival, and the one in Udine. And there's further hope in the fact that Hong Kong's large and vibrant Philippine community means most of the films are available here on VCD. 'Most of our overseas audience are constantly working, so they don't have time to go to the cinema,' says Tan. 'Which is why we release all our films on video and VCD, so they get a chance to see them - and we get to survive.'