“Film preservation, restoration, is the challenge of this generation, and those to come”
by Mauro Feria Tumbocon Jr, Festival Director, Filipino International Cine Festival
In a SOFIA survey of 2005 on the status of the country’s audio-visual heritage – SOFIA or the Society of Film Archivists, the volunteer-driven group of Filipino film enthusiasts which has long advocated for film preservation – among 8,000 films produced since the beginning, only 3,000 are known to be still existing; the rest are forever lost, due to war, calamity or sheer neglect. Of these 3,000 titles, 2,500 are in the ABS-CBN Film Archive vaults; the remaining 500 are stored at University of the Philippines, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Mowelfund Film Institute, the Philippine Information Agency and a slew of private collectors.
Sad, and pathetic. If one believes in the idea that film is both an artistic expression and socio-cultural document, imagine the deep loss to our cultural heritage – film reflecting the way – as all forms of art are, like literature, visual art, music, etcetera – we think, we feel, we believe in, at certain periods of our history as a people.
When I think about this, I always remember what a noted cultural critic/writer had written decades ago, of the challenges of film scholarship in the country – simply, the lack or rather, the loss of materials.
Nonetheless, it might be of small comfort to us, knowing that loss of films is not unique to the Philippine situation. A survey of three other countries – the US, India and HongKong, all of them plus the Philippines were the 4 biggest movie producers in the world in the 50s and 60s – revealed comparable situation.
India, the biggest producer, reports as of 2013, 70-80% lost; in the US, there are reports that say, 90% of all silents before 1929 and 50% of all sound films before 1950 are forever lost; HongKong, on the other hand, as of 2003, its archives was able to keep 5,600 titles (no figure on the estimated total of films made since the beginning though).
But there are a few positive developments that we are seeing which makes us optimistic of the future. Two institutions are now in the forefront of the preservation and restoration of our existing films: One, a private organization company, ABS-CBN, the biggest media conglomerate, has seen it fit to organize its own ABS-CBN FIlm Archives – although the economic imperative is not lost on us, considering its constant need for content – must be lauded for its efforts, not only in restoration of acknowledged classics – its first was Ishmael Bernal’s HIMALA [Miracle] restored in 2011 – but also to find new audience for the old films. So far, it has restored close to 65 titles including Mike de Leon’s HINDI NAHAHATI ANG LANGIT and Celso Ad Castillo’s VIRGIN PEOPLE.
Two, a government institution, the FIlm Development Council of the Philippines, mandated to preserve our film heritage has established the National Film Archives, which is yet to find its permanent home, and was material to the restoration of classic films, with the material support of Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation/World Cinema Project, including Lino Brocka’s MAYNILA, SA KUKO NG LIWANAG [Manila, in the claws of neon], 1975/2013; Manuel Conde’s GENGHIS KHAN, 1950/2012; and Lamberto Avellana’s PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS FILIPINO, 1965/2015.
The key to all these efforts, which is significant, is an increasing awareness and recognition of cinema, as valuable part of the nation’s cultural heritage. There is no stopping now, much is to be done: Sourcing of other lost films, take steps for their repatriation (if found abroad), preservation and/or restoration; and continuing education.
A friend, a film scholar, critic and academic, just told me a few days ago that the Cebuano film, Leroy Salvador’s BADLIS SA KINABUHI starring Gloria Sevilla, has been restored. No details available to me though. If correct, this may be the only Cebuano film available to us; the Cebuano film industry at one time, was a big one which commanded sizeable audiences in the Visayas and Mindanao in the 1960s?