By Zsarlene B. Chua

Many people may not know that the Philippines has always had an illustrious cinematic heritage — the art form came to the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century when moving pictures were introduced in 1897 while the first silent feature film, Dalagang Bukid, was created in 1919 by Jose Nepomuceno, dubbed as the father of Philippine Cinema.

Since that first movie, the Philippines has produced thousands upon thousands of films, including works from premiere directors of its first so-called Golden Age (1950s) such as Lamberto Avellana (whose body of work includes Anak Dalita, 1956) and Manuel Conde (Genghis Khan, 1952) and works by directors from its second Golden Age in the 1970s-1980s, with Lino Brocka (Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, 1974) and Ishmael Bernal (Himala, 1982) at the forefront. All four mentioned directors have been named National Artists for Film.


But despite the much-vaunted heritage, the Philippines has been sorely lacking in terms of preserving these great films — the country still has no permanent national film archive, thousands of these works have been lost to war, to climate, and to sheer neglect.

According to the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA), a non-government organization focused on preserving the country’s cinematic heritage, in the nearly 100 years since 1919 around 8,000 Filipino films were made but only about 3,000 exist today, many of which are not in pristine condition.

“In a recent inventory of the collections of several archives or storage facilities in the country, SOFIA found that many of these so-called archives are in various levels of disrepair. There is only one institution in the country that operates as an honest-to-goodness archive. This is the ABS-CBN Film Archive. The facilities qualify as state-of-the-art and the operations are maintained 24/7,” said SOFIA member and screenwriter/director Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., in his “Devotion and Archiving” monograph, published by SOFIA.

He further noted that as a result, the ABS-CBN Film Archive is “the de facto national film archive.”

Meanwhile, the Film Development Council of the Philippines has been mulling creating a permanent archive in the Subic Bay area, according to its chairman and CEO, Mary Liza Dino-Seguerra.


Much of the focus now has been turned to acquiring (and archiving) the existing films and restoring them, with ABS-CBN again at the forefront.

The earliest attempt at restoring a Filipino film was done back in the 1980s when Gerardo de Leon’s Noli Me Tangere (1961) was restored at a Munich-based laboratory, according to Mr. del Mundo’s essay “Ukay-Ukay” for SOFIA.

While restoration efforts “have always been in the plans” of the network, said Leo Katigbak, head of the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project, formal operations started only in 2011, but things moved quickly — a year later the network’s restoration arm launched a digitally restored version of Bernal’s Himala.


Now, after operating for six years, the project has produced more than 120 restored Filipino titles including Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata (1982) and Mario O’ Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976), among many others.

“The films we restore are the best of its time,” Mr. Katigbak told BusinessWorld during an interview in December.

But, of course, film restoration isn’t the easiest of work, in fact, Mr. Katigbak remarked that it’s an “underappreciated job.”

“There are times people would comment so loosely about ‘why would you restore that film but not this one’…our agenda is to preserve representative works of directors, that’s why the priority was [to restore] at least one work [of the directors],” he explained.


Much of the difficulty with restoration comes not only in restoring the defects in the actual film stock but in the simple act of acquiring copies (decent or otherwise) of the movie they are working on.

“More often than not, with old movies, there are no surviving copies. More often than not, producers themselves don’t have copies [of their films], so you’d have to source it from someone else,” he said. There were times where they would have to contend with the legalities of copies having multiple or even undocumented ownership, he said.

A classic example, he noted, was Brocka’s Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang where the person who had the rights for the film was willing to have it restored but the person who actually had the copies was not.


And these copies usually aren’t in the best condition as the Philippines’ heat and humidity are not conducive to preserving film reels — and storing these reels properly is quite expensive.

“[It’s] also expensive. If you’re preserving a material, you would have to put it in an air-conditioned room with someone to look after it. That’s good if you’re rich,” said Mr. Katigbak, the implication being that most of those holding old films are not.

So copies obtained can be in various states of degeneration, riddled with mold and fungi, among other things, which makes the process of restoration longer.

“It really depends on what kind of defects the film has, [restoration] can as short as one month but that it’s either one month of light work or one month of intensive work with all departments working on a single month… it can go from one month to eight months,” Mr. Katigbak said.


The ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project currently uses the expertise of two restoration companies, L’Immagine Ritrovata film lab (“the best in the world,” said Mr. Katigbak) in Italy, and the local Central Digital Lab. Much of the restoration is handled by Central Digital.

“We have an understanding of the material. We were the ones who were working with a lot of those materials in the ’90s… and we also understand how the film was processed” said Manet A. Dayrit, president and CEO of Central Digital Lab in an interview last month, explaining the why bulk of the restoration is done by them.

Ms. Dayrit was the associate editor of Peque Gallaga’s 1996 fantasy movie Magic Temple, whose restored version was recently screened during the annual ReLive the Classics festival at the Powerplant Cinemas in Makati City.

She noted that the Philippines had a “very unique way of post-producing film”: because production budgets were so small, the majority of the time, prints (the copies that would be shown in theaters) would be created from the assembled original negatives, which results in these negatives becoming scratched and damaged and lost. Other countries would make a duplicate negative from which to create prints, thus saving the original negative in pristine condition.

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She said restoration work for a film would entail around 300-500 hours for an easy job (the copies were found in decent condition) and could easily take “thousands of hours” for a hard one. Lino Brocka’s Cain at Abel (1982) took 1,700 hours of work to restore, according to Ms. Dayrit.

And the cost for restoring a single film? “Anywhere from P300,000 to P20 million, if you’re pushing it,” said Mr. Katigbak.

“[Peque Gallaga’s] Oro, Plata, Mata was difficult because it has a lot of audio problems. It was also difficult because the print we worked with had wrong sequencing, so we had to bring it back to the original source material. However, movies like [Mario O’Hara’s] Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, was very, very difficult… usually if your problem are molds and fungus, it’s always problematic because… it can affect color quality and consistency,” said Mr. Katigbak.

“The only problem with the restoration is the sound because usually what they have is the print and then the sound is already there they can’t do anything about it. They can’t remix because they don’t have the materials to do it,” commented SOFIA’s Mr. Del Mundo.

Ms. Dayrit said that they have to work frame by frame to address defects such as warping, scratches, fungi and molds. A film — which has 24 frames per second — with an estimated running time of 110 minutes would have around 144,000 frames to restore.

This year, Mr. Katigbak said that they plan to restore Carlito Siguion-Reyna’s Hihintayin Kita sa Langit (1991) by February, and Danny Zialcita’s Karma (1981), among others. He added that they typically aim for restoring 30 films per year but “you don’t really find out until the restoration is ongoing.”

They plan on restoring the rest of the network’s Star Cinema titles by 2018 or 2019.

He added that one of his dream projects is Eddie Romero’s Agila (1980) but said that the film’s broadcasting rights are with Fernando Poe, Jr. Studios (Mr. Poe starred in the movie), and that that company is also doing its own restoration efforts on works of the actor/director/producer.

He also said that he would also “love to restore Manila By Night/City After Dark; Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag (1980) and Burlesk Queen (1977),” by Celso Ad Castillo.

On the government front, Ms. Dino-Seguerra said that the National Film Archives, the archiving arm of the FDCP, has listed a number of films to be digitized.

“Not necessarily commercial films but also those not of commercial value but of importance to the cinema heritage,” she said, adding that the FDCP has allotted P10 million to P15 million of its budget to restore at least five films, which are yet to be determined.

While efforts are under way to salvage what remains of the Philippines’ cinematic history, Mr. Del Mundo noted that it would be better if the restorers would also make a physical copy for archiving, not just a digital copy.

“What they’re doing here is digital restoration. It’s better than nothing. The idea was to also restore it, after digital restoration, to make a copy on film, like a negative or a print,” he said, adding that: “Film is more stable and it will last longer than digital format stored in servers… it can suddenly vanish.”