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Finally, a national film archive

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The Moises Padilla story (source: video48.blogspot.com)

(Editor’s Note: The author is the archiving officer of the new National Film Archive of the Philippines.)

The Philippines was the last country standing without a national film archive—until today, in time to celebrate the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Day for Audiovisual Heritage.

Yet, Philippine cinema can lay claim to having produced some 8,000 or so films since its birth in 1919. But of that figure, the painful truth is that only 3,000 of those titles can be considered extant while the rest, regrettably, are irretrievably lost—never to be seen by current and future generations of moviegoers.

For example, if one wanted to view the works of National Artist for Film Gerardo de Leon, the tragedy is that practically the whole of his filmography is all but gone. One of the very few that remains, “The Moises Padilla” Story from 1961, is in dire need of restoration.

To make matters worse, a lot of the other films that still do exist are already in advanced stages of deterioration (technically called vinegar syndrome) as these are held and kept by different institutions—cash-strapped and with limited resources—in conditions that are, in most cases, lamentable and far from ideal.

There has long been a clamor for the establishment of a state-run and -initiated film archive that shall serve as a repository of our rich cinematic heritage. An attempt was actually made in the past with the Film Archives of the Philippines (FAP) in 1982 under the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP).

Stored in basement

This was housed in the basement of the Manila Film Center which, in hindsight, and if we are to follow strict archiving procedures, was not a suitable location due to its proximity to Manila Bay and its corrosive seawater.

A flood also hit the basement, inflicting damage to the films in storage. And since it was a project under the Marcos regime, it was quickly dissolved in the wake of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

As a result, the films that were under the safekeeping of the FAP moved from one place to the next: from the Movie and Television Review Classification Board (MTRCB) to their present location at Mowelfund, where they have since been in storage.

A feasibility study was later drawn up in the 1990s identifying Makiling as a target site but, unfortunately, this never went past the drawing board.

In 2002, Republic Act No. 9167 created the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) under the Office of the President. Among the powers and functions of the agency was to “ensure the establishment of a film archive in order to conserve and protect film negatives and/or prints as part of the nation’s historical, cultural, and artistic heritage.”

However, since the FDCP’s inception, this part of its mandate has never actually been fulfilled—until now.

Under the leadership of filmmaker Briccio G. Santos, who was appointed chairman of the agency by President Benigno Aquino III last year, the FDCP is taking steps toward this end with the creation of the National Film Archive of the Philippines.

Clearinghouse

An interim clearinghouse has started operations in Ortigas—with 24/7 climate control and a small team of personnel manning it—as construction for a more appropriate facility in the Cubao area is underway.

Forming its initial holdings are films from the National Historical Commission and the University of the Philippines Film Institute. Acclaimed filmmaker Mike de Leon has also donated a handful of films including a print of “Bayaning Third World,” while Sampaguita Pictures Inc., which formed part of the so-called Big Three film studios, has also recently entrusted its output to the archive.

To commemorate the launch of the archive in December, a special screening of a new, digitally remastered 35mm print of Ishmael Bernal’s “Manila by Night” as well as the Luis Nepomuceno-produced, and Eddie Romero-helmed “Manila: Open City” will be held.

Cinematheques

Another component of FDCP’s initiatives is the opening of cinematheques (film archives with small cinemas) across the country, with Casa Vallejo in Baguio City serving as the pilot site. An additional three are slated to open in Davao, Iloilo and Marawi.

To be screened in these cinematheques are cinematic classics, contemporary releases, indies, animation works, among others. The National Film Archive, as soon as it is institutionalized, will inevitably serve as the content source for these venues.

While the action being taken by the FDCP is welcome news, and we must laud its chairman for his gallant efforts, challenges still lay ahead.

The council has made known its intent to erect a bigger, more permanent film archive, possibly in Tagaytay City, and this is expected to entail a sizable amount of money.

As such, the much-needed political will, coupled with the full budgetary and legislative support from Congress, is imperative. A bill is being pushed wherein movie producers shall be mandated to deposit copies of their films to the archive.

The agency is also proposing an executive order that will compel all major government institutions maintaining any film collection to turn over their holdings to ensure their protection.

In light of all this plus the amount of work needed, the participation of the film industry and all stakeholders is crucial.

As we celebrate on Wednesday Unesco World Day for Audiovisual Heritage with its theme “Audiovisual Heritage: See, Hear and Learn,” let us remember the importance of audiovisual documents, why they must be preserved, and how they form a key part of our identity as a people and a nation.


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Tags: Cinemas , Entertainment , Film Archive , National Film Archive of the Philippines , Unesco , World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

  • Pepe Pilar

    nakakalungkot naman na wala na pala halos natira sa mga obra ni Gerry de Leon. Kungsabagay, who in this third-world forsaken country would make flm archiving a worthy effort? Ayon nga kay Mother Lily, “Basta kita pelikula yon lang sa impoltante yan, ah.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2CW4XB3MF72Z62A5ILAVPC7OWA Neiner Brit

    i hope they make digital copies of these films so they can store them in durable hard disks. i’m not really familiar with film archiving but i guess that would be a less expensive way than keeping cellulose films in a climate controlled environment? also, the government itself is perenially cash-strapped. when congress wants to cut expenses or divert resources into something, things like film storage will probably be one of the the first casualties on the national budget. so i’m worried that in the future, the government may not be able to maintain film archive.

  • http://jaoromero.wordpress.com Jao Romero

    they should’ve started converting these copies to digital format the moment digital format was available. film reels was always a bad storage medium.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZSV3U7UA76UOYVKQ3X3T5ZOQEE Charmaine Peralta

    are we sure digital format can last? sure we can convert it, that would be a very good thing, but if we want to store it for a long time, we can trust film reels to do the job. (ask other countries) all we need is the appropriate preservation. 

    film reels are cultural artifacts. :) cheers for Philippine film!

    • Anonymous

      Nice question. Put it this way: present-day 35mm film has been in use since the late 19th century and compare that to the dozens, if not hundreds of video and digital picture formats that have existed and became obsolete ever since. More than cultural artifacts, film is still the fool-proof way for archiving (not necessarily shooting and displaying) moving picture heritage.

      I’m not saying that digital is worthless, it is a great way for distribution, awareness and yes, even preservation, but right now, it has many dependencies that limit it to be a true archival solution. A previous poster pointed out that copies should have been converted to a digital format when it became available. But when was that? What format did it use? Can we still decode those digital signals? Who knows!

      Digital is good. No question about it. We just have to know its limitations.



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