For years now, we’ve been urging our film people and educators to preserve and restore our rapidly diminishing cinematic patrimony for future generations to delight in and learn from. Too many of our film classics have been lost forever due to benign neglect and clueless carelessness.
We aren’t talking just about the movies of the 1930s, of which only two or three are still extant. The films of the ’40s have also been decimated to an alarming degree, save for the output of a couple of major studios.
For instance, Sampaguita Pictures has been able to save, in one form or another, around 25 percent of its total output of 800 films.
From the ’50s onward, the standout was FPJ Productions due to its star-producer-owner Fernando Poe Jr.’s enlightened interest in film preservation, which prompted him to come up with inexpensive methods to preserve film negatives from celluloid’s nasty penchant for “vinegar rot” and spontaneously catching fire when the room temperature rises.
FPJ’s heirs have benefited a lot from his avid interest in film preservation, and so have all Filipino film buffs, because his starrers continue to be shown on TV to this day.
Until recently, however, film restoration has been done very occasionally. Even some of the movies of Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal have gone the way of all flesh—and flash of spontaneous combustion!
How woefully clueless and irresponsible of us to fail to see the value of movies, not just as entertainment products, but also as totems and the iconography of the nation’s life as it has evolved through the years!
Happily, in the past couple of years, more organizations and enlightened individuals have invested in the restoration of our film classics, like “Genghis Khan,” “Himala” and “Oro, Plata, Mata.” In fact, it’s become quite the “in” trend of late.
Most of the time, we ignore trends because they’re so knee-jerk and impermanent, but this one deserves our full support and encouragement.
Our own personal epiphany in the importance of film preservation and restoration hit us like a bolt of lightning when we attended the Fukuoka festival of Asian films in Japan, and learned that the festival organizers’ film vault contained well-preserved copies of Filipino cinematic gems—many of which were no longer extant in the Philippines!
It was a chastening moment for us to realize that enlightened foreigners cared more for our movies than we did. In many instances, where it helps or hurts us the most, we really are the last to know.
But, there’s still time to make amends, so we urge more people and organizations to restore as many Filipino movies as they can, beginning with the films of the ’30s and ’40s.
Next, we should make it a point to preserve our best filmmakers’ first movies, because they usually contain the seeds of the themes that they explore through the rest of their careers.
In addition, we should make sure that these exceptional films aren’t just restored and then hidden away, but are viewed by young filmmakers and movie buffs.
Local TV’s movie channels should showcase them, to remind everyone of our great achievements in cinema—with many more to come!