The movies have become an integral part of Filipino lives, both as a very accessible source of entertainment as well as a form of sublime creative expression and mirror of aspirations.
Primarily and initially a Western invention, reliant on Western technology, cinema has been embraced by Filipinos, and Filipino filmmakers and artists have shaped it to reflect Filipino aesthetics and sensibilities.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) highlights the importance, impact, and achievements of Philippine cinema as it celebrates its centennial over a two-and-a-half-year period, from 2017 to 2019.
“Jose Nepomuceno (1893-1959), owner of the popular photo studio Electro-Parhelio on Carriedo Street in Manila, was the first Filipino to put up a Filipino-owned movie company, Malayan Movies, on May 15, 1917. He then became an accredited correspondent for Pathe News and Paramount News, and shot his first Filipino subject for a newsreel—the funeral for the first wife of then statesman Sergio Osmeña, which was shown in a cinema in Cebu in January 1918. Then, Nepomuceno made the first Filipino theatrical narrative film, Dalagang Bukid, which was first shown on Sept. 12, 1919, at the Teatro de la Comedia before moving to the Empire Theater. The film was based on the zarzuela of the same title by Hermogenes Ilagan. It starred Honorata “Atang” de la Rama and Marceliano Ilagan,” relates Teddy O. Co, head of the NCCA National Committee on Cinema and Subcommission on the Arts. “Thus, the commemoration of the centennial of Philippine cinema would span from the time of the establishment of the first Filipino film company in May 1917, until the theatrical release of the first Filipino-made feature in September 1919. Hence, the ongoing three-year celebration, from 2017 up to 2019.”
Since Nepomuceno’s time, the country has produced almost 10,000 feature-length films and countless shorts, according to Co. “Philippine cinema has become a multi-billion peso industry that employs thousands of workers, a dream factory that has created not just popular stars but also successful politicos, a forum for discussion that has played a big role in shaping Filipino identity and culture, especially in the dissemination of a national language, an art form that has given the country prestige and recognition,” he says.“In the words of the critic Joel David, it has become the national pastime.”
To recognize the achievements of Philippine cinema, the NCCA dedicates its 2018 calendar Philippine cinema, selecting 12 landmark films created through the years, many of which helmed by National Artists. These include Genghis Khan (1950, MC Productions), directed by Manuel Conde and written by Conde and Carlos V. Francisco; Anak Dalita (1956, LVN Pictures), directed by Lamberto V. Avellana and written by Rolf Bayer; Biyayang Lupa (1959, LVN Pictures), directed by Manuel Silos and written by Celso Al. Carunungan and Pablo Naval; Ang Daigdig ng mga Api (1965, Cinemasters Inc.), directed by Gerardo de Leon and written by Pierre L. Salas; Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975, Cinema Artists Philippines), directed by Lino Brocka and written by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.; Ganito Kami Noon…Paano Kayo Ngayon?(1976, Hemisphere Pictures, Inc.), directed by Eddie Romero and written by Roy C. Iglesias and Romero; Mababangong Bangungot (1977), written and directed by Kidlat Tahimik; Manila by Night (City After Dark) (1980, Regal Films), written and directed by Ishmael Bernal; Ang Panday (1980, FPJ Productions), directed by Fernando Poe, Jr. and written by Carlo J. Caparas and Fred Navarro; Kisapmata (1982, Bancom Audiovision), directed by Mike de Leon and written by Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., Raquel N. Villavicencio, and De Leon; Oro Plata Mata (1982, Experimental Cinema of the Philippines), directed by Peque Gallaga and written by Jose Javier Reyes; and Moral (1982, Seven Stars Production), directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya and written by Ricardo Lee.
Interestingly, many of these films come “from what are considered as the first Golden Age (late 1940s to mid ‘60s decade) and second Golden Age (mid-‘70s to early ‘80s decade) of Philippine cinema by film scholars,” comments Co. “These were eras that for different reasons resulted in generous bursts of creativity among Filipino filmmakers.”
NCCA also notes the burst of creativity with advent of digital filmmaking. The commission is optimistic that Philippine cinema will continue to evolve, to tell the different stories of the Filipinos, and to produce more films that will leave a lasting impact.