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Archaeology of Cebuano cinema

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The new central library of the University of San Carlos in Talamban is a monolithic modern building designed according to principles of green architecture and is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, such as electronic databases, digital cataloging, and online research systems.

Yet, it is also the home of antiquated books, collections of very old newspapers, magazines, journals, photographs, manuscripts, and other valuable materials. Many of these are stored in the archives of the Cebuano Studies Center which has just moved there from its former home at the basement of the old USC Main Campus building.

Today, much spacious and safer from the nearly invisible bugs and bookworms that love to dig tunnels into the yellowing pages, turning historic books into crumbling heaps of unreadable material, the archives is located at the top floor of the library, overlooking the city.

Recently, our class in the graduate school program of Cinema Studies in the USC Department of Fine Arts is frequenting the archives to dig—indeed, do what the philosopher Michel Foucault calls “an archaeology of knowledge”—into compilations of what are Cebu’s very first newspapers and magazines for anything about early Cebuano cinema.

Of particular interest to us are anything about the earliest years of film in Cebu that might add to what little has been known so far: the first recorded screening of a Cinematografo Electro-Optico Luminoso by an Englishman known only as Walgrah (or Walgraph); the first full-length film produced and directed by a Cebuano ( Florentino Borromeo) entitled “El Hijo Disobediente” (The Disobedient Son); the first Cebuano talkie, “Bertoldo-Balodoy”, screened in 1938 and directed by Piux Kabahar.

The lack of knowledge of film’s infancy in Cebu led us to browse the pages of “Nueva Fuerza”, “Bag-ong Kusog”, “Ang Babaye” and other ancient newspapers and magazines that unfortunately were really in bad condition. But the prospect of these newspapers crumbling prior to their digitization (which is under way), add to the sense of urgency among us, newbie film scholars.

Leading in this search is our own professor Paul Grant, who in fact comes to the library more frequently than we do. He has tasked us in our research class to embark on our own mission to gather information about local film history from the earliest years to the First Golden Age in the 1950s and the Second Golden Age in the 1970s.

So much work remains even for these Golden Ages, which saw the rise of great Cebuano movie stars such as Matt Ranillo, Gloria Sevilla, Caridad Sanchez, Violeta Morena, Lyn Ramos, Rebecca Torres, Romy Kintanar, Eddie Dacay, Tita Clomera, Bert Nombrado, Frunnie Alerre, Romy Kintanar, etc., as previous research remain sparse.

Apart from archival work, we are also tasked to do interviews of the key players of the Cebuano film industry and to gather information regarding how the system worked, particularly in areas of production, distribution, and exhibition.

So some of our classmates are doing research on theaters and production studios that used to exist in places like Lapulapu and Dumaguete (which also screened the Cebuano movies). They recently visited the old theaters in Colon to take photographs and check their condition. The old Vision theater, a landmark in Art Deco architecture and the only surviving building in Colon that dates back to the pre-War years, theater has long ceased to operate and is now, ironically, a market for pirated films. Vision’s façade is still intact, though, with the classic sculptures reminding us of its lost grandeur and the glorious years when Cebuanos watched cinema that could match those in Manila.

So the search is on for the missing pieces of the big jigsaw puzzle that is early Cebuano cinema. Perhaps, you can help by sharing to us what you know about this history. You may have relatives who had played significant role in certain movies or may still copies of their films, screenplay manuscripts, photographs, newspaper clippings, posters, or whatever part of memorabilia that could help restore the collective memory of Cebuano Cinema.

Those valuable pieces of our heritage should not be allowed to rot. The legacies of people behind them could only be acknowledged if they are shared to the public. We owe it to these pioneers who labored so hard to make movies we can call our own.


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