Cebu’s ‘lost’ cinema
The cause for Cebuano film heritage is being championed by people who ironically are not Cebuanos at all. In a previous column, I mentioned the two American professors who are leading the film program of the University of San Carlos Department of Fine Arts, namely Misha Anissimov and Paul Grant.
A graduate of the San Francisco State University, Anissimov runs a home-based film archive in Mactan that regularly screens foreign and local films for both cinephiles and ordinary barangay residents. He was the one who first persuaded USC to open a film program. Former New York University faculty and Fulbright professor Paul Grant is on his first year of teaching in USC and already he has started to do much research on local cinema.
Still another expert on Cebuano cinema is Manila-based director and film scholar Nick Deocampo, also a Fulbright professor from NYU like Grant, who now teaches in the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Deocampo wrote a monograph entitled “Films From A ‘Lost’ Cinema: A Brief History of Cebuano Films”, published and first circulated during the “Sine ug Katilingban” film festival here in 2004. Although still sketchy, that small booklet is probably the most definitive account yet of local film history.
The former head the Mowelfund Film Institute, Deocampo is one of the pioneers of gay cinema in the country and has shot critically acclaimed documentaries that include a personal account of the EDSA Revolution and a film about National Artist Victorio Edades, who was said to have introduced modernism in Philippine art back in the 1920s.
A prolific author as much as he is an auteur, Deocampo has written several books including a five-volume history of Philippine Cinema. He plans to expand his monograph on Cebuano Cinema into a book soon.
Our two American professors met him recently in Manila and invited him to come to USC to give a talk about the history of Cebuano cinema and screen his recent documentaries. One features Batanes while the other surveys American influence on Philippine cinema.
So Deocampo arrived last Friday and immediately went to the USC College of Architecture and Fine Arts Theater for the screenings of his films there. As I write this on Saturday, or the day before this column sees print, he’s giving a lecture on his monograph in the same theater. He also talks about digital restoration during which clips from the multi-awarded 1969 Cebuano movie “Badlis sa Kinabuhi” are shown. This is followed by a screening in full of another critically-acclaimed Cebuano film, “Ang Manok ni San Pedro” by the brothers Narciso and Domingo Arong.
Uniquely shot in Super 8 and blown up to 35 millimeter for standard commercial theater projection, this unprecedented experiment in film production was released in 1977 when Cebuano cinema was already declining.
The Arongs resorted to this “technical ingenuity” as a way to avoid shooting in standard 35 millimeter film stock, the high cost of which had been a major source of discouragement for Cebuano filmmakers. Unable to compete with Manila-based studios which had monopolized even provincial theaters through committed bookings, the Arongs brought their film to be screened in barrio fiestas, using portable generators where there was no electricity.
Despite the coarse look and exploded colors owing to the film’s original small format, the experiment in guerrilla marketing and exhibition proved a phenomenal success. It helped that the film was based on a popular radio play featuring the local favorite comic duo Teban and Goliat.
“What the Arongs had accomplished was indeed a remarkable feat,” Deocampo says in his essay.
“It was something that provided a clear and working alternative to the problems plaguing the Cebuano movie industry which by now continued to slip into obscurity. But, alas, what the Arongs did could not stop the decline of Cebuano cinema in the following years.”
Cinema in Cebu has a long history starting from what could have been the first film screening in 1897 by a certain Mr. Charochi who was then visiting Cebu with the new “cinematografo” and the first Cebuano movie, “El Hijo Disobediente”, a silent flick produced and directed by Florentino Borromeo in 1922.
Cebuanos soon found affinity with films that speak their own language in the decades that followed, and local cinema had a “golden age” in the 1950s when, according to Deocampo, “films were produced and patronized in Cebu in such big quantity and, perhaps, better quality.” Unfortunately, much of this huge heritage is now lost due to negligence and public apathy.
And it looks like it will have to take outsiders to wake us up to this reality.
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