History of Cinema in PHILIPPINES

Historical overview

Philippines were ceded by Spain to the US in 1898 following the Spanish-American War. They attained independence in 1946 after Japanese occupation in World War II. The 21-year rule of Ferdinand MARCOS ended in 1986, when a widespread popular rebellion forced him into exile. In 1992, the US closed its last military bases on the islands. The Philippines has had two electoral presidential transitions since the removal of MARCOS. In January 2001, the Supreme Court declared Joseph ESTRADA unable to rule in view of mass resignations from his government and administered the oath of office to Vice President Gloria MACAPAGAL-ARROYO as his constitutional successor. The government continues to struggle with Muslim insurgencies in the south.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

Philippinos started making movies in 1919. However, the film industry in the Philippines was initiated by foreign entrepreneurs. Two Swiss businessmen introduced film shows in Manila as early as 1897, regaling audiences with documentary film clips showing recent events and natural calamities in Europe. At this time, the Philippines were waging a revolutionary war against the colonial rule of Spain. In 1912, two more foreign businessmen, this time Americans, created a sensation in Manila when they put on film the story of Jose P. Rizal's execution. Here was material close to Philippinos, subject matter guaranteeing ticket sales.

Jose Nepomuceno was he first Philippino to make movies. He was a photographer who sold his profitable photo studio to change trades and started making films. Historians of the Philippino film industry consider him to be "Father of Philippine Movies." Nepomuceno's first film in 1919 was based on a highly acclaimed musical play of the day, Dalagang Bukid (Country Maiden) by Hermogenes Hagan and Leon Ignacio. During screenings of the movie, the singer-actress Atang de la Rama stood behind the screen to sing the theme song "Nabasag ang Banga" (The Clay Pot Broke) accompanied by violinist, a trumpet player and a pianist.

Local filmmakers used the Hollywood style movies to produce their own movies. The small budgets and outdated equipment soon led to Hollywood dominated screenings in the theaters. There was one advantage that Philippino movies enjoyed over foreign movies. Their narratives and themes stemmed from local stories. For instance, Vicente Salumbides, a contemporary of Nepomuceno's who had spent several years working in Hollywood, portrayed young upperclass Philippinos rebelling against the tyranny of their conservative parents in "Miracles of Love" (1925). With the start of the sound era the majority of the vast Philippino population could be reached, overcoming the need to understand English or be literate.

During the thirties the most noteworthy films use historical themes like "Patria Amore" (1929) by Julian Manansala. The film became almost banned due to its agressive anti Spanish nature. He used history for appealing narratives for such works as "Dimasalang" (1930), "Mutya ng Katipunan" (1939) and "Tawag ng Bayan" (1940). He was often dubbed as the "Father of the Nationalistic Film". Another commonly used plot were the dance and song films derivd from local theatre stage stories. Films like "Dalagang Bukid", "Pakiusap" (1940), are derived from the so called sarswela (song and dance theatre). From the sinakulo or passion play, many film melodramas are based on the characters of Virgin Mary (the all-suffering, all-forgiving Philippino Mother), Mary Magdalene (the "prostitute with the golden heart"), Judas (the original, unmitigated villain) and of course, Jesus (the savior of societies under threat, redeemer of all those who have gone wrong).

From the komedya, the typically Filipino action movie was to develop. The dividing line in the komedya between the good men and the bad men was religion, with the Christians presented as the forces of good and the Moros as the forces of evil in line with the propaganda of medieval missionaries. In present day action movies, that dividing line has become the law versus the criminal. Specially during the early years of the film industry, Philippine literature was a rich source of subject matter movies themes, most noteworthy the calssical writers Francisco Baltazar and Jose Rizal. The work of the latter was filmed in "Noli Me Tangere", (1961) and "El Filibusterismo" (1962) by Gerardo de Leon gaining him international acclaim. Also the poet Balagatas provided thems for many movies based upon his famous poem Florante at Laura (Florante and Laura). A prewar version (1939) and a postwar version (1950) of Balagtas' masterwork attest to the poet's contribution to the literary tradition that informs the Filipino film industry.

Punyal na Ginto (Golden Dagger) by Antonio G. Sempio was made into the first talking Tagalog movie in 1933. Serialized novels proved to be very profitable materials for movies, so that it was not unusual for a film to be built up in advertisements as a movie version of a well-known novel. Many times, the name of the novelist was featured more prominently than the names of the lead stars or of the director. The names of Lazaro Francisco with Ama, 1936; Sa Paanan ng Krus, 1936; Bago Lumubog ang Araw, 1938; Teodoro Virrey with Lihim ni Bathala, 1931; Gamugamong Naging Lawin, 1937; Fausto Galauran with Lagablab ng Kabataan, 1936; Birheng Walang Dambana, 1936; Hatol ng Mataas na Langit, 1938) and Inigo Ed. Regalado with Sampaguitang Walang Bango, 1937 become familiar among moviegoers during the pre-war years.

The Japanese Occupation introduced a new player to the film industry; the Japanese, bringin a new theme to the movie screens, propaganda. These films, however, failed to appeal to audiences the same way the Hollywood and locally produced films did. The Japanese began to hire local filmmakers to counteract the dimishing numbers of moviegoers. One of the filmmakers recruted to make propaganda movies Gerardo de Leon. He was a co-producer for "The Dawn of Freedom" by Abe Yutaka and directed Tatlong Maria in 1944. Thee yars were quite beneficial to the theater industry. Live theater began to flourish again as movie stars, directors and technicians returned to the stage.

In 1945...the film industry was already staggering to its feet. A Philippine version of the war movie emerged as a genre in which narratives of horror and heroism, most of these movies attrackted major crowds. Movies such as Garrison 13 (1946), Dugo ng Bayan (The Country's Blood, 1946), Walang Kamatayan (Deathless, 1946), and Guerilyera (1946) all were war theme movies.

During the fifties the Philippine film industry returned to its full potential. The war theme movies only slowly faded, Lamberto Avellana's Anak Dalita (The Ruins, 1956) still recalls the loss and tragedy of the Japanese occupation. Two major studios before the war, Sampaguita Pictures and LVN, started production soon after the war ended. Their productions filled the cinematic gap caused by the war. Together with two other studios (Premiere Productions and Lebran), Sampaguita Pictures and LVN were refered to as the "Big Four" of the Philippine studio system. Each of the four studios had its own set of stars, technicians and directors, maintaining a monopoly on local film production. The industry had stabilized and the steady flow of cinematic output to the screens ensured a rich box office.

The fifties are generally refered to as the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. Technical advancement kept pace with artistic needs, leading to several international awards. local awards were first instituted by the Manila Times Publishing Company, setting up the Maria Clara Awards. In 1952, the FAMAS (Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences) Awards were handed out. More so, Philippine films started garnering awards in international film festivals. One such honor was bestowed on Manuel Conde's immortal movie "Genghis Khan" (1952) when it was accepted for screening at the Venice Film Festival. Other awards include Gerardo de Leon's "Ifugao" (1954) and Lamberto Avellana's "Anak Dalita". By the end of the decade Philippine cinema had developed in to a major force in the Asian region.

The sixties marked a major turning point in the Philippine cinema. The steady flow of local movies was slowly undermined by foreign productions. The audience turned to the sensation packed Hollywood productions and soft core from mostly Thailand. To counteract this development the Big Four studios invented the Philippine Samurai, the Philippine James Bond etc. But like in the early years, the struggle was lost, cheap entertainment prevailed, all studios had to close during this decade.

The new decade brought several forgotten and new genres to the screen. Most typical for the Philippine industry is the bomba genre. The democratic movement presented its analysis of the problems of Philippine society and posited that only a social revolution could bring genuine change. The bomba film was a direct challenge of the authority of institutions in regulating personal norms and values; bomba was the first true cult genre in the Philippines.. Some films from this declining period are considered gems in the cinematic landscape. Several Philippine films that stood out in this particular era were Gerardo de Leon's Noli Me Tangere (Touch me Not, 1961) and El Filibusterismo (Subversion, 1962). Two other films by Gerardo de Leon made during this period are worth mentioning - Huwag mo Akong Limutin (Never Forget Me , 1960) and Kadenang Putik (Chain of Mud, 1960).

at the end of the sixties the Marcos era had begun. Being in power, Ferdinand Marcos placed the nation under martial rule. In 1972 and onwards, he posed his New Society, a political system giving him absolute power. The ideology of the New Society was incorporated into local films. The government started regulating filmmaking. He passed legislation making it possible to censor all films if so wished. The Board of Censors for Motion Pictures (BCMP) was established in the early seventies, meaning all scripts had to be submissed and approved. All entries to film festivals were obligated to incorprate the ideology of the New Society. The censorship in the seventies did not include moral values, sex and violence were the main themes in features shown to an obesed audience. Most sensation mass films were tagged during the epilogue that in the movie the New Society had prevailed by the hands of the heroes.

Martial Law declared in 1972 dimished the production of on bomba films as well as political movies critical of the Marcos administration. But the audience's taste for sex and nudity had already been whetted. Producers cashed in on the new type of bomba, which showed female stars swimming in their underwear, taking a bath in their camison (chemise), or being chased and raped in a river, sea, or under a waterfall. Such movies were called the wet look, one such movie was the talked-about "Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa" (The Most Beautiful Animal on the Face of the Earth, 1974) starring former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz.

However, young directors entered the industry in the late years of the seventies. Lino Brocka, best remembered for his "Maynila, Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag" (Manila, In the Claws of Neon Lights, 1975), Ishmael Bernal, directed "Himala" (Miracle, 1982) starring Nora Aunor. These daring works portrayed social issues like unempoyment and poverty. A remarkable side efeect of the need to offer a script to the censor befor production was the inherent emphasis on the screenplay. In a sense censorship made the return of literature in to filmmaking possible, much like the use of classics in the early years.

In 1977, Kidlat Tahimik directed "Mababangong Bangungot" (Perfumed Nightmare). The film won the International Critic's Prize in the Berlin Film Festival that same year. Kidlat Tahimik's landmark film laid the groundworks for what is now known as independent cinema. Nick Deocampo's "Oliver" (1983) and Raymond Red's "Ang Magpakailanman" (The Eternal, 1983) received international attention in festivals abroad. Filmmakers like Tahimik, Deocampo and Red are examples of producing art films without "the compromises of commercial filmmaking". In the early eighties the Marcos regime came to an end, the dictator fled the country. This major social and political change was reflected almost immediately on the sivler screens. Films such as Lino Brocka's "Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim" (My Country: Gripping the Knife's Edge, 1985) were defiant, Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Karnal (1984), Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L. (1984) all subjected tyranny and oppression.

In the 1990s, cinema is engaged in a vicious cycle - of genres, plots, characterization and cinematic styles. Copying from the much more popular American films, Philippine cinema is loosing its own unique identity. Still, some films been successes and not only financially, Diaz-Abaya's "Rizal" (1998), was a success both commercially and critically. Presently, films are primarily made for profit, Hollywood films are being preferred over local films.

Hopefully, Philippine cinema in the new millenium will keep producing films defining its delicate liteature and depicting the great historical struggles it has suffered. Probably the new digital media will provide local filmmakers with the means to set new landmarks in the rich cinematic landscape of the philippines.

Cinema links from PHILIPPINES

Cinemanila The Cinemanila Int'l Film Festival is the Philippines' contribution to world cinema, offering a venue for independent films
Eksperimento Film and Video Festival An annual travelling festival with screening tours held in six key cities in the Philippines. We strive to feature less-visible, young and new filmmakers and video artists
Malaya Online Online newspaper stating to adhere its mission of giving the public the truth fairly and responsibly, offers cinematic information
Mowelfund Film Institute the Institute tries to develop film education, film and video productions, festivals
National Commission for Culture and the Arts The NCCA Develops and promotes the Filipino national culture and arts, and preserves Filipino cultural heritage, includes an extensive cinema section
Net Surfers The premium internet provider, offers a movie guide online with ticket service
Philippine Communication Centrum Home of the national media center, offering some cinematic information (NCCA)
Strong MediaCorp Strong MediaCorp. is an international high-end Media House. Incorporated in New York with office in Manila - Philippines.
Tiger Films Tiger Films Pte. Ltd. is a Singapore based film production company
UP Filmcenter Extensive site including a movie archive, filmmaker section and a movie database

Jose Nepomuceno

Julian Manansala

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