Restoration and a Call For More

A look into the industry’s restoration efforts and an appeal for more

This piece originally appeared in Vol. 5 of Splice, the U.P. Cineastes’ Studio official publication

Archival, preservation, and restoration efforts are not lost in Philippine cinema. The urgency of this call has been acknowledged and acted-upon by many institutions both in private and public sectors. Given the advocacy could’ve started earlier, the efforts are still commendable nonetheless.

In 2011, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FCDP) established the National Film Archive of the Philippines (NFAP), a sort of reinstatement of the original state-funded film archive Film Archives of the Philippines (FAP), which was set-up in 1982 under Marcos’ rule and closed down shortly after the regime’s ouster in 1986. The NFAP has the stated objective of “protecting and safe-keeping the country’s cultural legacy in film through the retrieval and preservation of film prints, digital masters and related material.”

Since its establishment five years ago it has so far lived-up to this promise; the NFAP has successfully restored the 1950 film Genghis Khan by Manuel Conde and Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag, the 1975 Lino Brocka masterpiece. According to FCDP chair Briccio Santos, the institution also has deposited in its archives the entire Sampaguita Pictures collection, and as well as the inventories of the National Historical Commission and the University of the Philippines Film Institute. They have roughly 200 titles stored for safe-keeping at its temperature controlled facility located in Cubao (the original plan to establish a more permanent and exceptional storage facility in Tagaytay still has yet to manifest).

In the private sectors, perhaps the effort has been more palpable and apparent.

Specifically, the ABS-CBN Film Archives has initiated a similar project called the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project, also established in 2011. The broadcasting company currently holds around 2, 400 titles, including works from Star Cinema, LVN Pictures, Regal Films, VIVA Films, Seiko Films, Cinema Artists, Sampaguita Pictures, and as well as the personal cinema libraries of Nora Aunor, Fernando Poe Jr., Rudy Fernandez and so much more. It is the biggest film collection in the Philippines. ABS-CBN also has the premiere temperature-controlled archival storage facility in the country.

In partnership with Central Digital Lab, ABS-CBN launched the Sagip-Pelikula campaign, with the restoration of classic Filipino films as its advocacy. This includes titles such as Karnal, Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? and more recently, Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara and Got 2 Believe. Sagip Pelikula holds regular cinema premiers, roadshows, book launches, DVD releases, and TV guestings to further its reach to the masses.

Again, while these efforts are highly commendable especially in the face of a declining appreciation for the arts, it has to be said: these are not enough. These efforts are not enough in advancing the call for preservation and restoration as a significant way in molding a national cinema.

For these efforts to see true fulfillment, there are roughly three actions that have to be considered and addressed. First, people should understand why restoration is done. Second, the current process of restoration should be questioned. And third, the issue of accessibility and exclusivity in terms of restored films should be tackled.

For the first part: as much as there are efforts in raising awareness about projects such as these, this should also be coupled with the attempt to educate the public and make them understand why this restoration is unquestionably important.

It’s important because the Philippines has an illustrious cinematic history. Since 1897 the country produced around 8,000 films (of which an estimate of only around 3,000 have been saved). It’s vital to acknowledge, celebrate, and most importantly continue this legacy.

It’s also important because in the words of filmmaker and author Nick Deocampo, “Films after all are memories rolled into celluloid…In every film our past is made alive when the blast of light is emitted from a projector making all that is past present before our eyes again.” Films are a creative, living testament of the past. Reliving the past through films not only accomplishes a habit of remembering, but also strengthens cultural identity and therefore fosters national pride.

If appreciation can go with the spreading of awareness, then that is a remarkable achievement in itself.

For the second part: the process of restoration should be questioned for a fuller understanding and a more nuanced acceptance of what is being taken in — and if necessary, to know what measures should be taken to improve the process.

In less abstract terms, take the following into consideration:

The most successful restoration effort is Sagip Pelikula as it is able to make its efforts more available than the rest. But while Sagip Pelikula is commendable in its reach, it has to be noted that it is part of a commercial TV network; this almost inevitably constrains the nature of their archival efforts. One has to wonder about the restoration choices made and what they deem as true Filipino classics — is quality the true priority in mind, or is it marketability? As ABS is ultimately a commercial enterprise, it can be said that these doubts have their basis.

As mentioned, the original state project FAP closed down in 1986 and only followed up only in 2011. This 25-year gap saw many horror stories, including the intentional destruction of film archives. As Bliss Lim observes in her study Archival Fragility: Philippine Cinema and the Challenge of Sustainable Preservation, “the absence of a national archive led to an era of cooperation and collaboration in a decentralized archival advocacy among the largest remaining AV archives in the country.” This includes ABS-CBN. Archival efforts then became primarily privatized and decentralized. Thus it is crucial to question the priorities of these private projects. One can only hope the state-funded NFAP has a comparable budget to release its own set of classic films.

However, the focus of the struggle should not be of who is to keep and release the films — this is not a competition of who has the bigger collection to boast off. It is not even of partnerships, which should be a talk for another article. It is bigger than those, but for now, the third point should be made.

The issue of accessibility and exclusivity: it can be argued that this is inherently a film, and not just a restoration, problem. But placing that aside, Leo Katigbak, ABS-CBN Film Archives and Restoration head, has this to say, “What good is restored film kung ‘di napapanood?”

A vital point in restoration, especially in light of the immense expenses it requires, is accessibility. Restoration is done, hopefully, not in a vain attempt to glorify the industry and its achievements and capacities, but in an attempt to cultivate the masses into an appreciative, film literate, and discerning audience.

When these concerns among others are addressed, then perhaps the numerous restoration efforts done by film institutions can be even more remarkable and laudable as they actually, already are.