The fate of thousands of Filipino films now hangs in the balance as the ABS-CBN Film Archives closes in the midst of the media network’s massive retrenchment following the non-renewal of its legislative franchise.
The ABS-CBN Film Archives has some 3,000 titles in various formats: 35mm prints, picture and sound negatives, raw footage and outtakes, DPX files, LTO-6 tapes, U-matic, Betacam, and D1.
According to ABS-CBN Film Archives head Leo Katigbak, they hope to continue taking care of the films because they are ABS-CBN assets, but “the shutdown of the department will make this difficult.”
“This is something we are in the process of figuring out,” he said in an email to Rappler, explaining that he is currently working on a set-up that will allow them to keep up the archive, even in a diminished capacity.
He explained that archiving involves regularly checking film reels, unspooling them, and cleaning them. It also requires an environment with controlled temperature and humidity. While still manageable, it is more difficult to do without funds and less people.
Even more difficult to manage with the closure of the 11-member department is the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project, which is just another element in the network’s effort to save Filipino films.
The restoration project began in 2011, initially as a partnership with post production company Central Digital Lab. But, according to Katigbak, “restoration was always part of the plan” when they started the ABS-CBN Film Archives in 1994.
At the time, film restoration was an expensive endeavor, but in 2008 technology made it more viable, and from 2009 to 2011, Katigbak and then-ABS-CBN president Charo Santos-Concio pushed the initiative as part of the network’s legacy. The initiative was supported by ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Gabby Lopez.
“Gabby pulled me aside as it took shape and said ‘Leo, I know we have to do this. The films have to be ready when the new technologies emerge. I don’t know how we will recover costs but it needs to be done,'” Katigbak shared.
The ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project has since been able to save 185 films, digitizing them and making them available in modern formats.
The project has restored films that span eras from pre-World War II to the 2000s. Many films that have been saved are considered masterpieces by film critics: Peque Gallaga’s 1982 film Oro, Plata Mata and Ishmael Bernal’s Himala from the same year, Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos from 1976.
Pop culture favorites such as 1998’s Labs Kita…Okey Ka Lang?, Milan, and Tanging Yaman are also among those that were rescued in the project, which is also known as “Sagip Pelikula.”
Other films that have recently been completed or are nearing completion include the 1994 drama Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin, the 2000 biopic Markova: Comfort Gay, and the 1957 drama Badjao, among others.
Saving these Filipino films cost a lot of money, and took a lot of time. As Katigbak explained, the cost of restoring one film could go from half a million pesos to 30 million pesos. Some films have take up to years to restore, with work being outsourced over time to companies all over the world to bring down the cost.
Two films took 5 years to complete – the longest it has taken for the company to finish a restoration: the 1984 thriller Misteryo sa Tuwa, which was completed in 2019, and drama Soltero from the same year, which Katigbak hopes will be completed before they shut down on August 31.
The Film Restoration Project had many other films on its line-up for restoration: some classics from LVN Pictures, older Star Cinema films, Dolphy starrers, as well as more films by Gallaga, Bernal, and those directed Emmanuel Borlaza, Lupita Concio, and even possibly a Lino Brocka – but these restorations will no longer happen.
“Restoration as we know it is gone. We simply can’t afford it,” Katigbak said. “The impact won’t be felt immediately since we do have several titles completed or nearly completed but after those are released, it will cease.”
As the project wraps up its restoration efforts, Katigbak underscored the importance of the work that they do.
“Film is our culture, it is part of who we are. It reflects our soul and defines our identity through time. Film through the eras whether in terms of thematic setting or time actually filmed is a visual record that allows us to reflect on many questions about Filipino identity…I think this is the deeper, more significant reason for what we do,” he said.
“And of course the more obvious [reason] where we preserve the brilliance of our filmmakers so their legacy and contributions are not forgotten is there,” he said. “We were competing with the best of Europe and America even pre-war, how can we not celebrate those filmmakers?” – Rappler.com