Continuing the Dream for a National Audio-Visual Archive
This article, published here with the permission of the author -- screenwriter, professor, & Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA) president Clodualdo 'Doy' Del Mundo, Jr. -- appeared previously in a monograph by SOFIA & the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and more recently, in this updated and revised version, in the first issue of the Escolta Film Journal published in August of 2010 by the first batch of graduates of the Alexis Tioseco Internship Program. Although recent developments have given us hope that the dream for a National Audio-Visual Archive will soon be realized, the article, for the most part, gives us a comprehensive description of the current state of audio-visual archiving in the country. - Dino Manrique
Continuing the Dream for a National Audio-Visual Archive
by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.
Imagine this scenario: you are a film scholar doing a study on Philippine cinema. You want to do research on the classics of this Southeast Asian cinema, specifically on the works of renowned Filipino filmmakers like Gerardo de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Manuel Conde, Lino Brocka, and Ishmael Bernal. You have made a list of films you want to see: Gerardo de Leon’s Ang Daigdig ng mga Api (The World of the Oppressed, 1965), Lamberto Avellana’s Prinsipe Amante (Prince Amante, 1950), Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan (1950), Lino Brocka’s Jaguar (1979), and Ishmael Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig (1976). Where do you go to watch and study these films?
Gerardo de Leon’s Ang Daigdig ng mga Api is considered one of the best, if not the best, of this national artist’s works. It was produced in 1965, financed by the political machinery of then candidate for president Diosdado Macapagal. The subject of the film is land reform, the centerpiece of Macapagal’s platform. De Leon was commissioned to do a feature film on the subject; the result was not an embarrassingly direct propaganda but a magnificent film. As a film scholar, naturally you would want to see the film for yourself and make your own judgment. You connect with colleagues in the Philippines and you get the same answer: no copy of the film exists; if there is one, nobody knows where it is kept or who may be holding on to it. You have to settle with stills of the film and secondary materials published in newspapers and magazines. Consider your primary material lost.
Lamberto Avellana, another national artist, made Prinsipe Amante for LVN, one of the post-war Big Three Studios. Prinsipe Amante, a popular radio program in the late ‘40s, was equally a box-office success, starring the movie idol of the period, Rogelio de la Rosa. Avellana’s adaptation was a landmark in Filipino filmmaking; it was shot in color that displayed the resplendent costumes. Your colleagues lead you to LVN, which has long been the country’s leading color film laboratory and post-production facility. LVN has closed shop in 2007, but you can still talk with the person who used to be a staff in the studio archive. With bated breath, you await the result of the search. Then, you are told that the film no longer exists; the negatives are gone and no positive print remains. “But there are a few stills of the film, would you want to see them?” the contact person volunteers in an attempt to erase the dismay in your face. You go to the place where the stills have been transferred. You look at the contents of the box labelled “Prinsipe Amante” and you marvel at the costumes; Avellana’s mise en scène is equally awe-inspiring , and you wonder “Why did nobody take care of the film?”
Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan, produced by Conde himself independently of the big studios of the period, gained some prominence during the Venice Film Festival in 1952. The film was released commercially in the United States and in Europe. Your colleagues in the Philippines say that there is no print available in the country, but there is one in the Cinémathèque Française, a version dubbed in French. Then, you find out from a film sleuth that there is one copy, in the original Tagalog version, that exists in California. There is one enterprising Filipino who is holding on to a copy of Genghis Khan, a print he bought from an American distributor. This cineaste is trying to sell the rights to his print to any interested party in the Philippines. You may not get a screening of the print, but he has a preview copy on video. Will the video copy suffice for your research? Or, would you prefer to go to Paris and watch Genghis Khan in French? You don’t have the budget for foreign travel and you are not a Francophone, so Paris is not the answer. Mercifully, you find out that someone who has seen the print in California and previewed it on video dubbed/pirated a VHS copy. Needless to say, you jump at the opportunity to watch Genghis Khan on this pirated copy with a running disclaimer throughout the film that it is a preview copy.
Lino Brocka, honored with the national artist award posthumously, led a new generation of filmmakers that revived the Filipino national cinema in the ‘70s. One of his major films is Jaguar, an adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s essay, “The Boy Who Wanted to Become Society.” Jaguar was produced by Bancom Audiovision. The productions of this company are stored in the archive of the University of the Philippines Film Institute. You visit the badly maintained archive only to be told that Jaguar is not in its holdings. You have two other alternatives: see a copy of the film on video from another source, a bad copy you are forewarned, or go to the British Film Institute where the negatives are stored and pray that the BFI has an access print and would make a special screening for you.
You’ve read much about Ishmael Bernal’s Nunal sa Tubig and have been wanting to see Bernal’s meditation on a god-forsaken village. There’s a print in Japan, in the Fukuoka Public Library. But, there’s a copy too in the archive of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. And, like a blessing from heaven, you are able to watch a video of Nunal sa Tubig, never mind if the colors have turned magenta.
The preceding situations are not at all hypothetical; the research difficulties that a scholar of Filipino Cinema will have to face are real. There are so many other films that are either irretrievably lost or totally inaccessible - or, if they are accessible at all, they are no longer available on film. The Philippines, which can boast of early filmmaking at the turn of the century and feature filmmaking in 1918, does not have a national audio-visual archive. What the country has are several little “archives.” However, to call these little “archives” archives may not be accurate. Except for one or two places which apply international archiving standards, these so-called “archives” are really mere storage rooms.
Audio-visual archiving in the Philippines is undertaken by various sectors: first, by government institutions; second, by private, industry-based institutions; and third, by private collectors and film suppliers.
The government institutions that are involved in some form of audiovisual archiving are the Philippine Information Agency, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the University of the Philippines Film Center.
The Philippine Information Agency (PIA), which is in charge of the media productions of the government, used to have a Motion Picture Division that operated a film laboratory, maintained a film collection, and led in various audiovisual archiving activities. These archiving activities ranged from workshops on cataloguing, preservation, archive management, and other training programs, to actual restoration of specific films. These workshops and restoration programs were done in cooperation with other institutions, including the active support of the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia. The holdings of the PIA library included the films and videos it had produced for the government and copies of the feature films it had restored. Unfortunately, after a rationalization move in the government offices, the Motion Picture Laboratory was closed down, including the film archive. Today, the PIA only keeps videos of government affairs. Arrangements are being made to move the restored feature films in the PIA library to another venue, like the CCP Film Archive.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines is a quasi-government institution that programs various artistic activities. It had a division called the Coordinating Center for Film which assumed some form of archival function, aside from organizing activities like film screenings in the country and abroad, workshops, and an alternative film and video festival. Today, it has a Visual, Literary and Media Arts Department which assumes the film activities and runs the film archive. The Center’s holdings are now stored in an archive in the Design Center Building adjacent to the CCP. The Center was also involved in the Restoration and Retrieval Program in connection with the 1998 Centennial program and the first Filipino Film Festival at the Lincoln Center which included ten films. It also restored and reprinted films by Lino Brocka in cooperation with the Philippine Information Agency. Moreover, the Center mediated the reprinting of master negatives that are deposited in the British Film Institute, like Mike de Leon’s first feature film, Itim (Rites of May, 1976) and Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon... Paano Kayo Ngayon? (This Is How It Was... How Is It Today?, 1976).
The University of the Philippines Film Institute is run by the state university in Quezon City. Organizationally, it is under the College of Mass Communications; but, it is virtually independent of this college. A major portion of the operational budget of the Institute comes from the film screenings in its 1,000-seat theater and its equipment acquisition is sponsored by foreign sources like the UNESCO. Aside from foreign films, both features and documentaries, donated by the former embassy of the USSR and the embassy of Canada, the Center holds a collection of Filipino films. This local collection includes films by Ishmael Bernal, mostly positive prints (except for one which is a master negative), the master negatives of films produced by Bancom Audiovision (except for one which is a positive print), and a motley collection of 35mm and 16mm local films. In addition, the Institute has a collection of super-8mm films produced by independent filmmakers. Unfortunately, the UP Film Archive is virtually non-operational and is beset by funding and staffing problems.
Private, Industry-based Institutions
The industry-based institutions include the major studios which were once active in film production (e.g. Sampaguita); a few film companies which are still active in production (like Viva); the Mowelfund, an industry-based organization which has a film archive under its wing; and a major broadcasting network (ABS-CBN), which has a film-producing subsidiary, Star Cinema.
The movie industry in post-WWII Philippines was characterized by a studio system that was dominated by the Big Three - LVN, Sampaguita, and Premiere. These three studios are no longer active in film production, but they produced a treasure of Filipino movies in the years immediately after the Pacific War up to the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
The LVN Archive, which closed down when the LVN Laboratory was sold, transferred its collection to the ABS-CBN Film Archive. Out of a total of 300+ films, 136 are extant. Aside from films, there is a good collection of stills which was transferred to the Lopez Museum. The survival of these remaining films is an interesting story in itself. During the height of the studio system, LVN merely had a storage structure for its master negatives and prints. This storage structure was walled in by hollow blocks and was not even air-conditioned. It was managed by one person who singlehandedly revised, shelved, and documented his work, hand-written on sheets of yellow pad paper. Much was lost in this storage system; but, another way of looking at it is that much more could have been lost. Quite clearly, archiving was not in the minds of the studio heads at the time.
LVN stopped production in the early ‘60s but continued its color laboratories and post-production facilities. Its films of the preceding decades, transferred onto 16mm film format or U-matic tape, enjoyed a lease on life in provincial and television runs. In the ‘80s, Mike de Leon, grandson of the LVN matriarch, saw the deteriorating state of the studio’s extant films and decided to transfer the remaining prints onto video tape. There was no budget for telecine transfer, so he merely projected the films and recorded them off the screen with a Betamax camera and recorder. The improvised recording was not able to get rid of the flickering effect. However, some of these films have since deteriorated further and are only available on the poorly recorded Betamax format.
In the late ‘80s, better late than never, the LVN Archive was organized. The remains of the studio’s films were counted and some semblance of archiving was instituted. For lack of funds to restore the films on film, LVN resorted to restoring the remaining films on digital video. The hardware included a Matrox Digisuite LE, for cleaning the image and re-editing some parts, and a Sadie, for cleaning the sound. The copies to be restored came from various sources - the extant 35mm or 16mm positive or negative copies; U-matic video copies which were originally made for the television broadcasts; and, Mike de Leon’s flickering Betamax copies. The first production of LVN, Giliw Ko (1938), was restored in cooperation with the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia and the Philippine Information Agency. Today, the LVN collection, whatever remains of it, is in the ABS-CBN Film Archive.
Aside from the Big Three Studios, there are other younger companies that have instituted some form of archiving. These companies include Viva Films, which started in 1981 and is currently one of the major companies, and Reyna Films, Armida Siguion-Reyna’s company that is known for some of its films and the long-running musical program for television, Aawitan Kita. Other companies, like Regal or Seiko, have opted to sell their television rights to the ABS-CBN Network and store their film properties in the ABS-CBN Film Archive.
Another industry-based film archive is the Mowelfund Film Archive. This is a small department under the Mowelfund, an organization that looks after the social security of industry workers. Its collection focuses on short films, like the early super-8 works of independent filmmakers. It has a few feature films, though, that it has received from foreign sources or has restored through its initiative. The MTRCB (Movie and Television Review and Classification Board) has recently transferred its collection to the Mowelfund Film Archive. Much of this collection, however, is not recoverable and is in an advanced state of decomposition. The Mowelfund Film Archive, through the work of its archivist Ricky Orellana, survives with its limited funding.
The ABS-CBN Film Archive was established to protect its video library and the films for which the network has television rights. The film holdings include selected films by various companies, e.g. Seiko, Octo-Arts, RVQ, Cine Suerte, Imus Films, and most of the movies produced by Regal Films. Of course, the productions of Star Cinema, a subsidiary of the ABS-CBN conglomerate, are stored in this archive. A separate archive takes of the network’s television productions.
Films that are still being broadcast are acquired by the ABS-CBN Film Archive on a medium-term basis and are available either on film or video. Films that are acquired on a long-term basis, these are titles that have been acquired through absolute sale in perpetua, are available on film and video and their master negatives are stored in the archive. Examples of these films that are now owned by the ABS-CBN in perpetuity are the films produced by NV Productions, the company of superstar Nora Aunor, and the films produced by the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines which includes Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (Miracle, 1982) and Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata (Gold Silver Death, 1983).
Among the “archives” in the country, only the ABS-CBN Film Archive operates its air-conditioning facilities 24-hours a day. One vault is designed for the “medium-term” films in which the temperature is kept between 15-20 degrees Celsius, with 35% RH. The other vault is for the “long-term” films and master negatives in which the temperature is kept between 8-10 degrees Celsius, with 35% RH. The air conditioning units of the other “archives,” including the ones under the government institutions, are turned off when the staff leave for the day and turned on at the start of a work day, a practice which may turn out to be worse for the films because of the fluctuating temperature.
Private Collectors and Film Suppliers
This next category consists of individuals who may have a film or two (or more) stashed away under their beds or some cool place in their houses or offices. They may not have the structures of what we consider archives, but they are “archivists” at heart. If not films, these individuals keep a collection of extra-filmic materials, e.g. stills, posters, clippings, which may or may not be catalogued.
There are individuals who keep bigger collections of films or video copies of films; these are the film suppliers. These suppliers hold (or claim to hold) the television rights to their prints. Their “archives” are simply storage rooms, which can range from an office space to a shelf in a comfort room. Obviously, the holdings of these suppliers are not in mint condition, but they may include some rare finds.
The Question of a National Audio-Visual Archive
It is now appropriate to ask the question: Why is there no national audio-visual archive in the Philippines? Actually, there used to be a national archive in the country known as the Film Archives of the Philippines. It was established in 1981 under the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. The ECP was created by a decree of President Marcos to oversee the development of Philippine Cinema, and principally to organize the Manila International Film Festival. Aside from the international film festival, the projects of the ECP included the Film Ratings Board, a number of feature film productions, a short film festival, and the archives. Imelda Marcos built the doomed Manila Film Center as the venue for the Manila International Film Festival and it was also designed to house the Film Archives. The site was a reclaimed area on the coast of Manila Bay. It was not exactly the best site for a film archive, but it was a structure nonetheless that could support the various activities of a national archive.
The Film Archives of the Philippines started its collection by acquiring some early films about the Philippines; soon, feature films, with their master negatives, were deposited (or surrendered) by local producers. The archives even played host to its ASEAN neighbors for some workshops and training programs in archiving. However, the Film Archives was short-lived. In 1986, when the regime of President Marcos was ended unceremoniously, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines was closed down, and with it the Film Archives of the Philippines. The collection was transferred to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, which was not a hospitable place since archiving was not germane to its task. Soon enough, the MTRCB released the collection, or what was left of it, to the Philippine Information Agency which was eventually transferred to the Mowelfund Film Archive.
Presently, there is a bill in Congress focusing on the development of the national archives. Although the bill centers on the needs of traditional print archives, it includes a provision for an audio-visual archive. What is the future of this national archives bill? The answer depends on the lawmakers’ priorities. With economic and political problems, both national and international, exerting their pressure on the country, the prognosis for the birth of a revitalized national archives does not look bright.
In the absence of a national audio-visual archives and the presence of individual little “archives,” there appears to be a need to rationalize the archiving activities in the country. In 1993, a group of professionals connected with different institutions organized to form the Society of Film Archivists. Without funds, much less its own office and archiving facilities, the group was fueled simply by their passion for film and by their resolve to preserve the film heritage of the country.
Understanding the need to act speedily, SOFIA identified specific needs for the retrieval and restoration of endangered films. It also organized short-term training workshops in preservation and collection management, and offered to advise various institutions in their archiving programs. With assistance coming from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, SOFIA was able to program the restoration of some landmark films, including the first film produced by LVN in 1938 and some key films by major filmmakers like Gerardo de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal.
In cooperation with institutions like the Philippine Information Agency and the National Film and Sound Archive in Australia, SOFIA organized training workshops and seminars on cataloguing, film and video preservation, archives management, intellectual property rights, and a strategic planning workshop for a national audio-visual archives. Members of SOFIA have also represented the country in international seminars and conferences. The organization has also started to conduct a course in Organizing and Maintaining Audio-Visual Collections for the University of the Philippines College of Library of Science. SOFIA is also active in the SEAPAVAA (Southeast Asia and Pacific Audio-Visual Archives Association), which it helped to organize.
While SOFIA has focused attention on the urgent need to save what is left of the country’s film heritage, a concerted effort of the government and the industry is necessary to make any archival program of restoration and preservation viable. SOFIA has been lobbying for a national audio-visual archives. In 1998, it joined a task force composed of the Philippine Information Agency, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to look into the possibilities of such an archive. The task force was joined by consultants from Australia (Mark Nizette) and Germany (Harald Brandes). It surveyed the country for the most suitable place for an audio-visual archive. Among three possible sites, the National Arts Center on Mount Makiling in Laguna was chosen not only for its relatively cool climate the whole year round, but more particularly for its low humidity. A design was made by the architects of the National Arts Center and the requirements that would meet international standards were listed. At the time of study, the estimated budget for the structure alone was approximately 200M pesos.
SOFIA, of course, is convinced about the necessity of a national audio-visual archive. However, lawmakers in whose hands lies the future of the proposed archive need a lot of convincing. It may be a tall order to convince lawmakers that a national audio-visual archive should be in their list of priorities. The production of the movie industry which is ruled by crass commercialism does not help the cause at all. Archiving trash is not a convincing argument.
How does the future of Philippine audio-visual archiving look like? With the exception of the ABS-CBN Film Archive which is supported generously by a conglomerate to serve its purpose, I think it is going to be a continuing story of little archives struggling to survive, fighting against the ravages of time, hoping to freeze the disintegration of the country’s audio-visual heritage. The ABS-CBN Film Archive may well stand for the absent national audio-visual archive. Whatever happens, there must be some way to elect and save the main works that are worthy to be canonized. In this regard, I think an organization like SOFIA should spearhead this project. A ruthless form of selection must be done, simply because the resources will not allow for comprehensive archiving. The least that the country can do is to preserve this canon of Philippine Cinema. At this point, it does not matter where these elected films are archived; the goal is to find an archive for each elected film that is in danger of extinction. In the meantime, a national audio-visual archive will remain a dream.
Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., PhD, is the president of the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA). This article is an updated and revised version of an essay that was originally published in a monograph by SOFIA and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.