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PHILIPPINE CINEMA (1897- 2020) - Book Review

System Administrator Tuesday April 6, 2021

Although cinephiles and Asian cinema lovers know the names of a handful of famous Filipino directors such as Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon, Marylou Diaz Abaya, or more recent ‘festival auteurs’ such as Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz, we have to admit that we know very little about Filipino cinema as a whole, especially its popular and economic aspects.

Well, a thick, heavy (in a physical sense), comprehensive and monumental book published recently in Manila, is filling the gaps and the ‘black holes’ of the cinema of this country: Philippine Cinema, 1897-2020, written by two film historians (who are experts in other fields too) - Gaspar A. Vidal (from UP Diliman) and Dennis A.Villegas (from the Far Eastern University). Edited by renowned film connoisseur and historian Teddy Co, it has a foreword by Clodualdo ‘Doy’ del Mundo, and an afterword by Nick Deocampo, who needs no introduction.

This most important and awaited book spans more than 120 years - from the birth of Filipino cinema at the end of the Spanish colonization in 1897 , in the first chapter - ‘Flickers of the early cinema’ - (up to 1945), and from ‘the wartime trauma to the golden age’ (1946- 1972) to ‘the Marcos dictatorship and the cinema of resistance, escapism and transgression’ (1972-1986), and finally to ‘the cinema of the neo-liberal democratic age’ (1986-2020), with interwoven and detailed studies of each era and every aspect of the economics and artistic evolution.

Philippine Cinema (1897-2020)
Philippine Cinema (1897-2020)


Actually it looks like a complement to the comprehensive books of Nick Deocampo on the different eras of Filipino cinema, such as Cine: Spanish influences on early cinema in the Philippines or Eiga: Filipino cinema during World War II (The Japanese occupation ), published in the past years.

The last chapter (5) gives us a hint about contemporary ‘Indie, regional, alternative and gender-fluid cinema’, and about the new categories of the more recent plural cinemas celebrated in several new film festivals such as Cinemalaya (the original one), Cinema One (linked to the defunct ABS-CBN channel, suspended last year by the Duterte government), Sinag Manila (under the direction of Brillante Mendoza, with Solar Pictures), and the unique Cinema Rehiyon (Cinema of the regions) funded by the NCCA and the regions, among many other ones that flourished in recent years. The only international film festival existing today is QCinema (launched in Quezon City, with Ed Lejano, from UP).

Every chapter invites the reader to delve into the most diverse aspects of Filipino cinema, from the early age of silent cinema (with the one and only pioneer, Jose Nepomuceno) to the Golden Age of the 1950s/60s/70s, and the most recent evolution of indie cinemas, as introduced to world film festivals (Raya Martin, B.Mendoza, and the ‘Guru of Auteur films’ and cinematic length, Lav(rante) Diaz.

However, this thorough analysis is not limited to the study of directors and authors alone. It explores many other fields of popular cinema (now called ‘mainstream’, with the splits in Indie films..) too. It studies the importance of producers and film companies such as LVN, Sampaguita, Regal Films (Mother Lily) and the Star system heavily inspired by Hollywood in the 1950s, up to the 1980s/90s, which prized so many great actors and actresses, such as the late Eddie Garcia who acted in about 650 films (!) and directed more than fifty.  Too many names to mention here, but some of them are still alive and active (such as Gloria Romero, Philip Salvador, Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Hilda Koronel, and more.

I am sure that specialists of Filipino cinema might argue about some facts and details in this book, but this is not for me to tell. Anyway, to my knowledge, this is the first book to embrace the complete history of Filipino cinema, which was once one of the most prolific film industries in (South East) Asia, and which has seen a kind of ‘renaissance’ from the early 2000s, when a whole generation of Indie directors who made it to the most prestigious international film festivals (even though, most of the time, their films have not even been released in the Philippines outside the festival circuit…).

-- Mabuhay Filipino Cinema!

-- Max Tessier in Manila

-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar

Max Tessier (born in France in 1944) is a French film critic and historian, specialized in Japanese and Asian cinemas. He has published numerous articles and interviews in French and English, about Japanese and Asian films. He has also written books (in French) on Japanese cinema: Images du cinema japonais (1981, re-1990) and on Yasujiro Ozu in Anthologie du cinema. He has been an early member of Netpac France (with the late Yves Thoraval), and an active collaborator from the 80s of Aruna Vasudev for the film magazine, Cinemaya.  He was also a member of the Cannes Film Festival selection committee (1983-2000), and a member of many festival juries, particularly in Europe and Asia (Japan, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, etc).Since the early 2000s, he has been living partly in Manila (the Philippines), and has followed the recent evolution of Filipino cinema, both ‘Indie’ and mainstream. He has been on the juries of several local film festivals, especially Cinemalaya and QCinema, and he is a consultant for the Far East Film Festival (FEFF) in Udine (Italy) for Filipino cinema.


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