Editorial: Retrieving cinema and identity

NATIVIZE FILM. Film scholars, such as Rolando B. Tolentino of the University of the Philippines Film Institute, underscore the challenge to retrieve and study resources, particularly in Cebu and Iloilo, centers outside Manila, where films contributed to the nascent and contest growth of Filipino identity. The lessons of the last 100 years should benefit Filipinos in the next 100 years, they urge. (SunStar file foto)

DOES a copy of the first Cebuano film exist?

After his Feb. 28 lecture on Filipino films of the 1930s and the links to American colonialism and the negotiation of the Filipino’s identity, professor Rolando B. Tolentino asked media students from the south if there is an extant copy of the prewar films produced in Cebu.

The first Cebuano film is credited to be “El Hijo Disobidiente (The Disobedient Son),” created in 1922 by dramatist Florentino Borromeo, Cebu’s first film director. This is according to Dr. Paul Douglas Grant and Misha Boris Anissimov, authors of “Lilas: An Illustrated History of the Golden Ages of Cebuano Cinema.”

Grant, professor of cinema studies at the University of San Carlos, admitted they also tried to trace a copy of the first Cebuano film, reported SunStar Cebu’s Chelzee G. Salera on Sept. 13, 2016. “Lilas” focused on the films produced in the 1950s and 1970s, two major waves of Cebuano film production.

“It gave us some sense of how difficult and sometimes frustrating it is to try and trace the history of Cebuano cinema,” said Grant.

Outside of Manila, Cebu and Iloilo were important centers contributing to the growth of films in the country before and after World War II. Tolentino stressed the value of discovering and preserving the resources in these places for scholars to study and assess for their contributions to the history and culture of Filipinos.

A media scholar and faculty member of the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI), Tolentino highlighted the “little available materials on the 1930s Filipino films” during his Feb. 28 lecture at the UPFI Film Center-Cine Adarna. This was the second installment of the “Pelikula Lektura 2019,” the Philippine Cinema Centennial Lecture Series that presents academic research analyzing the last 100 years of Philippine cinema and drawing insights to guide the next 100 years.

Film data must be gathered and studied despite increasing constraints in budget and space, leading to the loss and destruction of resources that document our history as a people and preserve insights that should guide creative workers producing content consumed by audiences and shaping consciousness and identity, said Tolentino.

Regional film studies should address the gaps and omissions in Philippine film history, such as the impact of the promotion of the Filipino national language on the post-war production and promotion of Visayan movies. According to Tolentino, pioneering Filipino films in the 1930s show the “articulation of a local colonial subjectivity... within the larger transitioning nation-formation and transformation of the 1930s era and beyond.”

As argued by a film student during the open forum, Visayan films exhibited an ethos and trends different from those manifested in national cinema, centered on Manila. Visayan scholars must respond to the challenge of analyzing regional filmic text and contribute to the study and dissemination of how films contributed to the negotiation of identity, especially during watersheds in the nation’s history, such as the 1930s’ transition from colonialism to “modern coloniality/colonial modernity,” as phrased by Tolentino.

Delving into the past is necessary to shape Filipinos’ “creative response” to current social realities. Instead of being hostaged by an industry driven by the Hollywood model of profits and commercialization, Filipinos must embrace film literacy as the “susi (key)” to the understanding of and appreciation for the cinematic language in expressing Filipino views and stories that are ignored or misrepresented in mainstream movies.

Such was the exhortation of UPFI professor and advocate of film literacy, Nick Deocampo, who urged during the open forum that viewing quality Filipino movies and world cinema lifts the blinders from and liberates viewers who are raised on the “dominant variant of Hollywood” filmic language, which he implies has a pernicious effect like cultural fast food.


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