BECAUSE of the demands of my work, I missed the other Saturday’s launch of the book “Lilas: An Illustrated History of the Golden Ages of Cebuano Cinema” written by Paul Douglas Grant and Misha Boris Anissimov of the University of San Carlos (USC) Graduate School of Cinema Studies. But I received a complimentary copy of the glossy hardbound book. It is another impressive USC Press release, with colored reproduction of published ads of the films inside a 264-page book.
Anything about Cebu’s past interests me, more so when it is about Cebuano culture. I thus spent a big part of the past couple of days reading the book, pausing every time its contents bumped into bits of the memories stacked in my brain through the decades. In this sense, one of the announced purposes of the book worked for me.
“Our hope,” said the authors, “is that this book may serve multiple purposes, one of which is to offer some visual pleasure to those who may have vague recollections of what the ephemera of this cinematic tradition looked like and hopefully trigger memories of those films that currently only exist there precisely: in the memories of former spectators.”
A product of the authors’ three years research at USC’s Cebuano Studies Center, the book does not claim to be a “total” history of Cebuano cinema. Rather, it focuses on two of its productive periods, or roughly in the 1950s and 1970s. I wasn’t born yet in the first period and was too young to be drawn into the nitty-gritty of Cebuano cinema in the second. But I could not evade its discussion as I matured and developed an affinity for Cebuano culture and language.
I first got interested in Cebu’s “missing” cinema when I followed politics in the late ‘70s and was attracted to a politician who was also a giant in Cebuano literature in Natalio “Talyux” Bacalso. I heard he wrote a novel and was involved in Cebuano filmmaking. That prompted me to later pick up every nugget of information I could find about Cebuano cinema as the years passed by.
The ‘70s was different in that some of the films flitted in the memory because my elders talked about it. “Mayor Andal” and “Diego Salvador” were popular radio dramas. And who can forget the joke that was made into a movie, “Itlog Manoy, Orange” and the “Batul of Mactan” that referred to a bottle and not the actual “battle”? That period drew into Cebuano filmmaking some of the popular talents and directors from Tagalog cinema.
Two Cebuanas would later win Famas acting trophies in Gloria Sevilla as best actress and her daughter Suzzette Ranillo (a.k.a. Nadia Veloso) as best supporting actress. Nominated as best child actor was Frankie Navaja Jr. who, if I remember right, was the son of the owner of our “suki” photo studio.
Those nuggets of information are in the book and more, so too translations in English of Bisaya magazine serials turned into movies, “The Batul of Mactan” (translated by Jaylou Dari with help from Grant) and the comics “Ang Medalyon nga Bulawan” (translated by Erik Tuban and CD Borden. Isn’t this an original Tagalog comics? Its author is Rico Bello Omagap.)
I liked Grant going deep in his introduction of Cebuano cinema and cinema in general (he settled for “vernacular cinema” instead of “regional cinema”). But I would have liked him to tackle at length radio soap’s contribution to Cebuano cinema instead of relying solely on the print media (which is not surprising because print media is easily researched). But that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it?
“Lilas” is an important contribution to efforts to document the Cebuanos’ collective experience. To Paul Douglas Grant, Misha Boris Annisimov and the USC Press, kudos.