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The Heroes of Philippine Film Archiving

The men and women who preserve history for future generations


By Monchito Nocon

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME Clockwise from above: Agustin ‘Hammy’ Sotto;Leo Katigbak; Simon Santos; Doy del Mundo; and Jo Atienza

KEEPERS OF THE FLAME Clockwise from above: Agustin ‘Hammy’ Sotto;Leo Katigbak; Simon Santos; Doy del Mundo; and Jo Atienza

In telling the story of film archiving in the country—its continuing saga of tragedies and triumphs; of films lost and films rediscovered; of the advent of WWII and tragic studio fires; of celluloid melted for their silver content or their transformation as torotots; and then the glorious advent of digital restoration—it is imperative that we recognize and give honor to the men and women who have played, in their own ways big and small, a key role in pushing this virtually neglected advocacy forward, despite the insurmountable odds and challenges.

Agustin “Hammy” Sotto

It was in 1993 that Hammy, respected film critic and impassioned and voracious film researcher at heart, led a group of individuals from varying backgrounds—librarians, scholars, archivists—who took on the challenge of forming the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA).  Sans any funds, much less its own office and archiving equipment, this intrepid lot persevered; fueled simply by their passion for film and their resolve to preserve the film heritage of the country. Until then, film archivists and film archiving was a concept alien to the country; and from there, Hammy played a pivotal role in making film archiving a key program of the ASEAN Committee for Culture and Information, thus paving the way for the creation of SEAPAVAA or the Southeast Asia Pacific Audiovisual Archive Association.

Rene Esteva

Fernando Poe Jr., King of Philippine movies, was one of the very few actors/directors/producers who had the vision and foresight to archive his films. And the man who diligently held fort at the FPJ Productions film archives in Del Monte was Rene Esteva. Despite utilizing rather crude means and with limited resources then, Mang Rene, as he was fondly called, served as able steward and custodian to some 160 or so film titles produced by FPJ Productions, well into the twilight of his life. Today, the FPJ film archive boasts of a state-of-the-art ARRI film scanner, one of the most advanced in the world, where they scan and digitize films 24/7. While Mang Rene and FPJ may both be gone, their legacies and the work they left behind certainly live on.

Alexis Tioseco

Fellow lovers of Filipino cinema were shocked and  devastated when Alexis Tioseco with his Slovenian girlfriend Nika Bohinc were brutally murdered on Sept. 1, 2009 at Tioseco’s home in QC. Only 28, Alexis was one of the most passionate, ardent, and vocal supporters of independent cinema and film archiving, either as an outspoken film critic, film festival programmer, and as an active member of SOFIA. In his seminal essay, “Wishful Thinking for Philippine Cinema,” Alexis writes:

“I cry for the loss of Manuel Conde’s Juan Tamad films. I cry for the generations of Filipinos, myself included, that can no longer see Gerry de Leon’s Daigdig ng Mga Api, and instead have scans of movie ads to admire on the internet.”

Clodualdo “Doy” del Mundo, Jr.

As president emeritus of SOFIA, Doy, founder of the Communication Arts program of De La Salle University and acclaimed screenwriter, has written extensively on the subject of film archiving in the Philippines and the importance of having a National Film Archives. Of these, there’s Ukay-Ukay: Where’s the Archive and Dreaming of A National Film Archive, both of which are highly accessible and informative reads.

Says Doy: “The question that always comes to mind is ‘Why do archiving?’ The answer is simple: Because films are there or what remains of them. These are films that can tell us stories about ourselves as a people, films that can show the best and worst of ourselves, films that can show images and sounds and ideas about our past.”

Josephine “Jo” Atienza

Jo Atienza is one of the pillars and founders of SOFIA. She, together with Leo Katigbak and Ferdie Manalili, also founded the ABS-CBN film archive in 1994, then as now, the primary audiovisual archive in the country that operates following world-class standards. Jo also played an important role in the early efforts in the 1990s to scout for an appropriate site for a permanent film archive facility, with the help of consultants from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

Teddy Co

Teddy, now head of the Subcommission for the Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), is well recognized in local film circles as virtual walking lexicon when it comes to Philippine cinema history, apart from his substantial contributions toward developing regional cinema in the country. Beyond that, Teddy is likewise credited with locating a print of Gerardo de Leon’s 1955 film Sanda Wong in HongKong, and was instrumental as well in the restoration of de Leon’s Noli Me Tangere from 1961, under the auspices of the German government.

Nick de Ocampo

A multi-awarded filmmaker and educator, Nick is no doubt also one of the most prolific authors on Philippine Cinema history, with a number of tomes under his name. These include Cine: Spanish Influences on Early Cinema in the Philippines, Film: American Influences in Philippine Cinema, and Eiga: Cinema in the Philippines in World War II. These book titles spawned docu movies that fuse live action with animation such as Cine Sine: Spanish Beginnings in Philippine Cinema, Film: American Beginnings in Philippine Cinema, and his latest, Cine Tala.

While doing research at the Library of Congress in 2003, Nick stumbled upon a copy of Zamboanga, the 1936 film starring Fernando Poe Sr., a copy of which was subsequently repatriated to the country.

Leo Katigbak and the ABS-CBN Film Archives 

Leo Katigbak, as head of film restoration, and his team at the ABS-CBN Film Archives, has a led a renaissance in film archiving and film restoration in the country, thanks in large part to the advent of digital software and true digital film restoration in HD, 2K, and 4K resolution. Under his watch, the ABS-CBN Film Archives has restored some 150 titles including a veritable canon of Filipino film classics, not the least of which include Himala, Oro Plata Mata, Karnal, and Moral.

Jojo Devera, Simon Santos, and Marti Magsanoc

Unabashed film buffs, Jojo, Simon, and Marti help bring love for Filipino cinema closer to young audiences. Through MagsineTayo, Jojo screens online a whole plethora of carefully curated Pinoy movie titles, a good number of which are seen for the first time and are culled from Betamax and VHS tapes. Through his highly informative blog Video 48, which is also the name of his video shop, Simon regularly shares archival articles on film, movie posters, still pictures, and the like to a wider audience on the internet. Marti, a medical doctor by profession, founded Archivo 1984, a gallery for art and film memorabilia. His collection of Pinoy movie posters and other ephemera is nothing short of spectacular.

Indeed, with the constantly precarious state that film archiving in the Philippines finds itself in, now more than ever do we need to nurture and develop a whole new generation of film archivists, those who will drive the advocacy forward, while looking back and building upon the many contributions of those who have come before them.

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