Philippine Cinema has a history that can be traced back to the early days of filmmaking in 1897, when European merchants brought film viewing equipment to the Philippines.
It has evolved since then, with movies being produced in various Filipino dialects and using different equipment. Recently, there has been an increase in the use of digital cameras to produce independent films. While some films have received international acclaim for their artistry, most mainstream movies were made by big studios which produce formulaic narratives designed to appeal to the mass audience.
The Pre-War Era
1800s to early 1900s: Colonists introduce film to Manila
The installation of Manila's first electricity-generating plant by Japanese engineers in 1895 was very important in the development of cinema in the country, for without power, film equipment won't work.
In 1897, Señor Pertierra used a 60mm Gaumont chronophotographe imported from France to show a series of still photographs at his Espetaculo Cientifico de Pertierra (Pertierra's Scientific Spectacle), which served as an appetizer to the featuring of the first moving pictures that year by two Swiss businessmen.
Later, on 18 September 1897, Mssrs. Leibman and Peritz used a Lumiere cinematograph to show several Lumiere films to audiences in Manila. Music was provided by a quintet orchestrated by Prof. Francisco P. de Barbat. Only the wealthy could afford the prices at their “salon,” which were steep at P1 for second-class and P2 for first class seats. Leibman and Peritz's business did not take off, due to the absence of a distribution network.
A year after the two Swiss set up their salon, Spanish officer Antonio Ramos showed his collection of films to viewers. When he ran out of new material, he decided to shoot Manila street scenes. “Escenas Calejeras (Street Scenes),” “Fiesta de Quiapo (Film) Fiesta de Quiapo (Quiapo Festival)” and “ Panorama de Manila (Manila Scenes)” became the first movies set in the Philippines.
Years after, the first moviehouses were built in Manila: The Empire Theater, owned by Albert Yearsley, and the Anda Theater, owned by Goullete and Teaque. Yearsley's theater was to be the first in Manila, but the competition was not to be outdone: Goullete and Teaque rushed to open their own moviehouse as soon as Yearsley's announcements were up and took the honor for themselves.
Albert Yearsley was then driven to attract audiences to his new theater and became the first Philippine resident to shoot local films. On 30 December 1909 he shot the Rizal Day celebration at Luneta and showed the film in April of the next year.
The first Philippine movies with narratives were also the products of severe competition and were made in 1912: “La Vida de Jose Rizal (The Life of Jose Rizal)” and “El Fusilamiento de Dr. Jose Rizal (The shooting of Dr. Jose Rizal).”
Movies were very popular in the Philippines early on, but the early success of the film industry in the Philippines ended when American filmmakers returned to their homeland.
Early 1900s: First Filipino films
The Father of Nationalistic Film, Director Julian Mananansala the first Filipino to establish the first Filipino Movie Studio - Malayan (1929).Director Julian Manansala Organized his motion picture company in 1929 with Jose Nepomuceno rendering the technical services. His initial production entitled "Patria Amore" was a financial as well as artistic sucess. he wrote the story, acted the hero's part, directed it. miss Cotobato playedthe femaile lead. because of its historical complication, the spanish community tried to stop its showing to the public, but the court disapproved the injunction being sought. His other productions were: In 1930 "Dimasalang" showing Mary Walter and gregorio Fernandez. In 1934 "Pagibig ng Kadete" starring Rosario Reyes and Atorney Amado Yuzon. In 1934 "ang Kilabot ng mga Tulisan" starring Dolly Garcia and Faustino Zaragoza. The coming of the talkies stopped completely the making of silent pictures, and the Filipino producers were forced to follow the current. Julian M. Manansala produced the following talking pictures: In 1939 "Mutya ng Katipunan" with Arsenia francisco and ricardo Brillantes as the stars. In 1940 "tawag ng Bayan" staring Asenia francisco and Ricardo Brillantes in the lead in both films. During the rehearssal of "Tawag ng Bayan" on april 18, 1939, the manansala family reidence in sampaloc was destroyed by fire. Don Jilian himself was injured and hospitalized at the PGH for a dislocated vertebra, and his mother to continue....--Mastravel 13:12, 12 August 2012 (EDT)AAMH
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After the Philippine-American war, Filipinos had more freedom and initiative to make their own films. These pioneers bought equipment from the American-built film companies,and in 1919, Jose Nepomuceno produced “Dalagang Bukid (Farm Girl),” which was based on a musical by Hermogenes Ilagan and Leon Ignacio. While Nepomuceno is known as the “Father of Philippine Film”, “Dalagang Bukid” lead actress Atang de la Rama became the first star of Philippine cinema.
By the 1920s, film had become one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the Philippines. Stars were made and directors made their mark, but early Filipino movies were mostly copies of American and European films, as filmmakers learned new techniques from movies imported from abroad.
On 3 August 1929, Radio Theater presented the first “talkie,” Fred Waring's “Pennsylvanian Syncopation.” Waring's film had really bad sound, and was hated by audiences. But on 12 October 1929, British engineer Leon Britton brought with him several optically recorded sound films, presented them at the Lyric theater.
A year later, on March 4, 1930, Carlos Vander Tolosa's “Collegian Love” came out. It was the fist Filipino film to be synchronized with phonograph records. The first talkie made in the Philippines didn't come until 1932, when George Musser's “Ang Aswang (The Witch)” debuted in cinemas. Despite its Filipino title, “Ang Aswang” had English and Spanish dialogue.
The Filipino obsession with movies led to the creation of the studio system, which was modeled after that of Hollywood. The first studio was Filippine Films, which was set up by Eddie Tait and George Harris in 1932. Tait and Harris wanted to make Manila the film capital of Asia, from which they would export films to Indonesia, Malaysia and China.
The Second World War
During the Japanese Occupation (1942-1945), filmmakers had to give up their equipment to be used by the Japanese for propaganda campaigns.
The Japanese limited the movies that were allowed to be played and made, so many actors and actresses during World War II depended mainly on stage shows, which mostly played in major Manila movie theaters, for their livelihood.
The Japanese initially brought movies from their homeland, but these performed poorly at the box office so the foreigners decided to commission local talents to make movies about Japanese-Filipino friendship, one of which was Gerardo de Leon.
De Leon worked with Japanese director Abe Yutaka in making “The Dawn of Freedom.” In 1944, de Leon worked on “Tatlong Maria (Three Marias)” with screenwriter Tsutomu Sawamura, who based the script on a novel by Jose Esperanza Cruz.
When the occupation ended, Filipinos resumed making movies, but the mood of Philippine cinema changed. The innocence and idyll of the pre-war era gave way to painful truth and realism. WWII became the subject of most movies, with heroic protagonists and dastardly villains in “Garrison 13” (1946), “Dugo ng Bayan (The Country's Blood)” (1946) and "Guerilyera (Female Guerilla)" (1946).
Productivity in the Film industry slowly increased over the years, until the dawn of the First Golden Age of Philippine Cinema in the 1950s.
The 1950s: The First Golden Age
The 1950s was the so-called First Golden Age of Philippine Cinema, mainly because at this time, the “Big Three” studios (LVN Pictures, Sampaguita Pictures and Premiere Productions) and another studio, Lebran Pictures, were at the height of their powers in filmmaking, having employed master directors like Gerardo de Leon, Eddie Romero and Cesar Gallardo as well as housing the biggest stars of the day.
The Big Three
The “Big Three” and Lebran churned out an estimated total of 350 films a year. This number made the Philippines second only to Japan in terms of film productions a year, which made it one of the busiest and bustling film communities in Asia. Nevertheless, Hollywood still dominated the box office, because those 350 films were only shown in two theaters, namely Dalisay and Life theaters in Manila.
The studios eventually came to be known for their work in certain genres; they developed “specializations” to show their superiority and skill versus the productions of other companies.
LVN Pictures became known for its comedies and swordplay costume movies, Sampaguita for its komiks adaptations and high-gloss, glamorous pictures which were patronized mainly by women, and Premiere for its action and crime films. But while these studios concentrated on formulaic narratives that would be accepted by the most audiences, they also produced enduring classics.
LVN produced “Anak Dalita” (1956), “Badjao” (1957) and “Biyaya ng Lupa” (1959), while Sampaguita Pictures made “Maalaala Mo Kaya” (1954). Premiere Productions made “Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo” (1952), “Salabusab” (1954) and “Huwag Mo Akong Limutin” (1960).
Meanwhile, there were also “independent” studios operating outside the studio sphere. Two of these were owned and operated by actors Fernando Poe, Sr. and Manuel Conde. Poe was best known for his roles as tree-swinging Hagibis and Pangasinan hero Palaris while Conde played Juan Tamad and Genghis Khan.
While these small studios also produced formula fare like their larger counterparts, they were able to make outstanding films. Manuel Conde's “Genghis Khan” (1952), which was the first Filipino film to be shown in the Cannes Film Festival, was made for his own small company while Gerardo de Leon's “Tayug, ang Bayang Api” (1947), “Ang Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo” (1952) and “Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig” (1959) were made for Pedro Vera Jr. Productions.
Lamberto V. Avellana, who would later become an LVN contract director, also worked for various independent studios.
International and Local Fame
Due to the high production value of motion pictures made during the First Golden Age, many won international awards. In 1952, “Genghis Khan” became the first film to be shown in the Cannes Film Festival and in 1956, “Anak Dalita” copped the Golden Harvest Award (Best Picture) of the prestigious Asia-Pacific Film Festival.
The stars of these productions also won international awards. Cambodian prince Norodom Sihanouk presented actress Lilia Dizon with the Best Actress Award from the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in 1954. Leroy Salvador was also recognized for his performance in the film “Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay” (1953) in the Asia-Pacific Film Festival.
The first local award-giving bodies were formed during this time. The Maria Clara Awards was set up by the Manila Times Publishing Co., followed by the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) in 1952.
The glory days of Philippine Cinema did not extend into the 1960s. Foreign imports had taken audiences away from local movies; to cope with the decline and eventual collapse of the major studios, filmmakers had to produce local versions of the action-thrillers, soft core sex films and Westerns that were profiting at the box office.
Because of less profits and labor-management conflicts, the “Big Three” closed one by one and were replaced by smaller studios. The 1950s classics were replaced by “love team” romantic musicals and comedies and other movies designed to titillate fans and provide an outlet for the “flower power” revolution. Action films also became more violent and realistic.
The 1950s marked the beginning of the reigns of Fernando “Da King” Poe, Jr., as well as those of Joseph “Erap” Estrada and Amalia Fuentes, among others. During this time, stars became central to the success of a movie and mainstream movies thrived. Movies gave less emphasis to the narrative and more to action sequences and melodramatic crying scenes.
Despite the rise of the “bomba” movie, which ranged from softcore erotica to hardcore pornography in the early seventies, the decade proved beneficial for Philippine cinema, though not necessarily the well-being of the whole country.
The 1970s to early 1980s
The Martial Law era marked the rise of the Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. Due to heavy censorship, filmmakers had to find ways to convey their sentiments and not be shot down by the media review board. Thus came the renaissance of Philippine experimental and independent cinema.
Former President Ferdinand Marcos banned the bomba films popular during the 60s, and better-quality films with artistry as well as finely-honed political commentary, such as those by Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, and Mike de Leon, took their place.
Before the Marcos downfall, Presidential daughter Imee Marcos established the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, which helped independent films get funding and be exempt from censorship. “Oro, Plata, Mata (Gold Silver Death)” and “Scorpio Nights” by Peque Gallaga, Ishmael Bernal's “Himala (Miracle)” and Abbo de la Cruz' “Misteryo sa Tiwa (Joyful Mystery)” were made with its help.
In 1977, Kidlat Tahimik's independent film “Mababangong Bangungot (Perfumed Nightmare)” won the International Critic's Prize in the Berlin Film Festival. Independent film making thrived through the end of Martial Law in the 1980s, with Nick de Ocampo and Raymond Red's obras getting cited in festivals abroad.
Late 1980s to 1990s
The 1990s was largely uneventful for the movie industry. One of the most important events was in August 1994, when former President Fidel Ramos created the Film Development Board, tasked with providing tax incentives to good films and encouraging the export of local films abroad.
2000 to present
While formulaic romantic comedies have comprised majority of mainstream releases, independent filmmakers spur a renewed interest in Philippine movies with mostly digital films. Recent works include:
- Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (2005) by Aureus Solito, Ilusyon (2005) by Paolo Villaluna , Sa North Diversion Road (2005) by Dennis Marasigan and Todo Todo Teros (2006) by John Torres.
- Constantino, R.K. And Lo, R.F. (1994). The Golden Years: Memorable Tagalog Movie Ads 1946-1956. Manila: Danny Dolor.
- Lumbera, B.L. (1992). Pelikula, An Essay on the Philippine Film: 1961-1992. Manila: CCP.
- Sotto, A.L. (1992). Pelikula, An Essay on the Philippine Film: 1897-1960. Manila: CCP.
- Capulong, E.B. (1994). Manuel Silos. In CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (vol. VIII, p. 322). Mla: CCP.
- Matilac, R. (1994). Batalyon XIII. In CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (vol. VIII, p. 143). Mla: CCP.
- Pareja, L. (1994). Biyaya ng Lupa. In CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art (vol. VIII, p. 322). Mla: CCP.
- Tioseco, A. (April 19, 2006). "A Conversation with John Torres". Criticine.
- History of Philippine Film. Personal Journeys of Bob Gardner: Philippine Journeys. Bob Gardner, 2008. Retrieved in October 2008.
- History of Philippine Cinema. Oliver Stone's “Far Eastern Secret”. Philippine Film Studios, Inc., 2005. Retrieved in October 2008.
- Fitting Tribute to Pillars of Philippine Cinema. Malaya. People's Independent Media, Inc., 2007. Retrieved in October 2008.
- Philippine Movie Award-giving Bodies
- FAMAS Awards
- Maria Clara Awards
- Gawad Urian
- Gawad Urian's Top 10 Films (1970-1999)
- Metro Manila Film Festival
- Philippine Television
- List of Philippine actors
- List of Philippine actresses
- Philippine movie villains
- Top 20 Philippine Independent Actors
- List of Philippine directors
- List of Philippine movie studios
- First Golden Age of Philippine Cinema
- Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema
- Metakritiko, The Philippine Online Chronicles.