Celebrating two Golden Ages of Cebuano cinema

By Jobers R. Bersales |August 17,2016 - 09:23 PM

The world will finally know that Cebu once had its own brand of cinema this Saturday when the book “Lilas: An Illustrated History of the Golden Ages of Cebuano Cinema” will be launched at 4 p.m. at the Activity Center of Ayala Center Cebu.

Written by Dr. Paul Grant and Prof. Misha Anisimov, the duo behind the University of San Carlos Graduate School of Cinema Studies, this 264-page coffee table book published by USC Press finally puts the record straight that in the 1950s and again in the 1970s, Cebuanos were enthralled and entertained by movies that were produced, directed and starred by Cebuanos.

A product of three years of research at the USC Cebuano Studies Center, “Lilas” will surprise even the serious Cebuano scholar as much as those cursorily interested in Cebu’s past because so very little is known or written of late about the existence of Cebuano films. “Lilas” effectively covers nearly 70 such full-length films divided into what the authors successfully prove as the two “Golden Ages of Cebuano Cinema.” That is, some 50 films between 1947 to 1955 and about 17 films between the close of the 1960s and the middle of the 1970s.

My own recollection along the period of the second golden age of Cebuano cinema is limited to watching just one of those 17 full-length films, “Mayor Andal” in 1974, when I was just eight years old. I barely remember the film, which was a comedy directed by Eugene Labella, father of Cebu City Vice Mayor Edgardo. All I remember now is that it was in color, everything was said in Cebuano and that my mother and my grandmother who brought me along to watch it, talked profusely about it days after we saw it.

Unfortunately, this film like almost all the others, is no longer with us. Part of the reason is because tight budgets forced Cebuano producers to make one to five copies of every film. One can see this in the book where one movie is advertised as showing in one theater, say, Oriente, and will move to Liberty or Vision or some other movie house the following week. The other is sheer lack of government support to preserve the films or if they do get deposited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila, they get stored in some dark basement never to be seen or heard from again as they rot over time, reeking with the smell of vinegar.

The MOWELFUND managed to preserve about a handful of these films, two of which were apparently turned over by the Labella family for preservation. I understand from conversations with Dr. Grant that one had to be brought to Australia to be cleaned up and then digitized. This gives us one more reason why it gets difficult to preserve: the technology is available only outside the country because the older the film gets, the more difficult to preserve.

Fortunately, even if these films are no longer with us, there are plenty of newspaper advertisements and promotional articles published in the dailies, some of which also folded up but whose copies are available at the USC Cebuano Studies Center.

And so, we are left with intriguing stories to ponder like when Misha said in yesterday’s press conference for the book that “Manok ni San Pedro,” which was made in 1977, was a serious and financially successful attempt by Cebuano filmmakers (the Arong brothers, Narciso and Domingo, together with director Jose Macachor) to produce a film that would be totally shot, edited, developed and screened in Cebu by Cebuanos with Cebuano actors and actresses. Among the latter, count former provincial board member now Talisay City Councilor Julian “Teban” Daan.

Americans Paul Grant and Misha Anisimov have stumbled upon a treasure trove of information about Cebuano film creativity and how it differed from those of Manila — something that was waiting to be told in one single volume. That it took Americans to do this is but incidental, as Dr. Grant intimated during the press con yesterday. There have been numerous studies of films of one country written by someone of a different nationality. What is most important, I would aver, is that the story is finally told.

* * *

An exhibition of 24 panels showing select images from the book will be held at The Gallery of Ayala Center Cebu from August 20 to 27, 2016 courtesy of the Ayala Center Cebu, which has once again graciously supported the book launch and exhibition.
For those interested to buy advanced copies of “Lilas,” kindly call Tina at USC Press (2300 100 loc. 290) or Phiazarra Publishing House at Tel. 420 2383. See you all at the book launch as well as at the photo exhibit.

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