When they opened the Cinematheque Centre in Manila in December 2015, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) headed by Chairperson Briccio Santos, thought it would go the way of the four other Cinematheques they’ve opened in the provinces. That is, it would slowly gain a following as the audience for film screenings gradually grows.
The slow but steady climb was a well-founded expectation. In Iloilo, Davao, Baguio and Zamboanga, the Cinematheques took time to take off, the public’s interest something that needed to be nurtured.
But the support for the Cinematheque Centre in Manila has surprised Santos and overwhelmed his team. Film screenings have filled the 105-seater theater beyond capacity – they’ve had to bring in seats just to accommodate the mixture of students and professionals who are coming in droves.
On any given day, students are at the Film Museum that houses sculptures of our six National Artists for Film, memorabilia donated by family and their estates, and a documentary each on their works. Old cameras, lights, and film equipment are also on display – an education in itself on filmmaking and how far technology has come.
Various media organizations and publications have asked to feature the space, like it’s the newest hippest place to be, the one that we all should know about.
Not bad for what is essentially a State-run facility.
The historical limitation
This is a country where cultural institutions are very rarely in the news for whatever good these do, whatever achievements these might have. Mostly, we hear of our cultural offices only when there’s some crisis or controversy, i.e., the National Historical Commission and the Torre de Manila, the Metro Manila Film Festival and Honor Thy Father, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the lack funds for young artists.
This might be why it is a surprise that this is now now the fifth Cinematheque of FDCP. It’s entirely possible that we just missed what it’s been doing all these years, and how much it has achieved in such a short time. There is also the fact that we seem to generally distrust our cultural institutions, something that FDCP Chair Santos himself understands.
“It’s really because of what happened to us during the Marcos times, when culture was used by the political power,” he says. “Na-stigmatize ang culture eh. So naisip nila: huwag na ‘yang culture, delikado pala ‘yan! Kaya nahiwa-hiwalay lahat, we’re so polarized.”
Santos counts almost 12 different cultural institutions. One realizes of course that this does not even include the other hands dipped in the cinema pot: for example, the inexplicable power that the Metro Manila Development Authority has over the annual MMFF, the censorship board (MTRCB) as the office that approves foreign film festivals in the country.
“You will never see this anywhere else in the world, ‘yung magkakaiba ‘yung mga cultural offices, na talagang sari-sari store. And it’s been done basically to make us weak. It makes us weak, because it divides us,” Santos says. The FDCP for example, overlaps with the NCCA’s Cinema Department; the MMDA is part of the FDCP Board; the Cultural Center of the Philippines maintains its own archives of Philippine film, as does the Cinematheque. One could go on and on.
Yet Santos, instead of being bogged down by the structural dysfunction, decided to go beyond it. “Once you admit na structural ang problema, na talagang it was made to divide us, you then have to own it,” he says. And then you put in the work, the way Santos did.
excerpt from interview published as The Past Revisited, The Future Reimagined in Metro Society, February 2016 issue.