One hundred years of Philippine cinema
By Teddy O. Co
Jose Nepomuceno (1893-1959), owner of the popular photo studio Electro-Parhelio on Carriedo Street in Manila, was the first Filipino to put up a Filipino-owned movie company, Malayan Movies, on May 15, 1917. He then became an accredited correspondent for Pathe News and Paramount News, and shot his first Filipino subject for a newsreel—the funeral for the first wife of then statesman Sergio Osmeña, which was shown in a cinema in Cebu in January 1918. Then, Nepomuceno made the first Filipino theatrical narrative film, Dalagang Bukid, which was first shown on September 12, 1919, at the Teatro de la Comedia before moving to the Empire Theater. The film was based on the zarzuela of the same title by Hermogenes Ilagan and starred Honorata “Atang” de la Rama and Marceliano Ilagan.
Thus, the commemoration of the centennial of Philippine cinema would span from the time of the establishment of the first Filipino film company in May 1917, until the theatrical release of the first Filipino-made feature in September 1919, a two and a half year period from 2017 up to 2019.
Jose Nepomuceno went on to make 38 silent films, now all lost, and a lesser number of sound films in partnership with other companies before the demise of his career after World War II. Along the way, he was credited with discovering many great names in Philippine cinema, including Atang de la Rama, Rogelio de la Rosa, Leopoldo Salcedo, Gerardo de Leon, Mary Walter, Gregorio Fernandez, Rosa del Rosario, and Fernando Poe, Sr. He has often been called the Father of Philippine Cinema.
Leading up to the present, almost 10,000 theatrical features and countless shorts have been produced. Philippine cinema has become a multi-billion peso industry that employs thousands of workers, a dream factory that has created not just popular stars but also successful politicos, a forum for discussion that has played a big role in shaping Filipino identity and culture, especially in the dissemination of a national language, an art form that has given the country prestige and recognition. In the words of the critic Joel David, it has become the national pastime.
This capsule history of cinema in the Philippines first appeared in the 2018 calendar of the NCCA which celebrates the centennial of Philippine cinema. Teddy O. Co is the Head of the NCCA Subcommission on the Arts and the Committee on Cinema.