As early as March this year, FAP Director General Leo G. Martinez was enthusiastically telling us, the staffers of the academy’s website, of a project that is very close to his filmmaker’s heart. The project, it turns out, could be a lifelong undertaking. It involves putting Filipino literary masterpieces into celluloid or films.
The range of materials is plain staggering. Its scope covers Philippine literature from pre-Spanish times to contemporary realities. Films can evolve from folk literature’s legends and myths… from novels or novellas… from epic poems… from short stories, whether in English, Tagalog or the native dialects… and from one-act or five-act plays.
Director General Martinez explained that these films must be intended for or addressed to students or pupils in the three levels of education in the country—elementary, high school and college. He rationalized that the more popular literary works are those which are included in textbooks for the subjects of literature and creative writing. These are the literary works which must be translated into films.
In fact, he started broaching this idea to Quezon City Vice-Mayor Herbert Bautista who was very receptive to a special film festival in Q.C. which will focus on masterpieces of Philippine literature.
The FAP director general even requested some knowledgeable experts to draw up a list of works which are usually included in literary anthologies or textbooks from the elementary to the college levels.
But there was a hitch. There was that old problem of the producers’ bias against literary works which they deem not commercial and not a sure-fire draw at the box-office. They reasoned out that film budgets have become prohibitive. Some of the producers we tried to convince in producing a film based on a literary work said that it was not opportune for such a worthy and culturally-enhancing undertaking.
In other words, the writing on the wall was loud and clear: We’ll do films like that if we could do it fast and cheap.
Thus, the obvious stalemate. Months of waiting for developments that will encourage and make producing films adapted from literary works were not spent in vain though. The FAP set in motion a research to list down the more popular Filipino short stories, novels and plays which are included in current textbooks or anthologies.
An initial short list has already been relayed to Director General Martinez. Big-name literary figures were inevitably included in this list. Pillars of Philippine literature are represented like Nick Joaquin, Manuel Arguilla, Bienvenido N. Santos, Carlos Bulosan, Francisco Arcellana, N.V.M. Gonzalez, Estrella Alfon , Carlos Angeles, Jose Garcia Villa, Amador T. Daguio, Virginia Moreno and many others writing in English.
Among those writing in Tagalog are Andres Bonifacio, Amado V. Hernandez, Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Rogelio R. Sicat, Liwayway A. Arceo, Edgardo M. Reyes, Genoveva Edroza-Matute and Ildefonso Santos.
These works can now be adapted into screenplays, Mr. Martinez told us one fine morning. All that is left is to shoot and make them into films. He even said that before the year ends, something dramatic will just break the impasse we found ourselves in.
Then the digital films broke grounds. And there it was before us—the marriage of Philippine literature and digital films.
The past three months, digital films have really broken out of their cocoons. Some have won in film festivals abroad. Others have been shown commercially in Metro Manila and provincial theater circuits. Some seven or eight digital films were even rated A or B by the Cinema Evaluation Board of the Film Development Council of the Philippines .
It is obvious by now that Philippine literary masterpieces are meant for digital films. We are just sitting tight and waiting that one of these days, even the young digital filmmakers will train their eyes on these literary works and realize they comprise a trove of priceless materials for films.
We might yet come up with that literary film festival in Quezon City next year. Here’s keeping our fingers crossed. Our battlecry now can only be: Let’s go literary! Let’s go digital!