As early as December, 2005—or more than five years and four months ago today—FAP Director General Leo G. Martinez was already enthusiastically talking about a project that is very close to his filmmaker’s heart. It involves putting Filipino literary masterpieces into celluloid or films.
The range of materials covers Philippine literature from pre-Spanish times to the present. Thus, 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.
The name of the project was Pelikulang Pampanitikan. And though the primary target are students, it was also intended for the movie-going masa.
But in 2005 and through the intervening five years and four months, Pelikulang Pampanitikan was not yet meant to be.
But the groundwork for such a major cinema undertaking began in earnest. Some knowledgeable experts were requested to draw up a list of works which are usually included in literary anthologies or textbooks from the elementary to the college levels.
The list has existed for five years and four months and remained just that…a list. Pelikulang Pampanitikan never took off the ground.
Looking back, we shifted through the causes of that aborted take-off. Foremost was that old problem of the local movie producers’ bias against literary works which they deem not commercial and not a sure-fire draw at the box-office. Most of the producers the Academy approached said that it was not opportune for such a worthy and culturally-enhancing under-taking.
The FAP set in motion a research to list down the more popular Filipino short stories, novels and plays which are included in current (circa 2005) textbooks or anthologies.
An initial short list included pillars of Philippine literature—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 were Andres Bonifacio, Amado V. Hernandez, Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Rogelio R. Sicat, Liwayway A. Arceo, Edgardo M. Reyes, Genoveva Edroza-Matute and Ildefonso Santos.
Before the year 2005 ended, something dramatic occurred in Philippine cinema. Digital films finally broke grounds. For a while, Pelikulang Pampanitikan exponents discern the silver lining—the marriage of Philippine literature and digital films.
During those heady days, it seemed obvious that Philippine literary masterpieces are meant for digital films. The wait-and-see attitude ensued. Just sit tight and wait for the young digital filmmakers to train their eyes on literary works and realize they comprise a trove of priceless materials for films.
But it remained a wait-and-wait attitude after all. Pelikulang Pampanitikan was still not meant to be. The battlecry Let’s go literary! Let’s go digital! finally tapered off and became muted.
And this despite the overwhelming reality that classic films all over the world were adapted from written masterpieces that are literary treasures of every country rich in cultural heritage.
One only has to look back to the history of Philippine cinema to realize that indeed local films were an offshoot of Philippine literature. The first-ever Filipino film, Dalagang Bukid, produced and directed by Jose Nepomuceno in 1919, was based on the zarzuela play of the same title written by Hermogenes Ilagan.
Jose Nepomuceno, acknowledged father of Philippine cinema, produced Noli Me Tangere in 1930. Two years later, he produced Punyal na Ginto, based on the novel of Antonio Sempio. It was the first Filipino-produced sound movie.
What finally breathed new life into the project was the recent approval of the executive committee of the Metropolitan Manila Film Festival-Philippines to exhibit films adapted from literary works of Filipino authors during the mini-film festival of indie films that will precede or take place during this December’s filmfest.
We can say that Pelikulang Pampanitikan has found a home
The proposal was submitted to MMDA Chairman Francis N. Tolentino by Director General Martinez of the Film Academy of the Philippines last January 28. In his letter, Martinez emphasized that the “…indie festival will have an educational purpose, targeting the large population of students and educators in the metropolis as well as the general public.”
In the last Metro Filmfest, five films were exhibited in the pre-MMFFP indie festival.
The Pelikulang Pampanitikan films will be exhibited in theaters with digital facilities that will be rented for the duration of the filmfest. The Department of Education will be requested to provide schools the viewing schedules so teachers and students can be organized to view the films as aid to Literature/English subjects and courses. Students will pay P50 or lower for admission tickets.
The project will be implemented by the FAP, the MMFF-P and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) in collaboration with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the organization of theater owners in Metro Manila.
The project will take the form of a film grant to be awarded by the organizers to individuals or groups of film workers with capabilities to interpret in digital format the literary works to be selected by the organizers.
The Execom has formed a three-man committee to oversee this project. It includes FAP’s Martinez, Director Mark Meily of DGPI and Marco Ng of the theater organizations.
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