As early as March in 2005, FAP Director General Leo G. Martinez was already enthusiastically talking of a project that is very close to his filmmaker’s heart. The project involves putting Filipino literary masterpieces into celluloid or films.
The scope covers Philippine literature from pre-Spanish to contemporary times. The objective was to evolve into films our nation’s wealthy cache of legends and myths…novels or novellas…epic poems…short stories, whether in English, Tagalog or the native dialects… and 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.
Some knowledgeable experts on literature and culture 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.
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 the Academy 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 was in no time a all forwarded to the desk of Director General Martinez. Big-name literary figures were inevitably included in this list. Pillars of Philippine literature were 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 were Andres Bonifacio, Amado V. Hernandez, Teodoro A. Agoncillo, Rogelio R. Sicat, Liwayway A. Arceo, Edgardo M. Reyes, Genoveva Edroza-Matute and Ildefonso Santos.
Then the digital films broke grounds. And there it was before us—the marriage of Philippine literature and digital films.
It became obvious by that time that Philippine literary masterpieces are meant for digital films. The time of waiting began and hopes were buoyed that young digital filmmakers will train their eyes on these literary works and realize they comprise a trove of priceless materials for films.
That initial period of waiting lasted for thirteen months. On April 10, 2006, the Film Academy submitted the Sine Panitik project (then still referred to as Pelikulang Pampanitikan) to the Cinema Values Re-orientation Program of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for possible financing. The CVRP was then chaired b y National Artist for Film Eddie Romero .
Ten days later, the CVRP endorsed the production of pilots for Peliku-lang Pampanitikan. Director Romero even opined that it was worth funding and supporting. The FAP proposal then aimed to produce three categories of films based on literary materials, namely, feature films, short films (10 to 15 minutes) and shorter films (three to eight minutes). Initially, the FAP plans to produce six feature films, six short films and 12 shorter films.
For the pilot projects, Director Romero said a budget of P2.7 million will be needed, broken down as follows: P2 million for the feature film, P500,000 for the short film and P200,000 for the shorter film.
With the CVRP endorsement of the production of pilots for the initial phase of the project, Director General Martinez explained that the FAP will draft a follow-up proposal to list down at least three literary materials for each pilot.
A feature film may be based on one single material, (a novel or an epic poem), or it may be a trilogy or collection of shorter literary materials like related folk stories and short stories or novelettes.
As envisioned all Pelikulang Pampanitikan films will become the property of the Film Academy of the Philippines which will take responsibility for its exhibition, replication and archiving.
But those initial high hopes were eventually dashed to the ground. Pelikulang Pampanitikan never took off. The long-awaited financing from the previous NCCA administration never materialized. It was further aggravated when the CVRP stopped functioning.
More than a year later in July, 2007, the NCCA finally disapproved the FAP project. The Academy formed a working committee composed of guild presidents to study the feasibility of producing pilots for its project.
The working committee—composed of Director William Mayo, Actor/ Director Robert Arevalo, Scriptwriter Pablo S. Gomez (deceased), Cine-matographer Isagani Sioson, Director/Production Manager Joel Apuyan, Actor/Comedian Roberto ‘Amay Bisaya’ Reyes, Production Designer Manny Morfe and Editor Jess Navarro—was tasked to study ways and means wherein financing for the pilots can be facilitated.
In its July 31 meeting, the committee opted to come up with a feature film trilogy based on three stories written by Filipina writers—namely, Kerima Polotan-Tuvera, Aida Rivera-Ford and Estrella Alfon.
The Screenwriters’ Guild of the Philippines headed by Pablo S. Gomez was assigned to prepare the first draft of the sequence treatments for the three short story materials.
As initially planned, each of the three proposed stories will have a P300,000 budget each. They will also be directed by three different directors.
That was in the year 2007.
Five years later, the time for Pelikulang Pampanitikan or Sine Panitik seems to have finally come and hopefully will finally blast off the launch-ing pad on July 5 2012 with the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the Academy and the NCCA under its new leaders and administrators.
The MOA will be signed by NCCA Executive Director Emelita V. Almosara (CESO IV) and FAP Director General Leo G. Martinez.
The NCCA has already committed P460,000 in support for the script-writing portion of the project. Initially, two or three feature-length films will be produced with the focus on short story masterpieces of Filipino authors writing in English and Pilipino. In effect, the films will be in the form of trilogies.
Meanwhile, the Academy has sought the help of Vice-President Jejomar Binay for PAGCOR (Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corporation) to provide the budget for the actual production of the Sine Panitik films.
Hopefully, a seven-year waiting period—to translate the written page into the screen—is more than enough.
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