Manila Film Center
|Manila Film Center|
The front exterior of the Center
|Location||Pasay City, Manila, Philippines|
|Cost||$25 million (USD)|
The Manila Film Center is a national building located at the southwest end of the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay City, Philippines. The structure was designed by architect Froilan Hong where its edifice is supported on more than nine hundred piles which reaches to the bed-rock about 120 feet below. The Manila Film Center served as the main theater for the First Manila International Film Festival (MIFF) January 18–29, 1982. The building has also been the subject of controversies due to an accident that happened during the final stages of its construction in 1981.
Prior to the Manila Film Center, the Philippines did not have an official national film archive which is why on January 1981, then first lady Imelda Marcos spearheaded the building of the first Manila Center. Under the supervision of Betty Benitez, the spouse of then Deputy MHS Minister Jose Conrado Benitez, they organized a group to pursue the project. Ramon M. Ignacio, Senior Technology Officer at the Technology Resource Center, conceptualized the project and its various components. He likewise prepared the feasibility study. Among the Film Center's project components were: the 360-degree theater that will show images of past and present historical and tourism scenes for the future generations to see; the Film Financing/Loan Program that will address funding of meritable films, the Filipino Film Archiving using Digital Storage (though was little known during those times); Film Database/Information system; Film Making and Blow Up Laboratory; Viewing rooms for the Board of Censors and other minor sub-components. However, despite the futuristic and concept creativity of Ignacio, only two of the project components were actually done. Unesco's assistance was invaluable in the design of the archives, so they were asked to be consultants of the project. Several ocular visits were done by Unesco in 1981 where they were responsible for major consultations needed in the structure's erection. The building was then designed to have two components which were the auditoria and archives. According to Hong, the foundation was set on reclaimed land near the Manila Bay. Since the deadline of the structure was tight, it required 4,000 workers, working in 3 shifts across 24 hours. One thousand workers constructed the lobby in 72 hours, a job which would normally entail six weeks of labor. The Film Center opened in 1982 costing an estimate of $25 million.
An accident occurred around 3:00 a.m. on November 17, 1981 during the construction of the Manila Film Center. Its scaffolding collapsed, and at least 169 workers fell and were buried under quick-drying wet cement. A blanket of security was immediately imposed by the Marcos administration, and neither rescuers nor ambulances were permitted on the site until an official statement had been prepared. The rescuers were eventually permitted to go inside the accident site 9 hours after the collapse.
After the tragedy Prime Minister Cesar Virata disapproved a $5 million  subsidy which was originally intended for the film festival. Lacking in funding, Imelda then created a contingency plan that would generate enough funds to cover for the festival. A law was passed in the form of presidential decree 1986 (P.D. 1986)  which created a board of review for motion pictures and television. This entity was later known as Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). This, in turn, relaxed censorship laws circumventing within the festival and paved the way for soft-porn films to be shown during the festival. P.D. 1986 also an exclusive exemption of films shown at the Manila Film Center from censorship. Ultimately, the building was finished in 1982 and on the opening night, the first film shown in the theater was the movie Gandhi. The event was attended by Ben Kingsley who played Mohandas K. Gandhi in the movie. Other celebrities in attendance were Robert Duvall and George Hamilton with Imelda Marcos who wore a Joe Salazar matching black and green Filipiniana with a hemline filled with peacock feathers.
The First Manila Film Festival
Amidst everything, the first Manila International film festival pushed through from the 18th to the 29th of January 1982. A total of 17 movies competed in the festival  namely 36 Chowringhee Lane (India), Body Heat (USA), Gallipoli (Australia), Growing up (Line Iida) (Norway), Harry Tracy-Desperado (Canada), La Femme d'à côté (France), Lola (Germany), Los Viernes de la Eternidad (Argentina), Majstori, Majstori! (Yugoslavia), No Charges Filed (Egypt), Smash Palace (New Zealand), Take It All (Jetz Und Alles) (West Germany), The Beloved Woman of Mechanic Gavrilov (USSR), The French Lieutenant's Woman (Great Britain), There Was A War When I Was A Child (Japan), Vabank (Poland) and Wasted Lives (Hungary). Eventually it was India's entry, 36 Chowringhee Lane which would claim best picture while best actress and best actor were brought home by Lyudmila Gurchenko and Bruno Lawrence respectively. Yugoslav film director Goran Marković won best director.
After the 1990 earthquake that hit Manila and the rest of Luzon, the center was abandoned due to the building becoming unstable. In 2001, then CCP President Armita Rufino announced a full rehabilitation program for the deteriorating building. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the film center's architect, Hong, were part of the strategic planning session on how the structure was to be renovated. The rehabilitation cost estimate in 2001 was approximately 300 million pesos which was considered economical rather than building; a new one would have cost 1.8 billion pesos.
After its renovation was completed, CPACEAI leased the theatre from the Philippine government in October 2001. On December 10, 2001, the Amazing Show, produced by Amazing Philippines Theatre, opened to the public. All of the performers in the show were transgenders. Their lease expired in 2009, which forced the show to move to another facility.
The Philippine Senate explored moving from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) building in Pasay City, located only a few meters away to the film center but several objections were raised and the move never happened. As of November 2012, the Amazing Philippine Theatre is again performing in the space.
On 19 February 2013, a three-hour fire damaged the film center. There were no reported casualties but damage was placed at 1.2 million pesos.
The Manila Film Center is said to be haunted due to the accident that took place in the construction of the structure. It has been speculated that due to the 9 hours that passed before rescuers were allowed in the site, some of the workers were entombed alive and that the bodies were left in the hardened concrete slabs. In a 2005 documentary produced by GMA Network's i-Witness, all 169 workers were traced and the records show that not more than a dozen died. Furthermore all the bodies were retrieved and were given a proper burial.
In popular culture
In the 2010 Filipino film The Red Shoes, part of the plot hinges on the supposed death of the father of the main character, Lucas, played by Marvin Agustin, who was supposed to have been among the 169 workers buried alive in the accident at the construction of the Manila Film Center. The film also featured a spiritualist, Madame Vange, played by Tessie Tomas who performs in the Manila Film Center as an impersonator of First Lady Imelda Marcos.
In the graphic novel, The Filipino Heroes League, the building was transformed from the Film Center to the FHL's headquarters. The building was once respectable and housed the old members of the League. After a while, their leader, Supremo, went into a coma and soon after, most of the superheroes who were once part of the League went abroad. Less than a handful of superheroes remain and continue to conduct their superhero work in a shack in front of the now run down Film Center.
Filipino author Gilbert M. Coronel released a novel entitled "Tragic Theater" in 2009. The book first tells of the 1981 incident. It heads to 1999 when the government's plan to build an IMAX theater in the structure is handed to Department of Tourism coordinator named Anne Marie "Annie" Francisco. The first priority is to rid the place of the trapped souls so she seeks the help of a a priest Fr. Marcelo, known for his radical cleansing methods and a group of spirit communicators. Anne and Fr. Marcelo lead the group in their mission only to discover too late that an evil presence took sanctuary inside the building long ago and fed on the anger and misery of the victims' souls. A bishop later helps with the task when Anne is possessed by the evil entity.
A film adaption of Coronel's novel premiered on January 8, 2015. It stars Andi Eigenmann as DOT coordinator Anne, John Estrada as priest Fr. Marcelo, and Christopher de Leon as the bishop. The film however changes a few names; like the exorcism priest Fr. Marcelo is renamed Fr. Nilo. It is noted, however, that the actual Manila Film Center was not used for filming. The AFP Museum and Multi-Purpose Theater in Camp Aguinaldo doubled or filled in for the Manila Film Center's main theater and interiors.
Both the novel and movie are loosely based on and inspired by the 1981 incident and the late 1990's Spirit Questors' visit to the place.
- Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival
- Cultural Center of the Philippines
- Manila Metropolitan Theater
- Philippine International Convention Center
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- Unesco - The Manila National Film Centre
- 1st Manila International Film Festival (MIFF)
- Cultural Center of the Philippines | The Manila Film Center Tragedy
- Episode of ABS-CBN's Magandang Gabi, Bayan from the 1980s on the Manila Film Center