Cinema of the Philippines

The cinema of the Philippines (Filipino: Pelikulang Pilipino or Sine Pilipino) began with the introduction of the first moving pictures to the country on January 1, 1897 at the Salón de Pertierra in Manila. The following year, local scenes were shot on film for the first time by a Spaniard, Antonio Ramos, using the Lumiere Cinematograph. Early filmmakers and producers in the country were mostly wealthy enterprising foreigners and expatriates, but by September 12, 1919, a silent feature film broke the grounds for Filipino filmmakers. Dalagang Bukid (Country Maiden), a movie based on a popular musical play, was the first movie made and shown by Filipino filmmaker José Nepomuceno. Dubbed as the “Father of Philippine Cinema”, his work marked the start of cinema as an art form in the Philippines.

Even with the problems currently facing motion pictures around the world, movies are still considered as one of the popular forms of entertainment among the Filipino people, directly employing some 260,000 Filipinos and generating around ₱2 billion revenues annually.

The Film Academy of the Philippines established its own national film archive in October 2011. Furthermore, their annually held Luna Awards honor the outstanding Filipino films as voted by their own peers. Meanwhile, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino hands out the Gawad Urian Awards, which is well-known due to its credible choices of winners. Currently, Box Office Mojo compiles box office performance for local and foreign films in the country.

The formative years of Philippine cinema, starting from the 1930s, were a time of discovering the film genre as a new medium of art. Scripts and characterisations in films came from popular theatre and familiar local literature. Nationalistic films were also quite popular, although they were labeled as being too subversive.

The 1940s and the war brought to the Philippine cinema the consciousness of reality. Movie themes consisting primarily of war and heroism had proven to be a huge hit among local audiences.

The 1950s saw the first golden age of Philippine cinema, with the emergence of more artistic and mature films, and significant improvement in cinematic techniques among filmmakers. The studio system produced frenetic activity in the local film industry, as many films were made annually and several local talents started to earn recognition abroad. Award-giving bodies were first instituted during this period. When the decade was drawing to a close, the studio system monopoly came under siege as a result of labor-management conflicts, and by the 1960s, the artistry established in the previous years was already on the decline. This era can be characterized by rampant commercialism, fan movies, soft porn films, action flicks, and western spin-offs.

The 1970s and 1980s were turbulent years for the industry, bringing both positive and negative changes. The films in this period now dealt with more serious topics following the Martial Law era. In addition, action and sex films developed further, introducing more explicit subject matter. These years also brought the arrival of alternative or independent film in the Philippines.

The 1990s saw the emerging popularity of slasher movies, teen-oriented romantic comedies, as well as sexually explicit adult films, although slapstick comedies still draw a large audience. Genres of previous decades had been recycled with almost the same stories, and love teams, which had been popular in the past, have reemerged.

The Philippines, which as one of Asia’s oldest film industries, remains undisputed in terms of the highest level of theater admission in Southeast Asia. Over the years, however, the film industry has registered a steady decline in movie viewership from 131 million in 1996 to 63 million in 2004. From a high of 200 films a year during the 1980s, the country’s film industry was down to making a total of 56 new films in 2006 and around 30 in 2007. Although the industry has undergone turbulent times, the 21st century saw the rebirth of independent filmmaking through the use of digital technology, and a number of films have once again earned international recognition and prestige.


Under the Americans and the Early Philippine Republic
Censorship in the Philippines truly began under the reign of the Spaniards, who prohibited works that were deemed revolutionary. While they prohibited literary, musical, and visual forms of art, film censorship was included in the picture upon the American colonization.

When the Americans took over after the Spanish–American War in 1898, a brief stint of Philippine cultural freedom after independence from Spain was halted. General Arthur MacArthur’s military censorship focused on repressing nationalism, along with the Flag Act of 1907. Because film in itself was only beginning to form at the time, motion pictures brought to the Philippines were tame, and film was not yet seen as an avenue for social and cultural subversion.

In 1929, the Philippine Legislature creates Act. No. 3582, entitled “An Act to Create a Board of Censorship for Moving Pictures and Define Its Functions.” The board consisted of 15 members that sought “to examine all films, spoken or silent, imported or produced in the Philippine Islands, and prohibit the introduction and exhibition in this country of films, which in their judgement are immoral or contrary to law and good customs or injurious to the prestige of the Government of people of the Philippine Islands.” In 1930, The first meeting of the board was conducted in the office of then Secretary of the Interior Honoro Ventura, and the first president of the board was Teodoro M. Kalaw. Out of the 1,249 films approved, 6 had parts cut out. Two films were banned.

In 1937 the film Batang Tulisan, directed by Rod Avlas and produced by Philippine Films was set to be released, and controversies arose regarding its sudden ban. The cost of production totaled 16,000 Pesos, and the film 2 and a half months to complete. Four reasons were stated as to why it was pulled-out: Three are aspects of the movie: the priest portrayed in a villainous light, the use of a hypodermic needle as a murder weapon, the amorous scenes between a 10-year-old couple, and the fact that “[the film] might give youth certain subversive ideas.” The production crew argued that this was an example of foreign films being given more lenience, despite being as bad (or sometimes, worse) than local cinema. The novel adaptation of Batang Tulisan which was published in Liwayway Magazine, in contrast, was not met with the same negative criticism.

In 1938, the Board of Censorship was renamed the Board of Review for Moving Pictures, enabled by the amendment of the law by Commonwealth Act No. 305.

The Eiga Heikusa: Under Japanese Rule
In 1942, the Japanese occupation of the Philippines led to what was arguably the strictest period of censorship the country has faced. The Eiga Heikusa was established to act as a Board of Censors, and introduced Japanese films with American subtitles. In light of Japan’s desire to convert the Philippines into a willing member of the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, printed matter, radio shows, theater plays, and visual art were heavily monitored, leading to the hiatus of production for Philippine cinema until 1945. As a result, the country saw an increase in theatrical productions. Screen actors such as Carmen Rosales, Rogelio de la Rosa, Norma Blancaflor, Ely Ramos, Elsa Oria, Leopoldo Salcedo, and Ester Magalona, took to the entablado and were received well. Theaters showed bodabil (a malapropism of Vaudeville) shows where actors would perform a special number upon knowing that they were to be raided by the Kempei Tai, signaling the viewers to flee.

Post-War Censorship
Liberation from colonizers and the regime of then President Manuel Roxas saw the creation of a new Board of Reviews for Moving Pictures, led by Marciano Roque, who would also become Executive Secretary under President Quirino. In months, the board reviewed 76 films, with only 5 being locally made. Due to the non-confirmation by the Congress of all 10 members of the board, it was reconstituted on October 29, 1946 with its 7 official members. The newly appointed chairman was Dr. Gabriel Mañalac, and the secretary was Teodoro Valencia. The board had grown to 12 members by 1947, having reviewed a total of 463 films for the year. 435 were foreign, and 28 were locally produced. By the time, the Philippines had 463 officially recorded theaters, with 71 of them being in Manila. Ako Raw Ay Huk (Dir. Ramon Estrella) is one of the films that was banned at the time, due to allegations of it promoting Communism.

In 1950, a Code of Motion Picture Censorship was instilled, further identifying what aspects were considered as censorable. Scenes that depict drunkenness as attractive, scenes that depict drug trafficking, and scenes that deal with sex and surgical subjects “when shown to selected groups” are some examples of scenes that were put under review. Foreign films banned at the time include The Moon Is Blue (Dir. Otto Preminger) in 1954, and Martin Luther (Dir. Irving Pichel) in 1953. Perlas ng Silangan (Dir. Pablo Santiago) was screened without edits, which spiked a protest from the Provincial Board of Sulu, claiming that it misrepresented Muslim culture.

The Citizens Council for Better Motion Pictures was established by in 1960, as a response to a “grave concern over the general disappearance of the cherished virtues and traditions of the Christian way of life, the alarming increase in juvenile delinquency, and the deterioration of public and private morals.” In 1961, they lobbied for what is presently known as the Censorship Law (Republic Act No. 3060), which was approved on June 17, 1961. The law created an Appeals Committee, composed of the undersecretaries of justice, national defense, and education. This committee could revoke the decisions of the Board of Censors. Independent from the CCBMP, the still standing Board of Censors had grown to 24 members, and could now establish a system of classification which consisted of two categories: “for general patronage,” and “for adults only.” Jose L. Guevara was appointed by President Diosdado Macapagal as the new chairperson in 1962, and the board members appointed by president Carlos P. Garcia were removed, on account of their positions being “midnight” extensions.

In 1962, the board lifted the ban on mouth-to-mouth kissing, so long as it was deemed non-lascivious. In 1963 and after a long-pleaded appeal from the public, the board bans films that heavily play up violence and crime. Ang Manananggol Ni Ruben (Dir. Eddie Garcia) was a 1963 film heavily based on the story of Ruben Ablaza, who was convicted for the rape of Annabelle Huggins. The film was initially approved and quickly banned in September, but was screened again in December after being renamed to Ang Manananggol.

In 1965, Iginuhit ng Tadhana (Dir. Jose de Villa) is released, and is arguably one of the most controversial films to come out of Philippine cinema, in that it was able to set the tone of Ferdinand Marcos’ entire presidential campaign. The movie, which chronicled the life of Marcos, had reached the realm of politics, ultimately leading the appointment of Marcos to presidency. In August 1965, the film was approved without change, but its premiere in September was halted on the time of the premiere itself. An en banc of the film was requested by then acting chairman Rosalina Castro, raising much suspicion from the press and the Nacionalistas. Days after, then chairman Jose L. Guevara resigned from his spot.

Bomba Films
1967 onwards saw a relaxing of rules by the Board of Censorship, who started allowing more nudity and explicit sex. This led to the rise of commercial, pornographic bomba (taken from the term “bombshell,” which normally included a scandal in Political public office) films, which persisted despite heavy criticizing from Catholic groups. These films usually depicted outright nudity and sexual scenes, cut portions from previously banned films, or the entire prohibited films themselves.

The rise of bomba films was attributed to the fact that movies tackled more adult, realistic themes. The ideal of a “true Filipino” was introduced. These films also brought in a new audience for Philippine film; the usual filmgoers, the teenagers who saw the films as “hip,” and the youth, who used these films as a means for their own sexual awakenings, the educated, collegiate, and the working-class crowd. On another side, the larger audience of these films were the male devotees, who came to see the sex scenes and left as soon as the last one finished airing. Some films from this era include Ang Saging ni Pacing, Dayukdok (Dir. Luis San Juan; the movie was only approved by the board upon being renamed to Ang Magsasaing ni Pacing), Ang Batuta ni Drakula (Dir. Luis San Juan), Gutom (Dir. Danny Zialcita), Sabik (Dir. Angelito de Guzman), Laman sa Laman (Dirs. Lauro Pacheco, Jose Sibal), and Hayok (Dir. Ruben Abalos) among many other titles.

While the non-ban of these kinds of films led to the liquidation of censorship committees for most countries, this was not the case for the Philippines, likely due to the demand in box office. On February 22, 1970, the theaters Pablace and Mayfair are picketed by protesters who went against bomba movies. In 1972, the Board begins its anti-sex policy, which was backed by the general public who deemed the films as “attributing to the upsurge of crimes by minors and loose morality of youth.”

The Martial Law Era
Prior to the administration of Ferdinand Marcos and the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, policing films had been a matter which only went as far as censorship and the non-distribution of movies in the country. The Board of Censorship then had no right to take legal action against any film, director, actor, producing company, or theater that had violated any of its mandates. Cases like these were to be brought up to the local government, who had jurisdiction over legal matters.

On September 27, 1972, Marcos issues Letter of Instructions No. 13, which intended to further uphold morality in the youth through monitoring films. The letter stated 7 kinds of films that were not to be exhibited in any local theater:

(1) Films which tend to incite subversion, insurrection or rebellion against the State;
(2) Films which tend to undermine the faith and confidence of the people in their government and/or duly constituted authorities;
(3) Films which glorify criminals or condone crimes;
(4) Films which serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for violence or pornography;
(5) Films which offend any race or religion;
(6) Films which tend to abet the traffic in and use of prohibited drugs;
(7) Films contrary to law, public order, morals, good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees or edicts; and any or all films which in the judgment of the Board are similarly objectionable and contrary to the letter and spirit of Proclamation No. 1081.

What made this proclamation different from those appointed by the board was that the government now had jurisdiction over bodies that were at fault. It was proclaimed in coordination with the Department of National Defense. In fear of legal action and prosecution, the board tightened their rules, banning 148 imported movies and 50 local movies which displayed negative acts. Films were expected to uphold objectives of the New Society through upholding moral values and ensuring that the ideologies shown did not subvert the peace of the nation and the mind.

Aside from the Letter of Instructions, the board had assumed three more rights apart from the right to cut scenes from movies: the right to (1) encourage, (2) warn, and (3) be consulted. Taking from the British Board of Film Censors, the board started requiring submission of the full script of a movie before it was slated to begin production. This allows the board to warn the producers of possible issues within the script. Due to this, there have been fewer portions cut out of local movies, with 163 of 173 films being approved for general audiences from September 21, 1972 to September 21, 1973. This also resulted in longer, more sophisticated films that wasted less shooting time and production cost. The divide between the government and filmmakers (and in result, the viewing public) became smaller as national responsibility was embibed in the art of filmmaking in itself.

From Censorship to Classification: The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board
On October 5, 1985, Executive Order No. 876-A was created to reformat the Board of Review for Motion Pictures, leading to the creation of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, which is still in power today. The board was created only for the purpose of classifying cinematic films and television shows. The board holds 30 members at any given time, with the first chairman after the Executive Order being Manuel “Manoling” Morato, who took office in 1986.

The board classifies movies into 6 categories, listed below:

G Viewers of all ages are admitted.
PG Viewers below 13 years old must be accompanied by a parent or supervising adult.
R-13 Only viewers who are 13 years old and above can be admitted.
R-16 Only viewers who are 16 years old and above can be admitted.
R-18 Only viewers who are 18 years old and above can be admitted.
X “X-rated” films are not suitable for public exhibition.
Television shows are classified into 2 categories, reminiscent of the original categories instated by the Board of Censorship: General Patronage, and Parental Guidance.

Notable Controversial Filipino films
There have been many controversial films in the Philippine film industry that have caused a lot of rumors and notorious comments from its film viewers because these controversial films tackle sensitive issues on politics, sex, religion, and social life. Some of these films were praised, almost banned or totally banned.

Ang Tatlong Hambog
Burlesk Queen
Hinugot sa Langit
Scorpio Nights
Ora Pro Nobis
Live Show
Red Diaries
Ang Mabuhay Para sa Masa
Notable directors
Although foreign films were shown in the Philippines since the Spanish period, interest in the creation of local films was not given much attention by the Filipinos. However, the advent of Hollywood films during the American period sparked the interest of Filipinos and eventually led to the boom of filmmakers in the country.

Jose Nepomuceno is known as the Father of Philippine Movies, and is considered as one of the pioneers of Filipino cinema. His first movie entitled Dalagang Bukid (1919), a stage play turned movie, is the first movie produced by a Filipino filmmaker. Along with his brother Jesus, they founded the film company Malayan Movies which later produced over a hundred movies. Some of the titles include La Venganza de Don Silvestre (1920), La Mariposa Negra (1920), and El Capullo Marchito (1921) among others.

Lino Brocka was a prominent Filipino director who received fame in the 1970s. Growing up, he gained interest in American film which led him to pursue a career in the film industry. Most of Brocka’s films revolve around the issues faced by the common Filipino such as poverty, discrimination, and politics. He is also known to be anti-Marcos and created films to protest against Martial Law. Some of his films include Ora Pro Nobis (1989) and Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak (1990) among others. He is a recipient of five Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) best director in 1970, 1974, 1975, 1979, and 1990.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya was a multi-awarded film and TV producer and director who gained fame for her film Jose Rizal (1998). This film also earned her a Best Director Award from the Metro Manila Film Festival. Diaz-Abaya claimed that she used her films and shows as a way to promote social issues in the Philippines, such as the state of the country’s democracy. Some of these films include Brutal, Karnal, and Ipaglaban Mo.

Independent Filipino Cinema
Independent Filipino cinema, has existed for almost as long as commercialized cinema, but this type of cinema has not been recognized as much, and thus has few historical accounts. Many of the independent films show actual happenings in the society using authentic voices of the people, but oftentimes, these films have been suppressed due to its revelations about social and political realities or marginalized due to its cinematography. These films also sometimes offer valuable historical content.

In its early beginnings, alternative cinemas were documentaries about the Philippines. Jose Nepomuceno was first commissioned to make documentaries about the richest industries in the Philippines, and his most famous one was about the hemp industry. Other alternative films made during 1920-1955 include Old Manila, Tres Sangganos, Intramuros, Jose Rizal, March of the Time Series: The Philippines, and Woodcarving in the Philippines.

Documentary Film/Independent Film Year Produced by Description
Dalagang Bukid 1919 Nepumuceno Brothers Representations and images of the Americans in the Nepumuceno brothers’ perspective after they have anchored themselves in the country.
Tres Sangganos 1920s Manuel Silos A short film in 16 millimeters. First feature film of Manuel Silos which had three parts.
Boxing match between Pancho Villa and Clever Sencio 1925 Orient Pictures Corporation (partly owned by Joaquin Pardo de Vera) It was the first ever boxing match held in the Philippines.
Jose Rizal 1939 Ramon Estella
All of the films above were destroyed during World War II. However, in the film archives in Washington DC, only the old film titled March of Time Series: The Philippines by Louis de Rochemont survived

Film making halted during the Japanese occupation however, some documentaries and newsreels were made such as Laurel Review His Troops (1943), First Session of the National Assembly (1943), New Cabinet Organized (1943), and What Do You Think? (1943).

1950s to 1970s saw the rise of the First Independent Film Movement when the production of short films had a substantial increase, and these short films were garnering awards locally and internationally. Furthermore, several film organizations were formed during this time such as the Film Institute of the Philippines, Film Society of the Philippines. Some of the alternative films produced during this time include El Legado, Soul of a Fortress, Mangandingay: A Place of Happiness, The Wall, Mababangong Bangungot, Masinloc, and The Survivor.

The 1970s to 1980s saw the rise of the Second Independent Film Movement where the films produced contained more of the personal creativity of the filmmakers, and films became more ideological.

Independent films became highly politicized in the 1980s with the Marcos dictatorship and the People Power Revolution. The filmmakers of that time sought to innovate ways of expression for their political films as they deal with social reality. Some of the famous independent films of that time include Ang Magpakailanman, Children of the Regime, Revolutions Happen like Refrains in a Song, A Legacy of Violence, And Rain Fell in July, Sugat sa Ugat, The Arrogance of Power, Signos, Kalawang, Sa Maynila, Ynang Bayan: To be a Woman is to Live at a Time of War, I am a Furious Yellow, Perfumed Nightmare, Isang Munting Lupa, and Bayani.

Currently, there are a few Filipino film festivals that support independent Filipino films such as Cinemalaya and CineFilipino. These are annual film festivals that screens, invests, promotes, and awards independent Filipino films.

Internationally Acclaimed Films
Over the years, Filipino films have been recognized not only in their own country, but also globally in different countries. Competing with international films, Filipino films have earned many different rewards such as the Golden Lion in the 2016 Venice Film Festival won by Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left) by Lav Diaz, the Audience Choice Award in the Tokyo International Film Festival won by Die Beautiful by Jun Lana, or the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival won by Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery) also by Lav Diaz. All these films were granted these awards in the year of 2016 among many other Philippine films. In the years before, other films equally gaining recognition internationally include Pamilya Ordinaryo by Eduardo Roy Jr.; Toto by John Paul Su; Taklub by Brillante Mendoza; Metro Manila by Sean Ellis; and Foster Child by Brillante Mendoza.

Film Associations and Organizations

Metro Manila Film Festival
The Metro Manila Film Festival is an annual film festival held in Metro Manila, Philippines. The festival takes place from Christmas Day (December 25) and concludes at the first weekend on January of the following year. The MMFF has taken place every year since its inception in 1975. The 2016 event was the 42nd festival in its history. Throughout the festival, only Filipino Films, which are approved by the jurors of the MMFF, are shown in cinemas. No foreign films are shown in Metro Manila cinemas during the festival (except IMAX, 4DX, and Christie laser-projection powered theaters). This has been a tradition ever since the establishment of the festival’s precursor, “Manila Film Festival” in 1966 by former Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas. The festival is accompanied with an awards ceremony. Over the years, films such as Yamashita: The Tiger’s Treasure, One More Try, Walang Forever, and Sunday Beauty Queen have received the Best Picture Award.

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino
The Pista ng Pelikulang Filipino (or PPP) is a film festival held in theaters nationwide. Its inaugural season was held on August 16–22, 2017, coinciding with the Buwan ng Wika. Similar to the Metro Manila Film Festival, foreign movies will not be shown in theaters (except IMAX, 4DX, and Christie laser-projection powered theaters) and films approved by the jury will be shown. It is organized by the Film Development Council of the Philippines in association with theaters nationwide.

The inaugural awardees in the competition include: Mikhail Red’s Birdshot (Critic’s Choice), Victor Villanueva’s Patay na si Hesus (Jury’s Choice) and Jason Paul Laxamana’s 100 Tula Para Kay Stella (Audience Choice).

Film Academy of the Philippines
The Film Academy of the Philippines was established in 1981 and is considered as the Philippine counterpart of the United States’ Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It serves as the general organization of the various film-related guilds in the country that help in the organizing and supervising of film activities.

Filipino Society of Cinematographers
Established in February 27, 1970, it serves as an “educational, cultural and professional organization of cinematographers.”

Film Development Council of the Philippines
Formed in June 7, 2002, the Film Development Council of the Philippines can be found under the Office of the President. It ensures that the economic, cultural and educational aspects of film are represented locally and internationally.

National Film Archives of the Philippines
The National Film Archives of the Philippines houses the history of Philippine Cinema and protects the country’s cultural legacy in film through the preservation, retrieval, and restoration of film negatives, prints and other film related material and promotes these to provide a wider appreciation of the cinema history by making them available to the public.

Movie Workers Welfare Foundation Inc.
The Movie Workers Welfare Foundation Inc. or MOWELFUND was organized and established in 1974 by former President Joseph E. Estrada who was then president of the Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association (PMPPA). Its primary purpose is to provide aid to movie workers such as medical, livelihood and housing benefits.

Yearly Revenue
2007 165 Films Revenue in US $86.60M
2008 170 Films Revenue in US $100.97M
2009 161 Films Revenue in US $103.39M
2010 149 Films Revenue in US $123.86M
2011 152 Films Revenue in US $138.03M
2012 156 Films Revenue in US $158.80M
2013 177 Films Revenue in US $166.41M

Source from Wikipedia