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Restored silent films to attract millennials and “millenniors” in the Philippines and the world

When silent film is a conversation piece, what readily comes to mind is Charlie Chaplin. The pervasive American colonization of the Philippines has fed us Hollywood hegemony not only its earliest years but the contemporary business monopoly of its productions in commercial theaters interestingly during the pre-COVID-19 pandemic. Chaplin wasn’t only the symbol of the non-talkies but independent filmmaking as well in the competitive human and technological capital of the art at the turn of the 20th century.  


Didn’t you know that Charlie was British but he flourished in America?


Chaplin was the most popular among makers and actors of silent movies although the parallel development of world cinema also produced no sound films which were mostly confined to their respective homelands.


In the Philippines, film pioneers like Jose Nepomuceno and Vicente Salumbides, the Father and Second Father of Philippine Movies, respectively, had contributed immensely in the production of non-talkies. The first ever Filipino film—produced by a Filipino in 1919—was “Dalagang Bukid” directed by Nepomuceno and which starred Honorata de la Rama, also known as Atang de la Rama and Marcelino Ilagan. It was followed by a number of silent screeners.



When Jose’s film lab was razed to the ground in the early 1920s, Salumbides jumpstarted the local movie industry by producing, directing, writing, acting, applying make-up on actors, editing and supplying other technical know-how he learned from Hollywood in his first silent “Miracles of Love” released in 1925 which he himself acted as the leading man with mestiza actress Elizabeth “Dimples” Cooper as his leading lady.


Both films are already non-existent being casualties of the bombings during the Second World War specifically in the case of “Miracles of Love.” According to Don Gervin Arawan, lead officer of the Philippine Film Archive of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), even they haven’t got copies of the early films of both Nepomuceno and Salumbides.



Based on their descriptions available on printed materials, these pioneering screen gems reflected the life in the Philippines during those times. They showed the social as well as cultural milieu and the class politics among the quotidian Filipinos during the American period.


Filmmaker, writer and academician Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. who recently moderated the “Saving Memory: Making Silent Films Talk To Us” webinar on Zoom said that silent films are important in our search for national identity. As we interpreted it some sort of a mute witness to the stories and histories of the past that could surely help in finding our own national life for the betterment of society.


Arawan as one of the panelists in the same online talk toed the same line of Clodualdo’s argument.


So restoration not only of silent films but the sound ones are always encouraging that could definitely help in the same search for ourselves as Filipinos for personal as well as national progress and development. The program also preserves cultural heritage of a country.


According to Don Gerwin, the FDCP has been very active in restoring old films. Restoration also enables the audience to appreciate the past. There are limitations, though to this enterprise especially logistics and Arawan said the government, the private sector and other stakeholders are supportive of this endeavor.


The online roundtable discussion was part of the celebration of the International Silent Film Festival from December 4 to 6, 2020 which was collaborated by the Japan Foundation, Manila; the Embassy of France to the Philippines, the Philippine Italian Association, the Goethe Institut, and the FDCP. And since the Philippines has no preserved silent movies, only the participating countries, namely, Japan, France, Italy and Germany have entered their archived projects. 


The Filipino artists had also important contributions to these rare movies of the four countries. “One of the original aspects of the International Silent Film Festival in Manila is the original musical scoring by local musicians. While it provides a platform for cultural collaboration or exchange, as the visual image is from a foreign country—and a different time frame, it highlights the talent of the Filipino musicians,” said Martin Macalintal, Audiovisual Attache of the French Embassy.


Selected Filipino musical artists interpreted the foreign non-talkies in their own style and context.


Because of the raging COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time that the international silent film festival was held online.


Of course, we remember the film of Filipino director Raya Martin, “Maicling Pelicula nang Ysang Indio Nacional” done in 2005 which was a tribute to the silent era of Philippine cinema by employing live music of the Radioactive Sago Project Band.


This time, the scoring of music for foreign archived non-sound films were edited and recorded.   


The foreign representative speakers on the archiving of films in the webinar—namely Daibo Masaki, Head of Film Collections at the National Film Archive of Japan (NFAJ); Andrea Meneghelli, Curator of the Film Collections at Cineteca di Bologna in Italy; Beatrice de Pastra, Photographic and Cinematographic Archive Specialist at the Centre National du Cinéma (CNC) in France and Luciano Palumbo, Filmrestaurator at FW Murnau Foundation in Germany—collectively said that their respective governments appropriate budget for film restoration.


De Pastra said she finds archiving a dedication while Palumbo admitted the challenges of restoring old films especially colorizing them “but we will still improve.”


Successful as they are in archiving, their nations proudly preserve their old films for love of country and its traditions.  



Japan presented six (6) unique animated short silent films including the oldest existing Japanese animation “The Dull Sword” which was produced and directed by Junichi Kouchi in 1917 considered the birth year of domestic animation in Japan. Collaborating to score the film with Japanese musician Hikoro Nagai are Jordan Peralta and Harold Andre Santos known as HJH Collective, contemporary music composers with a diverse musical palette of pop, classical, folk, jazz, electronic music and traditional Philippine and Japanese music.


Aside from two films on COVID-19, Italy showed “Malombra,” a 1917 movie by Carmine Gallone who was directly inspired by a gothic novel set on the beautiful shores of the Como Lake as the protagonist, Marina takes quarters in the castle of her uncle where she discovers a bunch of letters. This bombastic movie was scored by the original music composed and performed by the internationally renowned classical solo-pianist Raul Sunico.


France screened “Le Manoir de la peur” (“The Manor of Fear”) directed by Alfred Machin. This silent film noir narrates the story of young Jean Lormeau who investigates a series of crimes affecting their village. Michael Mark Guevarra, one the country’s top saxophone players, scored the film.


Germany featured the 1927 silent “Metropolis” directed by Fritz Lang. A monumental science fiction film combines visual power with a love story around the reconciliation of labor and capital. Alyana Cabral also known as Teenage Granny worked together Kent Pesito, Miguel Nuñez, Jon Olarte, Joee Mejias, Tristan Ortega and Kiko Nuñez scored the film.


We hope this festival had stirred the consciousness not only of cinephiles but especially the millenials and “millenniors”who could have identified and related themselves to the glorious past of world cinema.

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