Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rebuilding the Film Palace


aerial views

The Manila Film Center, a grandiose structure inside the Cultural center Complex of the Philippines has been my professional home over the last seven years… I started working for this company as the musical director of the Amazing Show and had the first chance to re-enter this building October 10, 2001 for an ocular inspection. I remember the Film Center during my college days as the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, a venue for budding and established local film makers and my last visit prior to 2001 was when I was a faculty at St. Scholastica’s when we had a film showing of “Cry Freedom” in 1989 I think… I remember holding hands with a co-faculty (she is now my wife) and that made the Film Center a most memorable place.

Little did I know that this building would someday be home to my dreams… and I guess home to some of my occasional nightmares, and by the latter I don’t mean the ghostly reputation of the building but rather my new-found professional life.

The Manila Film Center, in a far corner of the Cultural
Center complex on Roxas Blvd., is probably the country's most infamous structure. Some would say it is cursed, although a Korean-owned company is currently making a flamboyant effort to rehabilitate its image with a transvestite Las Vegas-like act. Now housing the "Amazing Philippine Theatre," the massive building is patronized nightly by dozens of Korean honeymooners who pose in front of the kitschy Egyptian Pharoah figure above the doorway before entering to enjoy the performance by the "country's prettiest gays." Most of the couples are completely unaware of its ghostly reputation, if one doesn't consider Filipino males with long hairless legs as apparitions. But prettiest
gays or not, ordinary superstition-loving Filipinos have avoided the building
like SARS.

Even before it was finished in 1982, in time for the Manila International Film Festival, Imelda's film palace -- as others would call it -- suffered the first of its outrageous misfortunes. On November 17, 1981, during the pouring of cement, an upper floor collapsed, sending an untold number of workers hurtling into fresh cement or onto upright steel bars where they hung like barbeque (this was a witness's analogy, not mine) for hours until their bodies were retrieved. The story all this time, or at least as I and countless others believed it, was that Imelda immediately ordered the bodies in the cement to be paved over so that work could resume and her looming deadline met. News
about the tragedy was censored during the martial law era, so rumors and ghosts
filled the vacuum.

So in all honesty, the first time I saw the building, I said to myself that it wouldn’t be easy heading up a team for the preparation of set designs and set pieces for the Amazing Show since by that time, I was already music and art director. It was our task to make the set pieces for the show with all the 14 sequences and a hell of a lot of technical difficulties given that the theatre was never really designed for theatre.

In short, my team and I, as well as the engineering contractors practically lived in the building for the next three months without electricity, water or a decent comfort room. Slowly, we cleaned and renovated the building to get it ready for a December maiden presentation. There was this particular instance where the entire team boycotted works as apparently “something” or “someone” helped one of the crew carry a 12-foot ladder at the intermediate level. I simply said that they should have just been appreciative of the fact that the ghosts here are friendly and if I might add “familiar” with construction work. I guess that they didn’t find it funny… because I ended up with three other people brave enough to spend the rest of night at the Film Center as we hanged a 26-foot high back drop onto one of the battens.
Fast forward…

Upon the signing of the new lease of the building and with no investors whatsoever and with the amount of losses that we’ve suffered over the previous couple of years, we are still at it. Developing, renovating and improving the Manila Film Center. It is really a gargantuan task considering about 76,000 sq.m. of floor area, we’ve yet to cover half of the objective.

But work goes on, dreams remain and hopefully, much like the field of dreams… if we build it, they will come
the view from the ramp way of the main lobby
the hallway leading to my office during the APSS days and my office
reconstructing the ceiling of the upper floor and the stairway

Monday, September 1, 2008

Handling with care

I recently went out with an old college friend and colleague for dinner and a bit of reminiscing. I usually am not, since recently, been comfortable meeting up with people who knew me in the past since as I have mentioned a zillion times in this blog that I grew up poor, deprived, exceptionally unfortunate and griping constantly. Not that I would want to hide my past but it is in particular association with an experience a couple of years back with a friend from college who visited me in my office… to cut to the chase, as we decided to call it a night and went out on the parking area, his ride refuses to cooperate. I asked my best friend and my driver to assist him and we all went to his ride to check out what was wrong. Since it was drizzling that night, my ever alert security guard rushes over with an umbrella and I guess that that may have been the catalyst for what was to come… With the five of us standing around his car’s hood, he suddenly blurted out of nowhere “Alam nyo? Eh, bata ko lang yang Boss nyo dati nung nasa college kami. Ako ang boss niya noon…” I didn’t exactly know where that came from but I guess that I saw it coming…

Occasionally, there would be others as well with comments on how the hell did I get to where I am now. Comments like, “damn, I shouldn’t have gotten a PhD, look at Casie”, a quip like, “you get paid to drink?”, or a friend asking loudly “so how much are they giving you? 70?... 80?... a hundred???...”

For most of the people who knew me in my past life, and those of whom I’ve lost contact with while slaving away in the process of building this company, it may seem rather fascinatingly fast (of course in my perception, the last seven years was not exactly fast) . But for those who have seen this company work its way up from scratch, I get the opposite comment… (maybe they mostly knew what it took to get me here)

Going back to my opening statement, my old friend said loudly while I was playing the piano that I was compensating and I loudly replied that indeed I was. My entire life actually was well spent on efforts compensating for what I lacked or what I felt I lacked and that may have been the key to why I have gotten as far as I did.

A couple of days ago, I was asked by the chairman to speak to our scholars about the nature of the program as well as the benefits that would be had for both them and the company once the pilot program commences. As usual, I stated with the usual history of the company as well as my personal history with the company. Bottom line? No pain, no gain. Success will entail sacrifices and efforts. But most of all, it will entail the ability to recognize who and what we are. I have often said that everyday as I wake up, I recognize three things… one – I am short, two – I’m nowhere near the word handsome or attractive, and three – it is another day!


To my Nanay... I love you and miss you very much. I hope you're not that disappointed as to what i have become... HAPPY BIRTHDAY!