Found in the artsy food haven that is Maginhawa street, Cinema Centenario is a cozy 65-seater microcinema that sits (almost conveniently) above a Romantic Baboy outlet. If you’re planning to visit for the first time, this place will remind you of your high school’s audiovisual room—small, cold, and just enough for a small group to enjoy an intimate film showing.
Posters of the great classics—Oro Plata Mata, anyone?—adorn its walls alongside newer alternative films like Ang Pangarap Kong Holdap, and this is exactly what the spirit of Cinema Centenario is, according to its founder and board president Hector Calma: for great movies, especially those made independently, to have a home.
“As a film maker, alam ko lang ‘yong feeling na, meron akong pelikula, pero walang venue kung saan siya mapapalabas,” he shares. “Never ko siyang naging dream or naging plan na gumawa ako ng sarili kong sinehan. ‘Nung gumagawa na ko ng pelikua tapos walang venue, napaisip lang ako, ‘So parang, paano, ganito na lang ba ‘yong sitwasyon?’”
It was during a documentary film festival in Taiwan where his film competed that he found his inspiration. “’Yong venue nila is an alternative space. Hindi siya cineplexes. Hindi siya malaking sinehan sa loob ng mall. Parang siyang old winery converted into an art hub, a creative hub.
“Sabi ko, ‘Ang ganda, bakit wala tayong ganito sa Pilipinas?’ ‘Tas ‘pag balik ko, sabi ko gusto kong magka-gan’on.”
Upon returning to the country, Hector teamed up with a few friends who supported the idea of having a place to show indie movies, as well as one that would sustain the culture of watching films in movie houses rather than on mobile phones.
In December 2017, after a year of planning, Cinema Centenario was born.
Filipino movies and the quest for quality
With the opening of the microcinema, Hector hopes to somehow address one of the biggest issues of independent filmmakers—the unforgiving environment of big cinemas. There have been efforts on the part of the government to garner more exposure for local filmmakers and their works. The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) has recently released a memorandum noting that Filipino creations should get a "minimum length run" of seven days in all cinemas; however, this has been met with resistance as the Cinema Exhibitors Association of The Philippines, Inc. (CEAP) recently sued the FDCP, saying it has no jurisdiction over how owners should run their movie houses.
“Sobrang hirap, kasi ‘pag on your first day, walang tao, goodbye!” He says. “Buti kung tumagal ka ng first day. Minsan half day lang, or first screening mo, or first two screenings mo. Kung medyo wala talaga, wala. Wala ka na sa hapon o sa gabi. Eh paano kung ‘yong audience mo gabi pa?”
"Ang ginawa namin, gumawa kami ng festival dito... We made the Maginhawa Film Festival."
This issue has been blatantly obvious in the 2016 Manila Film Festival, which had an impressive roster of independent films, many of which did not even survive three days in large cinemas. A CNN Philippines report had noted that while “rules of the festival require cinemas to screen movies in the first two days of the festival,” it’s the discretion of big cinema owners whether or not to drop the films on the third day. Many titles were cut, but an upside was that movie enthusiasts had called cineplexes to reinstate several indie films that were part of the festival.
Hector recalls the 2016 MMFF: “The year after that, balik sa normal. Kasi raw hindi kumita ‘yong Manila Film Festival. Usapin ng pera siya. May mga questions kasi ako na, hindi ba talaga kumita? Paano kikita e tinatanggal sa sinehan?’”
Hector believes that as huge cineplexes would predictably be profit-bound, the alternative film industry would need to rely on its own devices. “Ang ginawa namin, gumawa kami ng festival dito, sabay in December. We made Maginhawa Film Festival. So ang shino-showcase namin during December ay ‘yong best of that year. Nag-sho-showcase kami ng films regardless if they’re mainstream or independent cinema. Ang goal lang naman is dapat maganda siya… or not necessarily maganda, basta quality work.”
Bridging the gap
What Hector wants with Cinema Centenario is the same as what many filmmakers want—to encourage new audiences to expand their definition of what Philippine Cinema is.
“‘Yon ‘yong wino-work namin up to now. ‘Yong magkaroon ng mas maraming converts.”
As a video production teacher at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and at iAcademy, Hector sees first-hand that what most people define as “great films” are mostly Hollywood films.
“Sa start ng klase, tinatanong ko, ‘So what’s your favorite film?’ Usually foreign or anime… ‘So how would you define Filipino cinema?’ Magbabanggit sila ng mga pangalan, Vice Ganda, Vic Sotto, Kris Aquino. Kasi limited lang ‘yong nakikita nila, that’s understandable. Kasi ‘yong reach ng alternative cinema ay limited lang.”
He then introduces to them the greats—Lino Brocka, Peque Gallaga, Ishmael Bernal—in the hopes that it would open his students to another face of Philippine cinema; one that goes beyond momentary enjoyment.
"We’re trying to delete the thin line between mainstream and indie, and identify these films as Filipino films."
“Kasi, totoo naman na film is for entertainment, pero ‘yong umbrella ng entertainment, masyado siyang malaki para i-limit mo lang sa laughing,” Hector explains. “Dapat after watching a film, na-entertain ka, nag-isip ka.
“Hindi naman natin sinasabi na pangit ‘yong mga pelikulang ito. Masaya o nakakatuwa na natutuwa ang mga tao sa pelikula, pero after laughing inside the cinema, what’s next? Anong na-contribute niya sa social consciousness, sa lipunan ng Pilipinas?”
With Cinema Centenario, he hopes that he can spark change in the way viewers think, one film showing at a time. “Mahirap siya, kasi kailangan mong i-reintroduce sa kanila ‘yong independent cinema, na hindi pare-parehas ang intindi ng tao. Minsan ang intindi nila sa independent cinema, soft porn. Kasi ‘yan ‘yong mga nakikita nila sa Quiapo, or sa mga pirated. Or hindi nila masyadong maintindihian kasi sobrang intellectual noong mga pelikula raw.”
His goal, however, is not just to provide a venue to show alternative films for more people to see them, but also, at some point, to push for them to have the same exposure as mainstream films.
“Dito sa venue namin, we’re trying to delete the thin line between mainstream and indie, and identify these films as Filipino films. Hindi porket mainstream, pangit na. Hindi porket independent, maganda na. And vice versa. Kasi subjective naman ang pagiging maganda ng isang pelikula. Depende siya sa tumitingin at bumabasa ng pelikula.”
Hector hopes to continue the momentum that Cinema Centenario, as well as the many other microcinemas in the metro, has started. “Ang future ng local cinema ay wala sa cineplexes. Nasa independent cinema houses siya,” he states. “Ang plan namin with Centenario is definitely expansion… Expand to locations na madaling mapuntahan ng tao, so we can, not necessarily compete, pero madaling makita ng mga tao ‘yong mga pelikulang gusto naming ipalabas at sinusuportahan.”
Cinema Centenario is located at 95 Maginhawa St., 1101 Quezon City. For more details and showing schedules, visit their Facebook page.