'Lost' RP Film Found in US
Posted:2:31 AM (Manila Time) | Feb. 05, 2004
By Nick Deocampo
Inquirer News Service
(Editor's note: This article is included in Nick Deocampo's new book Film: US Colonization and the Emergence of Cinema in the Philippines, to be released in September 2004 to commemorate the 85th Anniversary of Philippine Cinema.)
A COPY of the film "Zamboanga," a movie about the exotic life of south sea dwellers daringly shot in the remote island of Jolo in 1936 was found recently in the US.
With the recent discovery of the film print, plans are underway to repatriate the film back to the Philippines.
This February, it will be the festival opening film at the "Pelikula at Lipunan" to celebrate the Philippine movie industry's forthcoming 85th anniversary.
"Zamboanga" was made 60 years ago by two American producers, Eddie Tait and George Harris. It is the first attempt to launch a Philippine-made film for international release.
Hoping that the success of the film would turn the Philippines into the Hollywood of the Orient, they produced, aimed for the American market.
But after its premiere in San Diego, California and its screening in New York on Dec. 10, 1937, nothing has been heard of it.
The film has for decades been considered a lost film, one of the hundreds made before World War II that is irretrievably lost. Until a copy was recently found.
During my last research trip as a senior Fulbright research scholar in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., I was surprised to be informed by a library staff, Zoran Sinobad, that there was a newly-acquired film about the Philippines, and would I be interested to take a look at it? I was lukewarm at the invitation because after years of rummaging through hundreds of film titles in the library's collection, there must have been at least three films I came across with the name Zamboanga in them. None was the fabled Tait and Harris film. What could possibly make me think that this newly found film was the lost classic?
I only became interested when I was told that the film was newly-struck from an original print that came all the way from Finland. Now there's a story. Why would a film about the Philippines turn up in a frigid country in the Scandinavian peninsula? Interesting!
My anxiety grew intense as I waited for the print to arrive while my departure date was nearing. But three days before I left, the print finally arrived. To my biggest shock, the film I hoped to find was right before my very eyes! After perhaps 60 years that the film has not been seen by any Filipino, there I was watching the film alone in the darkened viewing room of the archive. It was a thrill of a lifetime!
I sat spellbound for 65 minutes watching the young Fernando Poe display his masculine physique and the beauteous Rosa del Rosario glow in the well-photographed black-and-white film. Patterned in the genre of the south sea film made famous by Robert Flaherty's "Moana," the film capitalized on tales of exoticism. It showed the picturesque sea and the captivating landscape and with warring tribes and a kidnapped maiden to hook the audience's attention.
The discovery of "Zamboanga" brings only to four the feature-length films
made in the Philippines that survived the catastrophic war. A few hundred others
failed to make it. Its rarity gives the film its aura of significance. The film
joins the distinguished line-up of pre-war films "Tunay na Ina" (1938),
"Pakiusap" (1938) and "Giliw Ko" (1938). But none beats
date of 1936. It is truly the mother of all studio-made films in the
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