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Project Director's speech at the book launch

(Speech delivered by Cesar Hernando, Project Director of The Cinema of Manuel Conde  during theCinemalaya's"Tribute to Manuel Conde" and book launch,  July 16, 2008 at the Little Theater, Cultural Center of the Philippines) 

Good afternoon! 

    A book on Manuel Conde is very long overdue. This is only the second book in our country's publishing history devoted to a great Filipino filmmaker and artist, whose significance, we believe, has been overlooked. The book shows why the late Manuel Conde is one of Philippine cinema's great directors, popular both here and abroad. Most of his films were full of social insights and commentary that are still relevant today. Of course, it's lamentable not to see his entire master works, as most of them are no longer available to be seen by a new generation. And we don't even have a permanent national film archive. If a book had been written about him decades ago, Manuel Conde could easily have been our national artist for film. 

   We could learn a lesson or two from Manuel Conde. When he did films like Genghis Khan and Sigfredo, I don't think he was eyeing international film festivals. It just happened that he got a prize in 1950 by having won the most popular film, actor, and director, sponsored by a newspaper, which was "to study the latest techniques in movie acting, directing, and production" in Hollywood. Bigwigs from Hollywood took notice of his films: Genghis Khan, Siete Infantes de Lara, and Sigfredo. Eventually, the famous writer James Agee highly recommended Conde's film Genghis Khan to the Venice Film Festival, which was the first Filipino film to compete in an international festival. He is in a way a pioneer indie filmmaker, having produced it himself. His cinema deals with simple yet very relevant and positive Filipino ideals. And I believe he made films for the Filipino audience in mind, first and foremost. 

    Now let me digress a bit - by contrast, it's the reverse now – many local filmmakers are consciously making films specifically for foreign film festivals. Since indie digital filmmaking has been too accessible and affordable with its very low budget, exoticism in filmmaking has been the order of the day and we see exploitation of poverty, misery, and sexuality in almost every digital film that you see, enough to make Brocka rise from his grave. This calls to mind Mike de Leon's Aliwan Paradise in Southern Winds which criticizes that exploitative approach, that you only have to know what kind of films attract festival directors. Wrong impressions are created, as manifested recently in the comments of Mr. Jeremy Segay, Asian cinema programmer, who said in an interview on Variety that, (and I quote): "there was a kind of a Filipino New Wave at the end of the 1970s with filmmakers like Brocka and Bernal. Then for a long time afterwards there was a black hole. It's only recently that Filipino cinema has become rediscovered, in many ways because it has carved out a homosexual niche…" (end of quote). This supposed "black hole" represents the pioneering efforts made by independent filmmakers during the 1980s all through the 1990s, with filmmakers like Raymond Red, RoxLee, and Nick Deocampo, just to name a few, whose short films were shown in most of the major international festivals, paving the way for the more recent alternative and digital filmmakers. Mainstream cinema was also very much alive. Mike De Leon's Sister Stella L was the second Filipino film to compete at the Venice Film Festival in 1985. Information like this definitely needs to be disseminated. The lack of information is a detriment to our efforts in promoting our cinema as it even leads to erroneous information.

    And that is why we need to have more books on the subject of Philippine cinema -- the history, the vast heritage of films made, the story of how they were made, and of the filmmakers themselves. It's sad when we read history books on world cinema published abroad where Philippine cinema is so sparingly mentioned, or even totally ignored.  
    The Cinema of Manuel Conde, is the first book in the twelve-part Filipino Film Directors Series which I conceived as a cinema committee project for the NCCA. The short-listed names of film directors in the series are: Gregorio Fernandez, Manuel Silos, Gerardo de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka, Eddie Romero, Richard Abelardo, Ramon Estella, and Susana C. de Guzman. I believe each of these directors deserve a book that would chronicle their lives and works, especially those who practiced their art and craft during the early golden age of Philippine cinema, a time when the Philippines was in the forefront of Asian cinema. 

     As a project director of this book, I'd like to thank Dr. Nicanor G. Tiongson for writing the book, the Urbano family, Film Director Mike de Leon, LVN Pictures, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Tribung Pilipino Foundation, the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, and my friends who helped me, for making the impossible possible. 

    Maraming salamat po.