In the age of Netflix, would people still want to “go to the movies?” Of course there are still commercial movie houses, those housed in malls and which show blockbusters. But a stand-alone structure that shows a different lineup of movies altogether—Filipino classics, for instance, or independent ones?
One such structure stands on Maginhawa Street on Teachers’ Village East, Quezon City. Cinema Centenario is on the second floor of a building that also houses a meat shop, complete with the happy-looking pig beckoning to customers. Around it – a convenience store, an acupuncture center, a tricycle standa, a gaming cafe. Not particularly an “artsy” vibe, but that’s exactly the point.
Inside, there are 65 seats. Again these are nothing fancy, and certainly you can’t recline (or doze off). Just sturdy, classic, leather-and-mahogany ones in several rows in front of a screen.
The idea for a cinema came to founder and part-owner Hector Calma in Taiwan, when he was attending a documentary film festival and saw an old winery that had been converted into an art space. His first thought: “Walang ganito sa atin (we don’t have something like this back home).” His resolve to build a cinema firmed when he returned to Manila and talked to 10 like-minded friends, all of whom said they were in.
They specifically targeted the Diliman crowd for the cinema. “It’s a captive market,” he said of the mix of students, young professionals, long-time residents. And true enough, soon after its December 1 launch, they have had several full houses and have had to stop selling tickets to people who had come and lined up.
There are six daily showings, different titles in a day, beginning at noon. The “last full show” at 12:30 in the morning still sees a sizeable audience —not surprising, really, in the neighborhood. This month, among the 16 offerings are Larawan, Patay Na Si Hesus, Sana Dati, Sakaling Hindi Makarating, MNL 143, Ganito Kami Noon, Ganito Kayo Ngayon, and a collection of short films. The February line-up will be made available soon.
Calma is in charge of programming. “We make sure each genre is represented,” he says, adding they are in partnership with some independent film outlets and even ABS-CBN for its film restoration project.
But starting a venture is always challenging, even as most of the challenges are so-called “happy problems” like not being able to accommodate everybody who comes for the shows. The screening schedules are posted on Facebook, and people may text their reservations (they will be given a control number), but these reservations are still manually recorded. Walk-in are welcome, too. The team is working on making this process easier, says Calma. And when he says team, he means all owners are hands-on, working on different shifts, with four staff members assisting them.
Aside from the showings, Cinema Centenario invites directors, actors, and others behind production. An open forum after the screening, or even a workshop, allows the audience to ask questions and learn more about the processes, the setbacks, and the inspiration that moves the creators. On such occasions, for instance, viewers learned that the inspiration for such-and-such a film was a break-up after a years-long relationship. “Nalaman tuloy namin yung mga hugot nila (we discovered the places the filmmakers were coming from),” he said.
This is exactly what Calma and his team wanted to achieve—bridge the gap between filmmaker and film viewer, take the former off the pedestal. In the end they’re just like you and me even as they see the world and express themselves differently.
We have heard sad stories about films being pulled out of commercial cinemas because they are “not making money.” Is the establishment of Centenario a statement against this unabashedly profit-centered practice?
“We are not here to make a statement against anything,” Calma says. “We don’t wish to say we are better. We just want to provide more options...here is one more venue for Filipinos to enjoy movies. Hey, look at us! Why don’t you try us out?”
He talked about reaching people who were not even aware that such cinemas, much less such movies, existed. An elderly couple in the Teachers Village area, for instance, just wandered into the place and saw the film that just happened to be showing at that time. They were gushing when they emerged from the cinema, exclaiming: “May ganito pala (so, there is such a thing)!”
Calma and his business partners live to evoke this expression among the people. “We want to remove the distinction between mainstream movies and alternative movies. It’s better if we simply call it ‘Filipino cinema.’”
This is possible, he believes, even with the hugely popular streaming or download sites, which would give viewers access to movies on demand, and which they could watch anywhere and anytime they want.
“Ultimately you would still go for that collective viewing experience. In a dark theater, these people who don’t know each other will laugh together, be sad together, get scared together,” he said. It’s not just the movie that is the experience, but the act of watching alongside others.
Eventually the plan is to include more good films in the program—more restored classics, for instance, or entries to international film festivals, or now that Oscars season is coming up, Academy Award winners from previous years.
By doing all these, the people behind Cinema Centenario hope to reach out to more Filipinos and awaken in them—if it’s not alive and kicking already—a love for film, a love for life.