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ABS-CBN'S SAGIP PELIKULA: Celebrating Its Glorious Decade of Restoring Gems of Philippine Cinema

Leo Katigbak, Head of ABS-CBN Film Restoration

"It's not work anymore. It's really blood, sweat, and tears."

Critiques tend to be endless; mocks stay incessant; impediments continue to arise, but there's nothing that would hamper this man and his colleague's desire to help preserve the country's cinematic legacy and cultural heritage for future generations.

He is Mr. Leo Katigbak, head of the ABS-CBN Film Archives, who initiated the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project or also known as Sagip Pelikula. It was a digital film restoration project of ABS-CBN Corporation in partnership with Central Digital Lab. The goal of the project is to digitally restore and remaster select Filipino films from the archives of ABS-CBN.

On its 10th anniversary, Mr. Katigbak shared to us the odyssey that they have embarked on for the realization of one of ABS-CBN's greatest milestones. In the midst of the media giant's retrenchment following the non-renewal of its legislative franchise, he explained the continuity of the project's advocacy.

"We try to have a lot of activities. Basically, restoration has stopped. Our last restoration was done August last year, and it was stopped because of the denial of the franchise. But ang lagi ko lang sinasabi, hindi siya napapansin ng mga tao. Akala nila tuloy-tuloy pa rin yung restoration. Sagip Pelikula is continuing, but that's a function of the fact that we have very long lead times. It takes several months or a year to restore a movie and since nagpaplano naman ako lagi, nabangko namin siya. People, I think, have to be clear that the advocacy is different from the operations of the restoration. Restoration is stopped, the advocacy to the extent that we can continue pushing it, we will try to continue it."

Looking back, he and his team set up the ABS-CBN Film Archives in 1994. The restoration was always part of what they wanted to do.

"Kaya lang ang problema at that time, there was no such thing as digital. So, it could have been analog restoration and before naman talaga ang nire-restore ay mga print but that was bit more complicated because here in the Philippines, wala rin naman sa huwisyo natin ang nagtatago ng negatibo in a good condition. In fact, our restorations are harder to do because more often than not, we only have one surviving material which is the print assuming that the negatives aren't there."

In addition, they wanted to do the restoration of 'Oro Plata Mata' in the late 90's. At that time, it would not have addressed a lot of the problems they had with the material, but the cost is prohibitive.

"It could have cost something as 25 million. I think at that time we are talking about, the exchange rate was only, wala pa yung Asian economic crisis, 24 to the dollar pa lang ang exchange rate noon."

A few years later, when Charo Santos-Concio was the President of ABS-CBN, one of the pitches that came to them was there had been sufficient developments in digital technology where they were able to do restoration digitally.

The only way forward is in the direction of a common passion. Despite the struggles of ABS-CBN Corporation during the past year, Mr. Katigbak expressed what pushes them to continue their efforts.

"I think in the end of the day, it's really more of your passion. I never took up film. My courses in school were Philosophy, Architecture and Engineering. But, the thing is I was always interested in films because my parents would take me to the cinema when I was young. So I was watching both Tagalog and foreign movies. The love for cinema was always there and by opportunity to work with Mrs. Concio who is an actress and a producer, we would have a short hand in terms of conversations. Kapag mag-uusap kami, alam mo yung literally completing each other's sentences. Kasi magkaka-align yung iniisip namin. Klaro at maliwanag siya. You had people who were interested in cinema, people who were very passionate about cinema."

Furthermore, Mr. Katigbak disclosed that he told Mr. Gabby Lopez what he can commit to him is 'he will be very careful and very responsible and judicious' in the way that they will spend the assets and the funding that ABS-CBN will give them. He also mentioned developing markets so that at least the restoration costs would be a self-funding thing.

"When you suddenly have movies like Himala, Oro Plata, and Ganito Kami Noon, it's taking shape. People are saying, ah ititigil na nila iyan after a time. So, from our mindset it was, oh ano ang isusunod natin, ano yung gagawin, ano ang idadagdag natin. Obviously from a financial aspect, we are going to restore all the movies of Star Cinema. Originally, the budgets were really cleared for the films owned by ABS-CBN already, and produced by ABS-CBN. Kaya lang ang sabi ko kay Gabby (Lopez), can you also give me budget kasi I really wanted to go after the classics. I really want to mount an entire campaign that would be long-lasting as a legacy of ABS-CBN."

"When we started the restoration, wala pang 20-year-old movie ang Star Cinema. Everything was like 16, 17 and 18 years old. How can you even call it a classic? You could call it a modern classic, but as a real classic, hindi pa."

At present, "we also create a distinction with what we do. There's a full restored and remastered and there's scanned and enhanced." Right now, what they are working on is a new scan and enhanced 'Giliw Ko', which is the first movie of LVN (Pictures) and the oldest surviving Filipino movie. Hopefully, it is something that they can premiere before the end of the year.

When asked about the memorable and remarkable films for him, he admitted, "In terms of memorable, easily I would say 'Himala' because it was our first; I would say the enhanced version of 'Biyaya ng Lupa' because I've been always a fan of Rosa Rosal."

"Probably collectively, 'Misteryo sa Tuwa' and 'Soltero' largely because they were two films that hadn't we waited a few more months, we couldn't have restored it anymore because the prints were disintegrating already. It was also one of those first movies where it was scanned in Italy, it was graded locally, it was restored in Thailand, and audio restoration was done in Manila. That was supposed to be very expensive. Because we waited, technology improved, so yung mga dating problems that would have cost us a larger amount of money, now there was a software to address it so napababa namin."

(Reimagined posters of the digitally restored films created by Justin Besana)

"In terms of Star Cinema, 'Maalaala Mo Kaya', because actually it was the first movie we started restoring. To me, that's memorable kasi when we were doing the test, it was actually the movie that was used to make the presentations to management and to do comparisons of 'this is the unrestored image and this is the restored image."

"The last two movies of LVN which we were able to acquire were 'Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising' and 'Kakabakaba Ka Ba?' kasi medyo naging problematic din ang mga pelikula na yun."

He added another movie that he would have to say memorable by virtue of difficulty and it was 'Moral'.

Moral was one of those movies that we were so excited. We found a print; nung binuksan yung lata, tunaw na yung ibang reels. Pagkatapos, swerte lang kami that (there's) another copy surface na mas maayos-ayos pa. 'Moral' was restored twice kasi hindi kinaya nung unang nirestore."

It takes everything to stand alone. For Mr. Katigbak, one of the things that distinguishes ABS-CBN film restoration from a lot of other restorations outside the country is a lot of the restorations is the endgame'.

"From the very beginning, our restoration was always two pronged. There has to be a way so that mapapanood din ito ng mga tao."

Mr. Katigbak is interviewed by The Film Dream's young filmmaker, Nathan Perez.

With the emergence of popular Korean and Thai dramas and movies that somehow making themselves superior than the local movies, Sagip Pelikula has done numerous activities to draw attention among younger generations.

"To me, the exposure, so that's why we do the free screenings on our Facebook page. It's also a matter of balancing; we have to recoup parts of the cost, but at the same time, there's also making it accessible. We are doing a combination of all those activities. As part of our 10th year, we launched 'Nais' which is going to be our anthem, our theme song."

'Nais' is an original composition by Robert Calma and Jonathan Manalo performed by Erik Santos. Two years in the making, the music video was produced and edited by Christer Salire and Ian Faustino.

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant. Of all the efforts that the Sagip Pelikula has exerted to make old films come into life again but this time more interesting, expressive, and meaningful, it is the appreciation from the audiences that makes it gratifying for Mr. Katigbak.

"When we would have premieres and somebody young would go to us and say, you know thank you very much, we didn't know this movie existed, at least now mapapanood namin. Those are priceless. Sometimes, that kind of acknowledgement, that kind of recognition, are more than enough to make all the hard work worth it."

On instilling a piece of advice to the young and other audiences, Mr. Katigbak uttered, "What's more significant is now that we've done more restorations. What actually becomes apparent is there were times the stylistically, for example, yung mga hinahabol nilang look ngayon, ginawa na nung 70's at 80's. I think what's important is they try to get the best element and they should also think that just because it's an old movie, it doesn't mean that it's old style or it's inferior."

Photo courtesy: ABS-CBN

"Whether you see K-drama or whatever or other influences, sometimes naman it's not necessary or the best influences. It's probably what's popular now, but in terms of structure, in terms of narrative, it could actually be a step back."

"Personally, 'Paano Kita Iibigin', thematically is more suited to this date than when it was originally released. Ang napansin namin nung pinalabas namin, nagre-resonate siya sa mga kabataan ngayon. A movie on its own, ang sensibility niya is very 2021, not 2010. There are movies that aged better; there are movies that you get to see through a very different lens."

Mr. Katigbak particularized that in terms of access, their restored movies are on Apple TV and KTX, and there are showings on Facebook. However, there is also a lot of content that's vying for the attention of people. But there's also a whole bunch of people that don't want to pay for the content.

"In theory and in principle, kapag pinamimigay mo siya, there's a psychological thinking na hindi siya mahalaga. People have to realize that there is a cost, a very expensive cost, to restore it."

"I am not a firm believer of giving it away for free, but I'm also not a believer of charging excessively."

Sagip Pelikula has movies in the pipeline for their advocacy. They are looking at some other things that will surprise people. They want to celebrate their first decade with numerous options: a coffee table book, a documentary, a mini-series special, a written history of film restoration, and a massive DVD set. Even so, they were all sidelined as resources became scarce and priorities had to be changed.

"We lost two-thirds of our people. We lost the bulk of our funding. But the idea is, necessity is the mother of invention. If we cannot do the restoration, then we just do the scanning and the enhancement that we can do."

"I don't think you can pursue a project like this with all of the hurdles and all of the difficulties, unless it's something that you love. It's our love for film; it's our love for all the people who created these movies. It's our desire to make sure that they are not forgotten, and our hope that we are part of the process to make sure that the future generations will be able to watch it."

Certainly, Mr. Leo Katigbak knows that the way to a point is not via a straight line, but through a curve path and he needs to fix every curl. It is his passion that becomes his purpose.

In the glorious 10 years of Sagip Pelikula in restoring the gems of Philippine cinema, there is no doubt that 'blood, sweat, and tears are and will always be the lasting legacy of ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project to the nation and to the world.

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