MANILA FILM CENTER TO SHINE AGAIN
Manila, Feb. 26, 2001 - Lights and cameras will be trained on the Cultural Center of the Philippines officials on Feb. 28 when they unveil a stainless steel marker that pays tribute to the people behind the realization of the Manila Film Center.
It will be time for action after the event, as there is a lot that needs to be done in order to realize the vision of rehabilitating the once grand edifice.
Just like a movie sequel, plans are afoot for the comeback of the MFC as another new center for the arts.
"It is sad that something like the Film Center had just been sitting there and deteriorating. Such a building should be put to good use," according to CCP president Armita Rufino during a recent lunch, where plans for the MFC were revealed.
After the 1990 earthquake that hit Manila, the center was abandoned and left in a state of disrepair. What the CCP intends to do, says Rufino, is restore the building and turn it into a multifunction edifice that will house not only film theaters, laboratories and archives, but an academy for the performing arts as well.
"Not an easy undertaking," says Ed Cabagnot, OIC of CCP Film Division. "For one, there are no funds for the project. So we are looking at doing it in stages that may take anywhere from three to five years."
The Manila Film Center was built in 1982 for the Manila International Film Festival. The building, designed by architect Froilan Hong, recalls the Parthenon of classical Greece. The center is situated beside the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel at the far end of the reclaimed area within the CCP complex.
In its heyday, it housed six theaters, six preview rooms, a film archive and several offices. Two film festivals were held there, the 1982 and 1983 Manila International Film Festivals.
Quite unforgettable was opening night when former First Lady Imelda Marcos strode on stage in a Joe Salazar black and emerald green terno with a hemline thick with layer upon layer of peacock feathers. The more unpleasant memory however, was the collapse of the second basement while the building was under construction. The unfortunate accident has spawned all sorts of stories that remain unverified to this day. There was talk of laborers who were entombed alive just so the tight building schedule could be met. This, in turn, led to stories of ghosts haunting the center.
"Imelda, ghosts and bomba films, these are the things that have been associated with the center for a time and itís about time it shed itself of such bad publicity," says Cabagnot.
To realize the dream of a new center is not an easy task, it has to be done in phases, says Rufino. "And before we even think of reuse, safety is the primary consideration, so the very first thing we did was to request the Department of Public Works and Highways to assess the structural integrity of the building," she added.
The DPWH conducted an assessment of the structural soundness of the building in 1999. The study was carried out over a five-month period by the firm of contractor Modesto Ruiz. The findings, which were contained in an official letter addressed to CCP chair Gloria Angara by OIC regional director Jesus Romero, were that the center was structurally sound and that the building was "positively repairable."
DPWH representatives and architect Hong, who were also present at the press lunch, elaborated on the study.
Architect Hong corrected the impression that the building itself was sinking. The center, he said, was built on reclaimed land which has to be given time to settle, but since the building was built on piles, it was hardly affected by such movement. He added that while earlier reclamation sites like the one where Folk Arts theater stands have already settled, that where the MFC is located is still in the process of doing so.
A lot of people had the impression that the building was unstable because of the wide gaps on the steps and ramps leading to the building. Architect Hong corrected this impression saying that the building itself has retained its structural integrity and that gaps appeared because the ground around it was settling. The seismic gap that runs in the middle of the building to dissipate stresses in an earthquake showed no major movement.
Further evidence presented in order to make the layman easier to understand why the building is sound is hardly any of the glass sheets that wrap around the building were damaged.
"Had there been a discrepancy in right angles, these would have broken," added the architect.
The DPWH outlined the plans for rehabilitating the center. It will include among others, strengthening and upgrading the piles, replacing the hollow block parapets with another material, possibly fiberglass, to make the building lighter and enlargement of columns and beams.
Rehabilitation cost would amount to approximately P300 million. Still cheap, according to architect Hong, who said that a similar building, if constructed today, would cost P1.8 billion.
What will be done for the moment is to clean the center and its premises. It was announced by Rufino that a lot of concerned students have volunteered to help in this. Next, the CCP intends to tap corporations and government institutions, such as Pagcor for funds. Foreign investors might also be tapped, according to Rufino.
"During the time of Secretary Mina Gabor, she was talking with some foreign investors who were interested in the MFC, since it had one of the best laboratory facilities in Asia. We might look into this possibility again once the building is ready," says Rufino.
Rehabilitating the structure alone would have to be done in stages. It will take some three to five years depending on the availability of funds. Artists, art patrons and art lovers eagerly await these developments. (Eric Catipon)
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