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Manila Film Center
The front exterior of the Center
General information
Architectural styleBrutalism
LocationPasay, Philippines
Coordinates14°33′02″N 120°58′55″E / 14.550556°N 120.981944°E / 14.550556; 120.981944
Construction started1981
Cost$25 million (USD)
OwnerGovernment of the Philippines
ManagementCultural Center of the Philippines
Design and construction
Architect(s)Froilan Hong

The Manila Film Center is a building located at the southwest end of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex in Pasay, Philippines. The structure was designed by architect Froilan Hong where its edifice is supported on more than nine hundred piles[1] which reaches to the bed-rock about 120 feet below.

The Manila Film Center served as the main theater for the First Manila International Film Festival[2] (MIFF) January 18–29, 1982. The building has also been the subject of controversies due to a fatal accident that happened on November 17, 1981. At least 169[3][4] workers fell and were buried under quick-drying cement.[5][6]



Prior to the Manila Film Center, the Philippines did not have an official national film archive which is why in January 1981, then first lady Imelda Marcos spearheaded the building of the first Manila Center. Under the supervision of Betty Benitez, the spouse of then Deputy MHS Minister Jose Conrado Benitez, they organized a group to pursue the project. Ramon M. Ignacio, Senior Technology Officer at the Technology Resource Center, conceptualized the project and its various components. He likewise prepared the feasibility study.[7]

Among the Film Center's project components were: the 360-degree theater to show past and present historical and tourism scenes for future generations, the Film Financing/Loan Program to address funding of meritable films, the Filipino Film Archiving using Digital Storage (though was little known during those times), Film Database/Information system, Film Making and Blow Up Laboratory, Viewing rooms for the Board of Censors and other minor sub-components. Despite the futuristic and concept creativity of Ignacio, only two of the project components were actually done. UNESCO's[7] assistance was invaluable in the design of the archives, so they were asked to be consultants of the project.

Several ocular visits were done by Unesco in 1981 where they were responsible for major consultations needed in the structure's erection. The building was then designed to have two components[7] which were the auditoria and archives. According to Hong, the foundation was set on reclaimed[8] land near Manila Bay. Since the deadline of the structure was tight, it required 4,000 workers, working in 3 shifts across 24 hours. One thousand workers constructed the lobby[9] in 72 hours, a job which would normally entail six weeks of labor. The Film Center opened in 1982 costing an estimate of $25 million.

The building is identified with the Marcoses' "edifice complex,"[10] a term defined by architect Gerard Lico as "an obsession and compulsion to build edifices as a hallmark of greatness."[11][12]

1981 construction deaths

An accident occurred around 3:00 a.m. on November 17, 1981, during the construction of the Manila Film Center.[10] The scaffolding[13] collapsed,[14][15] and at least 169[3][16][17] workers fell and were buried under quick-drying wet cement.[18] A blanket of security was immediately imposed by the Marcos dictatorship. Neither rescuers nor ambulances were permitted[9] on the site until an official statement had been prepared. The rescuers were eventually permitted to go inside the accident site nine hours after the collapse.

According to former CCP president Baltazar N. Endriga, architect Froilan Hong said that only seven died in the accident and that all of them "were retrieved and given the proper rites befitting the dead."[19]


After the tragedy Prime Minister Cesar Virata disapproved a $5 million[20] subsidy which was originally intended for the film festival. Lacking in funding, Imelda Marcos created a contingency plan that would generate enough funds to cover the festival.

Design and architecture writer Deyan Sudjic credits the Manila Film Center accident as one of the events which heralded the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship half a decade later, saying:[21]

The beginning of the end of the Marcos period was marked by the collapse of the scaffolding on the Manila Film Center, one of Imelda Marcos’s pet projects, as it was being rushed for completion. Several construction workers were killed, crushed by falling steel. The very buildings being presented as the icons of a bold new republic seemed to embody the corruption and incompetence of the regime.[21]

The First Manila Film Festival

Amidst everything, the first Manila International film festival pushed through from the January 18 to 29, 1982. A total of 17 movies competed in the festival [22] namely 36 Chowringhee Lane (India), Body Heat (USA), Gallipoli (Australia), Growing up (Line Iida) (Norway), Harry Tracy-Desperado (Canada), La Femme d'à côté (France), Lola (Germany), Los Viernes de la Eternidad (Argentina), Majstori, Majstori! (Yugoslavia), No Charges Filed (Egypt), Smash Palace (New Zealand), Take It All (Jetz Und Alles) (West Germany), The Beloved Woman of Mechanic Gavrilov (USSR), The French Lieutenant's Woman (Great Britain), There Was A War When I Was A Child (Japan), Vabank (Poland) and Wasted Lives (Hungary).

India's entry, 36 Chowringhee Lane claimed best picture. Best actress and best actor were brought home by Lyudmila Gurchenko and Bruno Lawrence respectively. Yugoslav film director Goran Marković won best director.

Post 1990s

Sunset at Manila Film Center

After the 1990 earthquake[23] that hit Manila and the rest of Luzon, the center was abandoned,[24] following reports of structural damage to load-bearing beams on the west side of the building. In 2001, then CCP President Armita Rufino announced a full rehabilitation program for the deteriorating Film Center. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the film center's architect, Hong, were part of the strategic planning session on structure's renovation. The rehabilitation cost estimate in 2001 was approximately 300 million pesos,[24] while the cost of erecting a brand new building was estimated at 1.8 billion pesos.

After its renovation was completed, CPACEAI[25] leased the theater from the Philippine government in October 2001. On December 10, 2001, the Amazing Show, produced by Amazing Philippines Theatre,[26] opened to the public. All of the performers in the show were transgender.[27][28] Their lease expired in 2009, which forced the show to move to another facility.

In 2009, the Philippine Senate[13] considered moving from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) building to the Film Center located only a few meters away. The proposed tenancy would cost significantly less than the current lease at the GSIS compound, which the senate had been renting from the Philippine Government at an annual cost of 100 million pesos since 1997.[29] On February 19, 2013, a three-hour fire damaged the film center. No casualties were reported, but structural damage was estimated at 1.2 million pesos.[30] A year later, in February 2014, the decision of the Senate to transfer to the Film Center was put on hold by then Senate President Franklin Drilon.[31]

In popular culture

The Manila Film Center is said by believers to be haunted due to the 1981 accident that took place during the construction of the structure.[6] The hauntings in relation to the tragedy were discussed in a 2006 episode of GMA Network's i-Witness [32] and a 1991 Halloween Special of ABS-CBN's Magandang Gabi... Bayan.

Film and literature

In the 2010 Filipino film The Red Shoes, part of the plot hinges on the supposed death of the father of the main character, Lucas, played by Marvin Agustin, who was supposed to have been among the 169 workers buried alive in the accident at the construction of the Manila Film Center. The film also featured a spiritualist, Madame Vange, played by Tessie Tomas who performs in the Manila Film Center as an impersonator of First Lady Imelda Marcos.

In the graphic novel, The Filipino Heroes League, the building was transformed from the Film Center to the FHL's headquarters. The building was once respectable and housed the old members of the League. After a while, their leader, Supremo, went into a coma and soon after, most of the superheroes who were once part of the League went abroad. Less than a handful of superheroes remain and continue to conduct their superhero work in a shack in front of the now run down Film Center.

The construction of the cultural center and subsequent construction accident are addressed in the Marcos-focused musical Here Lies Love, where the show's version of Ninoy Aquino invokes it in the song "Fabulous One" while criticizing the regime. The collapse's reference in the musical is somewhat erroneous, as the scene in question takes place in 1969, years before the incident's actual occurrence in 1981 while Aquino was in exile in America.

Tragic Theater

Filipino author Gilbert M. Coronel released a novel entitled Tragic Theater in 2009. The book first tells of the 1981 incident. It heads to 1999 when the government's plan to build an IMAX theater in the structure is handed to Department of Tourism coordinator named Anne Marie "Annie" Francisco. The first priority is to rid the place of the trapped souls so she seeks the help of a priest Fr. Marcelo, known for his radical cleansing methods and a group of spirit communicators. Anne and Fr. Marcelo lead the group in their mission only to discover too late that an evil presence took sanctuary inside the building long ago and fed on the anger and misery of the victims' souls. A bishop later helps with the task when Anne is possessed by the evil entity.

A film adaption of Coronel's novel premiered on January 8, 2015. It stars Andi Eigenmann as DOT coordinator Anne, John Estrada as priest Fr. Marcelo, and Christopher de Leon as the bishop. The film however changes a few names; like the exorcism priest Fr. Marcelo is renamed Fr. Nilo. It is noted, however, that the actual Manila Film Center was not used for filming. The AFP Museum and Multi-Purpose Theater in Camp Aguinaldo doubled or filled in for the Manila Film Center's main theater and interiors.

Both the novel and movie are loosely based on and inspired by the 1981 incident and the late 1990s Spirit Questors' visit to the place.

Exemption from censorship

In October 1985, a law was passed in the form of presidential decree 1986 (P.D. 1986)[33] which created a board of review for motion pictures and television. This entity was later known as the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board[34] (MTRCB).

The law also allowed an exclusive exemption of films shown at the Manila Film Center from censorship. The building was finished in 1982.[35]

See also


  1. ^ "Manila National Film Centre, Page 2, Annex 1, Building Specification" (PDF). Unesco. Retrieved January 16, 2009.
  2. ^ MIFF Press Release. Office of Media Affairs. 1982. Retrieved January 16, 2009 – via Open Library, Published in 1982, Office of Media Affairs (Manila).
  3. ^ a b Benedicto, Bobby (2009). "Shared Spaces of Transnational Transit: Filipino Gay Tourists, Labour Migrants, and the Borders of Class Difference". Asian Studies Review. 33 (3): 289–301. doi:10.1080/10357820903153715. S2CID 143627535.
  4. ^ "Max Soliven: By the Way". Philippine Star. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  5. ^ "Sculpting Society". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on November 17, 2009. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  6. ^ a b de Guzman, Nicai (November 7, 2019). "The Mysterious Curse of the Manila Film Center". Esquire. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c "Manila National Film Centre, Page 1, Annex 1, History" (PDF). Unesco. Retrieved January 16, 2009.
  8. ^ "Manila Film Center Shines again". Philippine Headline News Online (Newsflash). Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  9. ^ a b Lico, Gerard (2003). Edifice complex: power, myth, and Marcos state architecture. HI: University of Hawaii Press; illustrated edition. pp. 124 of 178. ISBN 978-971-550-435-5. Retrieved December 14, 2009.
  10. ^ a b "Martial Law Museum". Martial Law Museum. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  11. ^ Santos, Roselle. "Book Review: Edifice Complex: Power, Myth, and the Marcos State Architecture by Gerard Lico : Philippine Art, Culture and Antiquities". Artes de las Filipinas. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  12. ^ Villa, Kathleen de (September 16, 2017). "Imelda Marcos and her 'edifice complex'". Inquirer. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  13. ^ a b "Senate eyes Film Center as new home". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  14. ^ Lico, Gerard (2003). Edifice complex: power, myth, and Marcos state architecture. HI: University of Hawaii Press; illustrated edition. pp. 123 of 178. ISBN 978-971-550-435-5. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  15. ^ "Where Spirits Roam". Rogue Magazine. October 2009.
  16. ^ Benedicto, Bobby (2009). "Shared Spaces of Transnational Transit: Filipino Gay Tourists, Labour Migrants, and the Borders of Class Difference". Asian Studies Review. 33 (3): 289–301. doi:10.1080/10357820903153715. S2CID 143627535.
  17. ^ "Max Soliven: By the Way". Philippine Star. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  18. ^ "Sculpting Society". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on November 17, 2009. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  19. ^ "Account on the 1981 Manila Film Center deaths". November 6, 2017. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  20. ^ Ellison, Katherine (2003). Imelda, Steel Butterfly of the Philippines. HI: Mcgraw-Hill. pp. 33 of 301. ISBN 978-0-07-019335-2. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  21. ^ a b Sudjic, Deyan. (2006). The edifice complex : how the rich and powerful - and their architects - shape the world. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-4406-4576-1. OCLC 458300786.
  22. ^ "Manila International Film Festival, January 18–29, 1982". HI: Office of Media Affairs (Manila). 1982. LCCN 82208378. OL 3102691M. Retrieved December 14, 2009. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. ^ "The July 16 Luzon Earthquake: A Technical Monograph". Inter-Agency Committee for Documenting and Establishing Database on the July 1990 Earthquake. Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. 2001. Archived from the original on September 7, 2008. Retrieved January 7, 2009.
  24. ^ a b "Manila Film Center Shines again". News Flash. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  25. ^ "Manila Film Center Shines again" (PDF). Amazing Philippines Facts. Retrieved January 18, 2010.[dead link]
  26. ^ "Amazing Philippines Theatre". Lonely Planet. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  27. ^ "Amazing Philippine Theater comes to Boracay". The Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on June 7, 2012. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  28. ^ "An Amazing night of beauties". The Manila Standard. Archived from the original on June 5, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2010.
  29. ^ "Senate transfer to Film Center bucked". Manila Bulletin. Retrieved January 19, 2010.
  30. ^ Jaymee T. Gamil (February 20, 2013). "Film Center fire halts gay show". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  31. ^ "Senate puts on hold plan to look for permanent home (Feature)". - Online Filipino News. February 23, 2014. Retrieved November 17, 2016.
  32. ^ "Multo ng Nakaraan (Ghosts of the Past)". GMA News. December 31, 2006. Retrieved September 6, 2021.
  33. ^ "List of PD 1950-2000". Chan Robles Law. Retrieved January 18, 2009.
  34. ^ "Presidential Decree No. 1986". Chan Robles Law. Retrieved January 18, 2009.
  35. ^ "Manila Film Center to Shine Again". Manila News. Retrieved January 18, 2010.