Quezon City

MOWELFUND complex: reflecting the state of Philippine Cinema

So much has been said and written about the current state of Philippine cinema, many of these even conflict with one another. While this blog will leave it to the cinephiles to discuss this matter further, a visit to one of the institutions related to this industry can help one gain a better understanding about the state of things in Philippine cinema.

Right in one of the more “quieter” parts of Quezon City stands the MOWELFUND complex, the home of MOWELFUND or the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation, an organization founded in 1974 that aims to aid those who work in the motion picture industry. It also aims to help the industry as a whole by providing workshops and helping in the documentation of the history of Philippine cinema.

Part of achieving that aim of getting to document Philippine cinema history, MOWELFUND serves as the home of the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula, (National Film Museum) the first and only one of its kind in the country. Opened in 2005, the museum itself showcases the journey of how far Philippine cinema has come, from its beginnings during the twilight of Spanish rule in the country to the modern times…all throughout the 3 floors the museum space occupies in the building.

the MOWELFUND offices, where the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula is located

One thing that is sad and disappointing about Philippine cinema is how only a few remnants of its history survive today, not to mention how many of the people who helped shaped Philippine cinema before are now all but forgotten by today’s generation. In a way, that sad state is reflected as one walks through the exhibits of the museum. We only get to just read information like the first Filipino-produced film “Dalagang Bukid” but we don’t get to fully appreciate it as this film, among many others are now lost.

stills from one of the earliest newsreels showing the events of the PHilippine-American War

the stairs of stars, bearing names of the famous personalities of Philippine Cinema in the pre-war era. Unfortunately no literature or any material is available that would educate visitors as to who they are and their contributions to Philippine cinema

On a personal note, I guess I was a bit disappointed too that the museum does not show as much memorabilia as I expected, especially those representing the Golden Ages of Philippine Cinema. (1950s and the 1970s) While I understand that it’s hard to secure memorabilia, much more so getting selected film clips when much of our earlier cinema output is now lost, I was hoping still to see some interactive content like multimedia that will complement the exhibits, if only to make the visitors understand better what our film industry has gone through over the years.

Then there’s this separate hall in the complex dedicated to the country’s National Artists for Film, though it is predominantly a showcase of Fernando Poe Jr. and his works. Nothing wrong with it but I feel bad that the other National Artists honored in this hall like Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and Eddie Romero are relegated to being “side attractions” of the hall, lacking much memorabilia or exhibits related to them considering the great influence of their works in Philippine cinema.

panoramic photo collage of the films and roles played by Fernando Poe Jr.
Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka memorabilia on display…or the lack of them, save tor this National Artist medal which they have received

Another thing to note here is that despite it being a museum, the place is not that accessible to the public as a museum is expected to be. In fact, you have to make an arrangement for a visit in which you would have be part of a group of at least 15 persons. Also, facilities in the place leave much to be desired as something like drinking water is something that is not available even in the complex canteen that is closed on weekends.

Paradise of Stars, an outdoor garden featuring celebrities in live-sized cardboar

But from what I gather, I understand MOWELFUND’s predicament as they are operating on a tight budget and they cannot afford to have the museum operate the whole day. In fact, during my visit, maintenance personnel had to mind if I ‘m done visiting a part of the exhibit area so they can turn off the electricity there. Yet, despite these challenges, I must applaud the current efforts in maintaining

Still, if MOWELFUND wants to help Philippine cinema, it has to go beyond limiting museum access or put up a garden of cardboard images of celebrities.The stakeholders must get their acts together and rise above mediocrity. In this case, I hope they continuously strive in making the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula a place worthy to showcase the glory of Philippine cinema’s past and hope of what it can achieve in future. I hope that one day, we can go or invite people to visit this place as a landmark we can be proud of, a landmark as great as our cinematic heritage.

For more information on the Pambansang Museo ng Pelikula and MOWELFUND, you can visit their website at www.mowelfund.com

© The Urban Roamer

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