Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Cinema Centenario sits atop a meat shop on the second floor of an unassuming building along Maginhawa Street. Inside is a cozy space with a box office, a snack bar, a corner for film-related merchandise (books, T-shirts, tote bags), and a 65-seating capacity theater.
The box office bears the program of the week, consisting purely of local films, from recent independent releases like “Ang Larawan” and “Patay na si Hesus” to classics like “Oro Plata Mata” and “Magic Temple.” As we wrap up the interview, Hector Calma, the president and founder of the newly opened cinema, reminds us, “May mga misconceptions na akala ng mga tao under kami ng government, pero hindi. Kung paano nag-o-operate ang mga sinehan, ganoon din kami nag-o-operate. We have the option na magpalabas ng mga blockbuster films but we chose not to, kasi nga ang gusto naming i-cater ay ‘yung mga alternative na pelikula.”
Cinema Centenario, named in celebration of 100 years of Philippine cinema, was conceived by Calma during a trip to Taipei, when a film of his was competing in the Taiwan International Documentary Festival, and brought him to the space that would serve as an inspiration. The films were screened at SPOT-Huashan cinema, housed in Huashan 1914 Creative Park, an old winery that was converted into an alternative space for cultural and artistic events.
“Hindi siya mukhang traditional cinema kasi ‘yung venue ay hindi sa mall," says Calma. "Para siyang art space talaga. Parang retro classic na lugar. Sabi ko, ‘Bakit wala tayong ganito sa Pilipinas?’ So I decided na pag balik ko sabi ko gusto kong gumawa ng ganito.”
Though he saw himself as more of a filmmaker, Calma says that he decided to pursue the business when he realized that it wasn’t enough to have his own film, especially if there were no venues to screen them. “Eventually na-develop ‘yung consciousness [ko] na hindi enough na may pelikula ka, kailangan mo ng venue na paglalabasan ng mga pelikula mo. Na puwede [ito] mapanood ng mga tao. Kaya sabi ko gawa tayo ng ganito. Gawa tayo ng alternative space for films. ‘Yung mga pelikulang hindi mapapanood sa malalaking sinehan, puwede natin dalhin dito,” says Calma.
He points to films produced for local festivals like Cinemalaya, CinemaOne Originals, QCinema, and CineFilipino as examples of films that have audiences but lack venues and channels to reach them. “Sometimes may mga pelikula na mapapalabas sa malalaking sinehan, sa mall cinemas, pero hindi sila nagtatagal. Parang, two, three days lang pull out na. So sayang naman. So sabi namin, ‘Why not house those kinds of films na meron namang following, na merong audience?’ Especially ‘yung mga gustong manood during the festival run pero hindi sila mag-fit doon sa schedule na ‘yun.”
Calma called on his friends, fellow filmmakers and film enthusiasts, to become his co-owners. As with most businesses, the biggest challenge was funding. “Most of us dun sa owners, hindi naman kami mayayaman talaga. As in, parang magkakaibigan lang [kami] na nag-decide na 'Let's put this up because we love cinema and we want to support Philippine cinema.' ‘Yun ‘yung collective na advocacy nung grupo. Parang regardless kung saan natin kunin ‘yung pera, maghagilap man tayo kung saan-saan, basta matayo lang natin siya.”
When the cinema opened its doors on the first of December last year, the group invited filmmakers, producers, and bloggers to get a feel of the place. The following day, they initiated a week-long dry run with one screening per day. Today, the cinema holds six screenings a day, every day of the week, with a diverse lineup: from classics and contemporary films by established filmmakers, to short films and documentaries by aspiring artists.
Determining the program each month is democratic, and always goes back to the group’s advocacy. “Kami, magkakaiba kami ng sensibilidad doon sa board, so iba-iba pa din ‘yung lumalabas,” says Calma. “But we don't consider films na ang unang tanong 'kikita ba yan?' Hindi ganoon. Dapat ma-uphold niya ‘yung brand and core values ng Centenario, na dapat we support Philippine cinema [by] showcasing quality-made [local] films. ‘Yun pa rin ‘yung standing nung pagpili ng pelikula. Na-sho-showcase ba niya ‘yung galing ng mga filmmakers natin?”
“Kasi kung hindi, pwede ‘yang mapanood sa ibang sinehan. Kaya din hindi lang micro-cinema 'yung tawag sa amin. Alternative space pa siya. Kasi option ‘yung binibigay namin sa audience. Hindi kami makikipag-compete with malalaking sinehan. Nandiyan na ‘yan. Kami, mag-po-provide kami ng bago.” Calma adds.
Apart from giving local filmmakers a platform to showcase their work, one of Cinema Centenario’s goals is to bring back the culture of watching films at the cinema. “Iba ‘yung collective experience ng pag-nood ng pelikula na may kasama kang strangers. Parang, hindi kayo magkakakilala pero pare-parehas kayo ng reaction towards the film regardless kung naiiyak kayo o natatawa kayo,” says Calma.
To deliver the best cinematic experience to its audiences, the group considered every technical aspect that goes into screening a film. “Hindi lang namin vina-value ‘yung paggawa ng pelikula at pag-sho-showcase. We also value ‘yung mga audience na nanonood. Dapat ‘yung ma-experience nila dito whole cinema experience siya,” says Calma.
The theater is equipped with a 5.1 surround sound system and a screen whose size was computed specifically to match the theater’s dimensions. “Hindi siya pwedeng sobrang laki, hindi siya pwedeng sobrang liit. Kasi kung sobrang laki niya, lula na siya [from the front row]. So we made sure na kahit saan ka umupo sa sinehan, komportable kang makakanood.”
Another aspect they thoroughly considered was the location; Maginhawa was a deliberate choice. “Kaya namin nilagay dito sa Maginhawa para magkaroon ng mga converts. ‘Yung mga hindi nanood ng mga alternative films, mga independent films. ‘Yung mga napadaan lang, ‘yung mga laging tambay lang ng Magihawa, ma-curious lang sila, tapos eventually magiging daily audience na namin sila,” says Calma.
He also hopes that the cinema can serve the older community of Diliman. “Aside dun sa audience ng Maginhawa na kumakain lang, parang madami dito ‘yung mga matatanda na wala nang time pumunta ng mall tapos gusto walking distance lang ‘yung mga pupuntahan nila. Sila din ‘yung gusto namin ma-capture na audience.”
One of Calma’s favorite anecdotes is that of an old couple who decided to watch a film (it was “Apocalypse Child”) at the theater one day, despite knowing nothing about the film itself. Once the film was over and Calma approached them for feedback, he says the couple was very thankful. “Sabi nila ‘Thank you for giving us this place. For providing this space kasi without this space hindi namin malalaman na may mga ganito pala tayong pelikula. Ang ganda nung pelikula.’”
Cinema Centenario is located at 95 Maginhawa St., Quezon City. Check their Facebook page for listings and screening schedules.