It was more than just a dream fulfilled. It was a dream that was worked hard for, fought for with relentless spirit, and inspired the young generation to relive and cherish the golden treasures of Philippine cinema.
The ABS-CBN Film Archives was established in 1994 and has been the home of over 2,000 Filipino films. Aside from the films being made by its sister company Star Cinema (now called ABS-CBN Films), it also includes those of its acclaimed predecessors like Regal Films and Viva Films. But most importantly, it has been the second home of older films, dating back to Philippine cinema's so-called first and second golden ages. In the 500-sqm facility, you will find 16mm and 35mm negatives and master prints of the classic films from LVN Pictures, and other esteemed production houses from the past.
Despite its state-of-the-art archival technology, these films remain to be at the threat of complete deterioration over time. The library continued to grow over the years, most especially when ABS-CBN launched its Filipino movie channel on cable television and acquired rights over other important classic movies. It was for this reason that Leo Katigbak, head of the ABS-CBN Film Archives, pursued the project of restoring and remastering these films digitally. There was only one problem: budget.
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"We could never really proceed because the costs were prohibitive," said Katigbak to Tatler. At the time, Katigbak and his team were eyeing the 1982 film of Peque Gallaga, Oro Plata Mata, to be restored but the initial cost estimate to just fix the prints (without addressing defects) was already around PHP25 million (a figure during pre-Asian Financial Crisis period where one US dollar is equivalent to 24 pesos). The idea was shelved over a decade, but the film archives pursued its operations and took greater care of the films sitting in its library.
"It wasn't until in 2009 when the viability of digital restorations surfaced and we continued to explore that until 2010," Katigbak said. "Raul Bulaong, who was [our] head of engineering, pitched it to me and we looked at the test studies done by Central Digital Lab," he shared. Central Digital Lab was a budding post-production company back then, committed to providing 16mm and 35mm film scanning services. Besides making films and TV commercials, the company also provides optical sound negative scanning, editing, colour grading, visual effects, and more. Katigbak was sold with the company's outputs and met with them several times, appreciating digital's potential more and more that is gradually developing its technology over the years.
Backed by Charo Santos-Concio (then president of ABS-CBN), with whom he shares much appreciation for films, and by Gabby Lopez (then chairman of ABS-CBN), who wanted the network to fully embrace emerging technologies during his tenure, Katigbak pushed the project and the ABS-CBN Film Restoration was born in 2011.