A Brief History of ‘Sine’: Iloilo Cinema & Movie Houses from the Late 19th Century and Beyond

By glory moralidad

Films don’t always create another world; they also show reality in all its manifestations. Yes, they entertain us with tantalizing fictional stories, but they, too, convey messages from the past, influence opinions, impart information, and reflect culture.

What’s captivating about this craft is the integration of each of filmmaking’s aspects—screenwriting, directing, editing and such—to stir the public’s emotions. It can be all quite challenging, of course, but it’s nevertheless POSSIBLE. That kind of challenge is what pushes us as humans to create. And when it pushes us within that direction, that’s where the fun begins. To point it out specifically: creativity is fun. No wonder there are people who are willing to venture into this craft.

Iloilo has a “rich and colorful history of motion pictures and movie-going experience in this city,” according to the writings of filmmaker Nick Deocampo and later collated in a research done by Doreen Fernandez. Films have already been showing outside of Manila as early as 1897 through the feats of Señor Pertierra, a Spanish expatriate and a certain Englishman going only with the surname of ‘Bischoff’. Mr. Bischoff was the first to show films in Iloilo in 1903. These were short features produced by the film company Cinematographo Pastor and were screened nightly from 6:30 to 9:30 in Bischoff’s bodega or camarin in Calle Real.

Later on, other film companies have also begun to rise such as Cinematografo Insular (which arrived from Manila to Iloilo in 1905), Cinematografo Teatro Colon and Cinematografo Parsien.

To coincide with the rising of such film companies, there came the establishment of movie houses in Iloilo. Among them were Cine Oriente, Cine Palace and Cine Lyrik (which later became ‘Cine Lyric’). In 1919, one highlighted event that stood out from that decade was the showing of the first full-length Tagalog feature film in Iloilo: Jose Nepomuceno’s Dalagang Bukid (literal translation from Tagalog: ‘mountain girl’). Thousands of Ilonggo film buffs went to see the movie and were highly moved by it.

A decade later, the number of movie theaters had doubled to ten, which then included: Cine Lyric, Rex Theater, Cine Republic, Cine Commonwealth, Cine Eagle (now known as The Eagle Building) and Cine Palace, which holds the distinction of being the oldest existing movie theater in the Philippines. Cine Palace or ‘Palace Theater’ is presently known as The Regent Arcade and was built in 1928. It has retained its original neo-classical facade, though the interiors were renovated in the late 1970’s or early 80’s.

While today’s movie theaters are confined in sprawling multiplexes, a standalone cinema has silently risen up to continue the tradition of bestowed upon it by its “ancestors”: in 2012, the Iloilo Cinematheque was established as an alternative and accessible destination for Ilonggos to catch classic and contemporary films shown nationally and from abroad. Each curated film range from the mainstream productions to the more independent fare. It is also a venue for workshops and symposiums on the aspects of filmmaking, as well as hosting the occasional art exhibit in the city.

The Cinematheque is the project of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, and the organization aims to make Philippine Cinema the pre-eminent instrument for the enrichment of Filipino culture and articulation of the Filipino identity. Moreover, they are also aiming to make Philippine Cinema a constant stimulus to self-awareness and social responsibility among all sectors of society. Ultimately, they hope to reinforce and expand the sustainability of Philippine Cinema as a thriving art industry.

(Artwork by the author)

Glory Moralidad founded Bata Ako Ph, which aims to bring back the lost art of storytelling to children. She has also been nominated and awarded for her work on various children's books.