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NCCA’s Teddy Co: An exciting time for films

MANILA, Philippines — What makes a film classic?

“A certain level of energy,” says Teddy Co, a longtime specialist in films and now head of the national committee on cinema of the National Commission for Culture & the Arts (NCCA). “In any work of art, you can feel it when you’re watching, when the elements come together.”

Thus, there is a confluence of certain events. It helps if the film is in tune with the zeitgeist (spirit of the times), with the critics and the public. But there are times, the NCCA official points out, “when the public is slow to get it, when a film is ahead of its time so it takes time before it sinks in.”

Teddy cites as an example Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane, which was all but ignored in 1941, winning only Best Screenplay. But through the years, it was shown repeatedly in art cinemas and schools, appreciated by younger and more discerning viewers, and eventually became a classic, often No. 1 in polls.

A case may also be made for Lino Brocka’s Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag, Ishmael Bernal’s Maynila by Night and Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan, which was acclaimed in the Venice Film Festival during the early ’50s. “But it was ignored in Manila at first,” says the film researcher. “Then it was restored, resurrected and written about.”

Co has his own list of favorite directors who — and movies which — deserve to be acclaimed, like Jun Raquiza, Cesar Gallardo and Ramon Estella “who were very good but overshadowed by Brocka and Bernal.”

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He is keen on regional movies and cites a 2010 Cebuano film titled Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria by Remton Zuasola. It is about a Cebuana lass who spends her last few days in the island before departing for Germany as a mail-order bride.

Like most cineastes, Co pays tribute to National Artist Gerry de Leon: “I helped him in restoring his films and was amazed by his command of the mise-en-scene (production) of the films, his magisterial style, his body of works.”

And then there’s Kidlat Tahimik: “He paved the way for indie filmmaking, showed you need not do a big thing to make a film. The Perfumed Nightmare is as fresh today as when I saw it in 1978.”

As part of his work in NCCA Cinema, “we are in the process of retrieving early films directed by Carlos Vander Taloza and early 1950s works by Gerry de Leon.”

Co, who also represents the Seven Arts Commission in the NCCA Board, is upbeat about the recent triumphs of Filipino directors and actors in A-listed film festivals abroad: “I am happy with the success of the filmmakers today. They are very lucky to be working in this era, it is easy for them to make films and send them through the Internet. These are exciting times for films.”

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