The commercial nature of mallbound theaters can, to some extent, be inimical to the growth of Filipino films. In malls—of which Metro Manila has no shortage—smaller indie movies must compete with international blockbusters, if they even manage to get in at all. And when the indies lose that battle, audiences lose the chance to see them.
That’s why it’s difficult to understate the role of microcinemas in the current resurgence of Filipino film. Thanks to these smaller spaces that don’t bear as much of the pressure to screen crowd-pleasing blockbusters, audiences will actually get to see the sort of lesser-known movies that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Places like Cinema ’76, Cinematheque Center, and the CCP Arthouse Theater have been invaluable in that regard.
The latest of this crop to open up to the public is Black Maria Cinema, on San Rafael Street, Mandaluyong, just off of the rotonda. This microcinema just opened its doors last month, and has already ran screenings of Treb Monteras’ Respeto, Patay Na Si Hesus, and I Love You. Thank You.; as well as the all-art biopic, Loving Vincent.
If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Black Maria is a local production house that’s worked on commercials, movie trailers, and music videos for 45 years now (including Cinema One Originals Festival's 2015 Best Picture, Manang Biring). The facility was once called SQ Film Laboratories, but was recently rebranded and renamed Black Maria Pictures, after the world’s first film production studio in New Jersey: Thomas Edison’s Black Maria.
Then in 2014, as film celluloid became obsolete in the Philippines, Black Maria Pictures started clearing equipment out of its headquarters in Mandaluyong. This opened up a lot of empty space, so they eventually decided to use that space to put up a cafe called Santiago’s, while also opening the company’s existing post-production cinemas to the public. “We took inspiration from the cinematheque and specialty coffee movement,” recalls Black Maria president Angelo Santos.
Black Maria Cinema is fully airconditioned, and boasts 2K digital cinema projection, 7.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, and a 20-foot silver-white screen—specs that in this smaller space, yield a much better experience than that of sitting at the corner of a huge mega-theater with a bad view of the screen. There are 22 cinema-style seats, and with the addition of regular chairs, they can accommodate more than 80 people comfortably.
In the coming weeks, Black Maria will be screening Bad Genius and Birdshot, so if you failed to catch any of those films (which, we must say, are great films), Black Maria’s got you. After that, they’ll be holding an extended run of the Cinema One Originals Festival from November 22 to 28, so if you miss out next week, you know where to go.
But the small cinema has much bigger plans yet ahead. “We plan on screening both local and international films,” says Santos. “Expect world cinema, retrospectives, indies; seminars and workshops on cinema, art and tech; and themed screening events.” Audiences of all kinds have a lot to be excited about.
“I believe the need for smaller independent cinema operators is important because we bring diversity of content and experience to the public,” says Santos, on how microcinemas are different from the bigger mall theaters. “We have full control and wider options on programing, and how we want to run our place.”
For Black Maria, that means being a place for audiences to watch the kind of movies that we can’t get from the bigger theaters—movies that nevertheless deserve to be seen. It also means having the freedom to create the best experience for audiences, who can enjoy a movie in a small, cozy space, then talk about it over coffee after. But the best part? “In our case, we allow alcohol in the cinema.”
Black Maria Cinema is located on San Rafael Street, Mandaluyong City. For more information and screening schedules, visit the Black Maria Cinema Facebook page.