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'Soltero' Might Be the Last Film Restored By Sagip Pelikula

Filipinos have lost their most prolific film restorer.
IMAGE ABS-CBN FILM RESTORATION
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Sagip Pelikula was never the big earner for ABS-CBN. Initially, it was a project created to digitally remaster films but was later on expanded to find and restore iconic Filipino films that would have been lost to time and physical decay. But now that the rescuer, a project under ABS-CBN Film Restoration, is shut down, the Philippines has lost its most prolific film restorer. 

Among the films Sagip Pelikula remastered are LVN's classic Badjao (1957), Malvarosa (1958), Ibong Adarna (1941), Biyaya ng Lupa (1959), Nunal sa Tubig (1976), Himala (1982), Oro, Plata, Mata (1982), Karnal (1983), Cain at Abel (1982), Sana Maulit Muli (1995), Cedie (1996), and Markova (2001). 

The Philippines has already lost thousands of original films from as recent as the ‘80s when filmmakers still used tri-acetate film, which tends to decompose faster especially in the tropical climate of the Philippines. 

One particular film from the 80s was lucky enough to be selected for restoration. Soltero, which stars Jay Ilagan, was special enough for ABS-CBN Film Restoration to find and remaster. It tells the story of Crispin, a 30-year-old soltero (unmarried man) who has gone through several heartbreaks in various relationships with women. Soltero will be premiering on KTX.ph on January 28, 7:30 p.m. 

At the time it was released, Soltero was considered a highly unusual movie: It highlights a man’s emotions, weaknesses, and internal conflicts—contrary to the overwhelming portrayal of men in 1984 as macho na habulin ng babae

None of the film negatives survived.

Leo Katigbak, head of ABS-CBN Film Restoration that directs Sagip Pelikula, released a statement to Esquire Philippines on January 27, 2021 about the project. 

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Soltero was selected for restoration not only because of its unique story, but also because it passed one of many criteria: It has to be a distinguished work by a director as well as a writer. It was helmed by Pio de Castro III based on the script of Bienvenido M. Noriega, Jr.

Our campaign is director-focused. We try to restore representative works of different directors that also showcase a broad range of themes and styles,” Katigbak said.

We wanted to restore a movie by Pio de Castro and also complete the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP) films restoration, Soltero being the last completed film under ECP, said Katigbak. None of the ECP negatives survived.  We had to work with severely damaged screening prints.

Katigbak explained how they select candidates for film restoration in a 2019 Esquire Philippines interview.

We don’t always get all the films that we want to prioritize. Selecting films for restoration depends on many factors, such as the availability of materials, or the completeness of materials, or even legal issues. Based on this list of titles, we will look at what we can prioritize,” said Katigbak. 

“We have a rich cinematic legacy that is at par with the other world greats and we owe it to those creators to preserve and honor their work, so that future generations can learn and be proud of them,” he said.

Sagip Pelikula Among the Casualties of ABS-CBN Shutdown

Unfortunately, ABS-CBN Film Restoration was the first casualty when the network was shut down. The rescuers of the Philippines’ cinematic legacies could not be rescued. Soltero could be among the last restoration project of ABS-CBN. 

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“Yes, ABS-CBN Film Restoration was one of the casualties as restoration had to stop," said Katigbak. "But we continue with the Sagip Pelikula advocacy using the films completed so we can keep the classics in the collective consciousness. 

Before and After Restoration

How Soltero Was Restored

The restoration of Soltero is a complicated process that took many months to finish. ABS-CBN’s Sagip Pelikula partnered with Italy’s L’immagine Ritrovata, a globally reputed film restoration laboratory. Kantana in Thailand and Wildsound were also instrumental in the restoration of Soltero

Ritrovata did the print cleaning and scanning which in itself, took over a year. Wildsound did the color grading. Kantana did the frame-by-frame restoration. The cleaning and scanning process was just as complex,” said Katigbak. 

But in theory, if a film has a reel with 200,000 frames, the laboratory would first digitize that reel frame by frame (in Soltero's case, severely damaged screening prints). Once digitized, each frame would be digitally cleaned to remove film grain or “rain.” Blurry images would be sharpened. The film would have to be regraded for color, balance, consistency, and other corrections

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In other words, a film restorer would need to perform frame-by-frame digital clean-up and restoration on 200,000 digitized images and stitch them together to produce a remastered film like Soltero. The painstaking processcan can take months or even years to finish.

Take a look at the official trailer of Soltero, the last film restoration project of Sagip Pelikula. 

Official Trailer: 'Soltero' Remastered Version

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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