Thursday, February 11, 2010

Luis Nepomuceno's Tagalog Productions

Nepomuceno Productions' export list from the Manila International Film Festival, January 1982


Article by George Vail Kabristante from Jingle Extra Hot Movie Entertainment Magazine No. 13, May 4, 1981 (reproduced on the Pelikula Atbp blogsite)

The postscript on the Don Jose Nepomuceno Foundation letterhead reads as follows: Don Jose Nepomuceno started the motion picture industry in the Philippines in 1917, and has produced several hundred films throughout his lifetime. He discovered and trained about 90% of the Pre-war craftsmen in both the creative and technical fields of the industry, including stars, directors, and technicians. For his efforts and sacrifices, he has been called the “Father of Philippine Movies.”


Don Jose Zialcita Nepomuceno was born on May 15, 1893 in a Spanish-type mansion on Regidor St. (now Quezon Blvd.), fronting Quiapo Church. His father was Jose Nepomuceno y Romero of Binondo, Manila; his mother was the former Teofila Zialcita y Torres of Orani, Bataan. Jose had an only brother named Jesus who was married to Lucila Pecson.

For some time, the Nepomucenos lived in Quiapo, Manila (in front of the old church). There is, at present, a street named in his honor (J. Nepomuceno). This street, eight years ago, was Tanduay St.

Don Jose inherited his artistic proclivities and business interest from his father, while the virtue of hard work, patience and perseverance was inherited from his mother. The family business of the Nepomucenos was mostly jewelry and cattle-raising.

Don Jose studied at San Beda College. He was able to finish a course in Painting and Electrical Engineering. A photographer by self-study, Don Jose’s knowledge of photography was enhanced by his experience in working with a priest who was in-charge of taking pictures for a school annual. Don Jose used to collect stamps like a philatelist. He would paste the stamps in an album and sell it to his classmates. From selling beautifully-desinged stamp albums, Don Jose was able to earn extra money. As a student, Jose was good at improvisations and contraptions. He learned the art of set and designing of props as well, at an early age. His services were utilized at various school program, convocations and the like.

Before Don Jose embarked on movie production, he established himself in local picture-taking as very innovative and inventive. Consider the following:

He established the biggest and most exclusive photo studio called Electro-Photo Studio Parhelio located at Plaza Goiti.

He was the first local photographer to take pictures at night. This he did by designing his own transformers for his arc lamps by using big jars and putting water with salt and colored galvanized iron into them.

He was the official photographer for beauty contests, fairs, carnivals and even official functions of the government.

The concept of production design and art direction for the movies was first applied and put to use in the photography studio of Don Jose. Many of his customers used his sets as background for their picture-taking.

On May 15, 1917, Don Jose started his movie career. He bought his equipment from Yearsley and Gross and from other foreigners who came here to make movies. To add to his capital, he even sold his studio at Plaza Goiti. Don Jose first started as a documentarist. The first documentary film he did was the funeral of the first wife of Sergio Osmeña, Sr. in Cebu. Being an accredited correspondent of Pathe and Paramount News Hollywood, Don Jose was therefore able to have his documentary films or newsreels shown abroad.

Don Jose also took pictures of Pacho Villa’s wife. The newsreel which featured a background of Pacho Villa as World Flyweight Champion was in every country where Paramount pictures were being shown.

Paramount News also employed Don Jose to cover the terrible earthquake in Japan. On film, Don Jose dramatized effectively the effects of the earthquake. With the help of the Bureau of Commerce, Don Jose filmed several industries in the country like copra production, tobacco-raising, coconut-planting, buntal hat-making and the like.

Don Jose was also the first to produce cinema commercials when he incorporated his outfit with the Administracion Technica Industrial Cinematografica on Aug. 20, 1940.

Don Jose Nepomuceno is best known today for producing the first all-Filipino picture in 1919 called Dalagang Bukid from the original zarzuela written by Don Hermogenes Ilagan. Dalagang Bukid was subtitled in Spanish and English. The main lead were Atang de la Ramaa and Marceliano Ilagan. It was followed by: La Venganza de Don Silvestre (1920) with Atang de la Rama and Marceliano Ilagan again in the lead; Capullo Marchito (1920) with Luisa Acuña in the lead; Hoy O Nunca Besame (1923) with Juanita Angeles and Andres Fernandez in the lead. The other significant films were Punit na Bandila (by Fausto Galauran); Hampaslupa; Kambal; Ang Punyal na Ginto (the first Tagalog talkie from Antonio Sempio’s novel) with Alma Bella and Carlos Padilla in the lead; Dr. Kuba and Makata at Paraluman.

With Parlatone-Hispanico Filipino, Inc., Don Jose produced the following: Sa Paanan ng Krus, starring Rosario Moreno and Carlos Padilla; Awit ng mga Ulila, starring Elsa Oria and Rogelio de la Rosa; Pusong Dakila, starring Rosario Moreno, Jose Padilla, and Angel Esmeralda; and Milagro ng Nazareno, starring Yolanda Marquez and Angel Esmeralda.

As filmmaker, several companies were credited to his name: Malayan Movie (1917); Mayen Picture Corporation (1931); Nepomuceno Productions (1932); Nepomuceno-Harris-Tait Partnership (1933); Parlatone-Hispanico Filipino, Inc. (1935); X-Otic Films (1938); and Polychrome Motion Picture Corporation (1946).

In 1958, Don Jose went to Hollywood to study color film. He did not, however, live long enough to transport his knowledge to the Filipinos. He had a heart attack and was brought back to the Philippines on a hospital boat. On December 1, 1958, Don Jose passed.

In the United States, Don Jose was officially registered as the First Filipino Cinematographer and the pioneer of Philippine movies. True, he did not receive numerous trophies and awards as proof of his excellence, but people will long remember him for his contribution to the Philippine cinema. In 1972, a posthumous aard was given to Don Jose for his contributions to the cinema. The award was Patnubay ng Kalinangan.


To meet Doña Isabel Zaldarriaga y Acuña for an interview is indeed a rare opportunity. For the past years, Doña Isabel Nepomuceno kept herself in low profile for some sentimental reasons. “So far you are the first to interview me about Mr. Nepomuceno” (she calls her late husband Mr.), she told us. We asked Doña Isabel who is adept at speaking Spanish, English and Tagalog to recall how she met the late Don Jose.

“I met Mr. Nepomuceno through my brother who was his (Jose’s) classmate at San Beda. I was playing piko the first time Mr. Nepomuceno saw me. For three months he courted me. We got married on June 6, 1920. I was 16 then and he was 28, twelve years my senior. I was then in my Grado Superior (high school level) when I became Mrs. Nepomuceno. He was my first and last love. That’s why I never got to settle again with another man,” Doña Isabel recalled emphatically. “What were some of his character traitsthat you would love to remember most?” “So many. He used to tell me, wives don’t have to stay in the house. You would call him today a pro-women libber. He had always wanted me to work side by side with him in our film projects. So he taught me the rudiments of casting, scriptwriting, production design and even art direction. That’s why in the States I was considered the first casting director in the Philippines. The film projects we undertook were really husband-wife venture, or call it team.

“As casting director, I took charge of getting actors and actresses for the right role. Even convincing the actors and actresses to appear in the movies. At that time, it was not always easy to convince actors and actresses to appear in the movies. Parents were rather strict and part of the prevailing notion wa that acting for the movies was looked upon with suspicious eyes and some of you may want to call it, low class. I also checked the make-up and costumes of our performers. And even story continuity. That is, apart from my being his source of inspiration,” Doña Isabel chuckled.

“How would you describe Don Jose as a director?” “Well, he was always very professional. Being a gentleman of the old school, he never allows monkey business on the set. Once, I remember. On the set, an actress came running to Mr. Nepomuceno who cryingly told on Remegio Young, then our ace cinematographer. Hinalikan daw siya ni Remegio. You know what Mr. Nepomuceno did? Sinuntok niya si Remegio. Mr. Nepomuceno never allowed things like that to happen on the set. He was always a stickler for morality and convention. This was perhaps because he himself never had a querida in his life. Falling in love with his actresses? No. That never happened to my husband. With me pa, yes,” Doña Isabel recalled laughingly. “Once, Mr. Nepomuceno got mad at me on the set. Right in front of so many people and some members of the production staff. What I did was to keep quiet. (He used to tell me then to organize my thoughts before arguing with him). Irked by my silence, he asked, “O bakit hindi ka nagsasalita?” Nag-iisip pa kung ano ang sasabihin ko, I answered. Tumawa na lang siya to what I have said. He was that forceful in his principle but never domineering. That’s why until now I still keep some of his principles. In one of the diaries I found which is now with our daughter Isabel, he wrote: nagpapasalamat ako sa Dios at ako’y nakapag-asawa ng isang maganda, matalino, maalalahanin at matulungin na asawa.”

Don Jose Nepomuceno is survived by a total of eight siblings. They are from the eldest to the youngest): 1. Jose, Jr.; 2. Isabel (married to a Doctor in Jurisprudence); 3. Antonio (a businessman); 4. Lubin (has four Montessori schools); 5. Victor (a businessman); 6. Angel (former child actor and father of Paeng Nepomuceno who was twice World Cup Champion); 7. Luis (producer-filmmaker); and 8. Carlos (ship broker).

Nepomuceno Productions, Inc. (NPI) thus blazed the trail for the movie industry in the Philippines. Starting from scratch but buoyed up by vision, the late Don Jose Nepomuceno establishedthe first Filipino movie outfit in 1917. The outfit operated until the early 50’s, producing over 200 silent and sound feature films.

Thus, for breaking grounds in the Philippine movie industry and inspiring other early movie producers, Don Jose Nepomuceno is called the “Father of Philippine Movies” by veteral filmmakers themselves.


Nepomuceno Productions, Inc. was inactive for a number of years. It was however, revived as it approached its 50th year. And thereafter, it released its first feature Because of a Flower (Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak). The Nepomuceno tradition of excellence was felt in the industry itself owing to the persistence of Don Jose’s son, the young Luis Nepomuceno.

When Luis picked up the footprints of his revered old man with a dramatic full-length feature (Dahil….), the critics were skeptical because drama that time was considered dead in the Philippine cinema. What with the snowballing of cheap thrills and quickies, those which chilled the blood for aimless sensationalism. But Luis proved the critics wrong. Dahil….turned out to be a financial success, reaping local as well as foreign awards.

The NPI’s succeeding productions established beyond doubt its capacity to produce films of prestige and quality. It inevitably embarked on overseas marketing for its products. It has covered the Far East, Indonesia, Latin America and other overseas exhibition.

During Luis’ time, he was able to produce and direct about ten films which were mostly for international release. The more popular ones were Because of a Flower (Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak), Ang Langit sa Lupa (Heaven on Earth), the Legend of the Tree of Life (Igorota), The Pacific Connection, The Hunted, A Time for Dying, and The Beggar (Ang Pulubi).

Uncompromising dedication to excellence has given Luis Nepomuceno a convenient lead in the Philippine movie industry. It has paid off not only in the box office but also in terms of trophies, statuettes, citations and other awards both in international and local competitions.

One of its quality films, The Beggar, for example, has reaped six awards. The Beggar was outstandingly honored for Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Child Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Color Cinematography and Best Editing.

Most notable of the international and Philippine awards are Best Actress of Asia, Best Child Actress of Asia, Rajah Soliman and FAMAS. The NPI’s other major film, Igorota, won eight FAMAS awards, among them Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.

Like The Beggar, Igorota has drawn praises in the international scene. Igorota drew a sellout crowd at the Madison Square Garden in New York. The raves from the premiere audience were mixed with admiration from public officials, United Nations’ dignitaries and Broadway producers, stars and film critics.

As expected, Igorota when shown at a Royal Command Performance at Petchrama Theater in Bangkok, won laurels from Queen Sirikit. Thailand’s royal couple, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, headed the black-tie affair. Thailand’s ranking government officials, members of the diplomatic corps and the Filipino community were among the prominent members of the audience that memorable night.

Consequently, A Time for Dying and The Beggar won Best Child Actor awards during the 16th Asian Film Festival in Jakarta, Indonesia. Meanwhile, The Hunted garnered three awards during the 5th Manila Film Festival, namely: Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Sound.


Firmly set in maintaining its leadershipand meeting squarely greater challenges, the NPI has assembled the most expensive and modern equipment that make the finest techniques and process of film production possible.

The most sophisticated Mitchell system 35s glisten in the vaults of the then Philippines’ largest studio. Its sound equipment had an automated 12-track Magnatech mixing console capable of handling 144 microphones. Another equipment, noted for its uniqueness, is the “noise” suppressor – a gadget so rare it is indispensable. The NPI’s editing department at that time owned the only five-head editor (two for pictures, three for sound) in the Philippines. There were also the rows of “sun guns”, the latest in quarts-lighting equipment, mole-Richardson spots and Brute arc lamps.


At 7234 Malugay St., we were able to locate Luis Nepomuceno like we would a priceless treasure in hiding. Mr. Luis Nepomuceno had reasons to be in low profile because his film outfit is inactive. He has taken to a more lucrative venture which is the import-export trading business. Besides, as he puts it, I always make it a point to be in low profile because I would rather that my father be the attraction. The legacy was his (Don Jose) after all. Despite Luis’ reluctance, he allowed us to dig into his old files which really could speak for Luis himself – the filmmaker. Luis, though, talked about his family tree behind his huge executive desk in the manner of a self-contained artist who was opted for the quiet and sedentary routine of an office.

Mr. Luis Nepomuceno was born in 1930. He has seven children with the former Amparo Bomediano, they are: (from eldest to the youngest) Jose Luis, Miguel, Maria Amparo, Joaquin, Jaime, Maria Luisa and Jacobo. Most of his children are in the States including Miguelito, the former Best Child Actor who is at Wharton, taking up management.

Mr. Nepomuceno has no plans yet of reviving the NPI. He might, if he has the time, write a book on the movie industry. He wishes the government would remove the tax levied on films Hindi na nga tumutulong (the government) may tax pa. It’s a good thing the First Lady is doing something for our film industry, he pointed out.

We ended the interview with Mr. Nepomuceno with the assurance that we’ll call him back or better yet visit him again in case of a need for additional data. We left Mr. Nepomuceno’s office very much satisfied.

(Note: Our thanks to the following: Melissa Nepomuceno, granddaughter of Don Jose for lending us the thesis she did at UP (Oct. 23, 1979, 150 pp.) entitled “The Dying Quality of the Movie Industry: They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To; Doña Isabel Zaldarriaga Vda. de Nepomuceno and Mr. Luis Nepomuceno for sparing us their time; and to the pretty secretaries of Mr. Luis Nepomuceno, Mrs. Mila Santos and Mrs. Cora Sarda).

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