Saturday, November 20, 2010

Zamboanga (1937)

1937 - Zamboanga (Filippine Productions)

[Philippines release date 7th December 1937; distributed in the US by Grand National Pictures]

Director “Eduardo de Castro”/Marvin Edward Gardner Producers George Harris, Eddie Tait Music Dr Edward Kilenyi Cinematography William H. Jansen Editor Ralph Dixon Sound Louis R. Morse

Cast Fernando Poe [Sr] (Danao), Rosa Del Rosario (Minda)

'Lost' RP Film Found in US Archive by Nick Deocampo

Inquirer News Service 05/02/04

(Editor's note: This article is included in Nick Deocampo's new book Film: US Colonization and the Emergence of Cinema in the Philippines, to be released in September 2004 to commemorate the 85th Anniversary of Philippine Cinema.)

A COPY of the film "Zamboanga," a movie about the exotic life of south sea dwellers daringly shot in the remote island of Jolo in 1936 was found recently in the US.

With the recent discovery of the film print, plans are underway to repatriate the film back to the Philippines.

This February, it will be the festival opening film at the "Pelikula at Lipunan" to celebrate the Philippine movie industry's forthcoming 85th anniversary.

"Zamboanga" was made 60 years ago by two American producers, Eddie Tait and George Harris. It is the first attempt to launch a Philippine-made film for international release.

Hoping that the success of the film would turn the Philippines into the Hollywood of the Orient, they produced, aimed for the American market.

But after its premiere in San Diego, California and its screening in New York on Dec. 10, 1937, nothing has been heard of it.

The film has for decades been considered a lost film, one of the hundreds made before World War II that is irretrievably lost. Until a copy was recently found.

During my last research trip as a senior Fulbright research scholar in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., I was surprised to be informed by a library staff, Zoran Sinobad, that there was a newly-acquired film about the Philippines, and would I be interested to take a look at it? I was lukewarm at the invitation because after years of rummaging through hundreds of film titles in the library's collection, there must have been at least three films I came across with the name Zamboanga in them. None was the fabled Tait and Harris film. What could possibly make me think that this newly found film was the lost classic?

I only became interested when I was told that the film was newly-struck from an original print that came all the way from Finland. Now there's a story. Why would a film about the Philippines turn up in a frigid country in the Scandinavian peninsula? Interesting!

My anxiety grew intense as I waited for the print to arrive while my departure date was nearing. But three days before I left, the print finally arrived. To my biggest shock, the film I hoped to find was right before my very eyes! After perhaps 60 years that the film has not been seen by any Filipino, there I was watching the film alone in the darkened viewing room of the archive. It was a thrill of a lifetime!

I sat spellbound for 65 minutes watching the young Fernando Poe display his masculine physique and the beauteous Rosa del Rosario glow in the well-photographed black-and-white film. Patterned in the genre of the south sea film made famous by Robert Flaherty's "Moana," the film capitalized on tales of exoticism. It showed the picturesque sea and the captivating landscape and with warring tribes and a kidnapped maiden to hook the audience's attention.

The discovery of "Zamboanga" brings only to four the feature-length films made in the Philippines that survived the catastrophic war. A few hundred others failed to make it. Its rarity gives the film its aura of significance. The film joins the distinguished line-up of pre-war films "Tunay na Ina" (1938), "Pakiusap" (1938) and "Giliw Ko" (1938). But none beats "Zamboanga's" production date of 1936. It is truly the mother of all studio-made films in the country!

Historically, "Zamboanga" came at a crucial moment in the history of filmmaking in the Philippines. Tait and Harris revolutionized local filmmaking when they established the first film studio, Filippine Films, in 1932. Their act ushered in the studio system that made it possible for subsequent native-owned studios like the LVN, Sampaguita, Premiere and Lebran to bring Philippine movies to their "golden era" in the '50s.

Starting their career first as circus showmen, the two Americans later embarked on film production with the high hope of one day turning the Philippines into becoming Asia's enviable film capital. Upon teaming up with George Harris, the former producer of Hollywood's celebrated director, Frank Capra, Eddie Tait introduced technical innovations that upgraded the fledgling native film industry. The two brought with them not only up-to-date technology and expertise but also capital and the necessary clout to produce quality films.

Underwater photography

To make "Zamboanga," the two Americans engaged themselves in nine months of film production in Jolo, the second largest island in the Sulu Sea. An American mestizo from Manila was employed to direct the film, Eduardo de Castro. William H. Jansen, a local cameraman, shot the film made stunning by his remarkable underwater photography.

When the principal photography was done, Harris brought the negatives to Hollywood in April 1937 and commenced the film's post production. Louis R. Morse did the sound recording, Ralph Dixon did the editing and Dr. Edward Kilenyi was hired to do the musical scoring.

Exotic tale, native cast

Running for 65 minutes and shot in 35mm, the film is about a sea-faring tribe where a kindly and well-loved Datu Tanbuong rules. The tribe's main occupation is pearl fishing. Danao (played by Poe), a handsome young pearl fisher, is betrothed to Minda (played by del Rosario), the datu's granddaughter. Upon Danao's return with a handful of impressive pearls, the datu announces a celebration.

Among those invited is Hadji Razul, a cruel and lustful ruler of another tribe of piratical Moros living in another island. Engaged in piracy and looting, he has illicit relations with a renegade American Captain, owner of a small trading schooner, who delivers him smuggled Chinese coolies.

Danao and Hadji fight over Minda when Hadji abducts the maiden during one of Danao's diving expeditions. A tribal war ensues and peace was only restored when Danao rescues his woman and Hadji is killed. The ending shows the newly-married couple sailing into the sunset.

(Nick Deocampo is the author of Cine: Spanish Influences on Early Cinema in the Philippines, the first in five volumes covering the 100-year history of cinema in the Philippines.)

Two Lost Films to be Screened at Pelikula at Lipunan Fest

(from The Manila Times 09/02/04)

The 11th Pelikula at Lipunan film festival will kick off Wednesday, February 11 at the SM Megamall Cinema with the screening of a Tagalog movie that dates back to 1937. Entitled Zamboanga, the movie was directed by Eduardo De Castro and stars Fernando Poe Sr. and Rosa del Rosario.

Organized by the Mowelfund Film Institute, the Pelikula at Lipunan festival was established to help enlighten Filipino audiences on the role of cinema on nation-building. This year, Pelikula at Lipunan offers new foreign films, rediscovered classics and historical clues to the Philippines early history as a nation struggling to be free. It is a fitting tribute to 85 years of the Filipino film industry, said festival director Nick Deocampo during a media briefing.

As a salute to the past. the organizers, which include Mowelfund stalwarts Eddie Romero and Boots Anson Roa, have chosen to open the festival with Zamboanga. Deocampo said the 67 year-old movie was previously thought as irretrievably lost. He had discovered it during a research mission in the US Library of Congress which earlier acquired an almost mint condition copy from Finland.

The movie depicts the life of south sea divers and was shot in the remote island of Jolo. Its two American producers, Eddie Tait and George Harris managed to screen it only to audiences in New York and San Francisco in 1937. Both producers, however, ran out of money due to excessive taxes and the film disappeared into obscurity.

In a year when glossy Hollywood productions like The Great Ziegfeld and Stage Door dominated the movie scene, Zamboanga managed to win rave reviews from The Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times and Hollywood Spectator, among others.

Decoampo says the film was aimed for the American market but after its premiere in San Diego and its screening in New York, nothing has been heard of it. The film has for decades been considered a lost film, one of the hundreds made before World War II that is irretrievably lost, he said.

However, Deocampo found the film when he was on a research trip in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. I was surprised to be informed by a library staff, Zoran Sinobad, that there was a a newly-acquired film about the Philippines and would I be interested to look at it? I was told that the film was newly-struck from an original print that came all the way from Finland. Interesting!

In the movie, the young Poe played a pearl fisher who marries the village chief's daughter (played by Rosa del Rosario). Among the guests of their wedding is a pirate who abducts the bride, inciting a tribal war. Fil-American Eduardo de Castro directed the cast that spoke in the Tausog and English languages. Deocampo says the movie features underwater photography and that the film processing chores boggles the mind with thoughts of the sacrifices behind the nine month shooting.

Wrong movie at the wrong time?

When Deocampo gleefully announced his find, he was warned by colleagues that exhibiting a movie starring Fernando Poe Sr. in an election year may be tantamount to politicking, especially since Fernando Poe Jr. is running for President.

Politics was never in my mind, declared Deocampo. Here we had a lost treasure that has practically been given to us by the Library of Congress on a silver plate. Normally it would have cost hundreds of thousands of pesos to obtain a movie like that from the Library of Congress. What did they expect me to do? Tell them, sorry we don't want the film, it's election year!

Fortunately, Deocampo discovered another lost film which he deemed perfect for the festival and would equalize the politics. It happens to be an omnibus film directed by three of the greatest directors of the Philippines' Gerry de Leon, Eddie Romero and Lamberto Avellana.

The film is Tagumpay ng Mahirap, Deocampo proudly announced. It's the biopic of our fifth President, Diosdado Macapagal. It shows how Macapagal rose from being a provincial boy to become the President. This one was discovered right under our noses, at the CCP film library!

With the fathers of two presidential candidates represented in one vintage film each, Deocampo expects to have a smooth-sailing Pelikula at Lipunan festival this year.

Life History of "Eduardo de Castro"/Marvin Edward GARDNER (7-Jul-1907 to 17-Nov-1955)

Born on 7-Jul-1907 to William Henry GARDNER, a Manila Police Officer, and Ceferina De Castro in Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines. His father, an American soldier from Tennessee, arrived in the Philippines in 1899 to fight in the Philippine Insurrection and began serving as a policeman under the American administration in 1901. Marvin Edward was the eldest surviving child with four sisters and one brother (see William Henry GARDNER Family Group Record).

Excerpts from the Gardner Family Journal by his sister, Flora Gardner Bass:

My parents made their home in Manila and reared a family of eight. Two died in infancy, leaving two boys and four girls. Marvin was the oldest boy and George, the youngest. The girls were Dolores, Trinidad, Cora and I (Flora). We lived at the back of the police station. Papa was assistant to the captain and was on 24-hour call. The jail was on the front side of the police station. We always felt safe and well cared for since we were so close to where Papa and the policemen worked.

After Papa died of a heart attack on March 12, 1929, our family had to move out of the police precinct. I was a pre-teen and still not aware of the many problems of life without our father.

Marvin was away at sea working on a freighter that sailed for America.

Marvin joined a movie company and became an actor (early 1930's). He was so handsome that he became known as the "Rudolf Valentino of the Philippines." His professional name was Eduardo de Castro (after Mama's maiden name). She was so proud of him and would point out to us his name on banners and billboards announcing his movies. He later became a director. His career flourished and he married his leading lady (Florence Little). What a good looking pair they were! Later he became father of two handsome boys.

The war changed all our lives (1942-1945). Although Manila was declared an "open city," it was continually bombed. Manila Bay was a graveyard of sunken ships.

George, who was then a teenager, joined my brother Marvin with the guerillas in the hills. George evaded arrest and returned home just before liberation, but Marvin was caught and imprisoned in the infamous Fort Santiago in Manila's walled city (Intramuros). When he was released, we could not recognize him with his beard and unkempt rags hanging from his emaciated body. He looked like a walking skeleton but thank God he was alive.

A letter from his sister, Dolores, to cousin Patsy Ellis at the time of Marvin Edward's death in November 1955:

Nov. 21st

Dear Patsy:

Just a short message being mailed to you by a friend to notify you of the death of my oldest brother, Marvin. I last wrote to you on Nov. 16th and mentioned him particularly. Little did I realize then that he was dying just as I was writing you about him.

He is at last at peace. The last few years were very unhappy and confused years for him. He drank heavily and consequently failed to get pictures to direct. At one time, he was the highest paid movie director in Philippine movies. But he died destitute. I took care of all his hospital and burial expenses. His son, William, was a great help to me. His first wife, Florence, did all she could. But his second wife, Norma Krueger, had left him 3 years ago and never attended the funeral. She left her 2 children, a 4-yr. old girl and a 3-yr. old boy, with her mother, who has been caring for them. Since these are Marvin's legal children, I feel responsible for them.(letter continues)

Your cousin,


P.S. Marvin had 2 sons by Florence, both married with families. The oldest son is in Korea. William, the younger son, is studying here on the G.I. Bill of Rights (finishing accounting in 1956).

Marvin E. Gardner died of stroke in Baguio City on 17-Nov-1955

Three of his movies, one as actor, two director are listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website.

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