ABS CBN Film Archives (Philippines) restores Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (1982)

A Long Awaited Miracle

Image of Elsa (Nora Aunor) praying.
(L): original print with scratches; (R): enhanced image

The Philippines has an illustrious cinematic history with around 8,000 films having been produced since 1919*. It is the regrettable truth that many of these films are now lost or have been ruined.  Even if there are a small number of prints that still exist which are being preserved, they are gradually and inevitably degrading. With time against us, actions must be taken to ensure that copies of our cinematic gems will be available for future generations to appreciate and continue to preserve. Film restoration is one way to address this issue and the largest television network in the Philippines, ABS-CBN, which currently houses the premier film archives in the Philippines, has been one of the institutions in the country that has realized the importance of restoring films. In partnership with Central Digital Laboratory (CDL), ABS-CBN has taken this matter to heart and is currently at the helm of a film restoration and HD conversion project wherein certain films of cultural significance and international acclaim have been selected to be restored.

Image of Orly (Spanky Manikan).
(L): stained original print; (R): enhanced image

Ishmael Bernal’s Himala (Miracle. 1982) is the first film that has undergone restoration. Bernal himself described the film as "… not just the story of a couple of characters. It is also the story of a society. And that is Himala. What I show in Himala is the picture of a society that is ill. A society which has no recourse but to cling to apparitions and miracles. It is not important if there really was a miracle or not. What is important is the need of a people to believe." (Translated from Filipino by scriptwriter  Ricardo Lee). I was fortunate enough to watch Himala for the first time during college. Knowing how Bernal meticulously crafts his scenes, I remember loving how many of the film’s scenes played out. One such scene is when Nimia coyly performs a few magic tricks for some children, their silhouettes against the setting sun. In the restored HD version, the same scene is even more poignant. It is also remarkable how details that were not as noticeable then, now breathe a new life into the film. The restored HD version undoubtedly enhances the whole cinematic experience Himala has to offer but it must also be known that the whole process of restoring and converting it to HD was nothing short of a miracle.

Image of Nimia  (Gigi Dueñas) performing tricks for some children.
(L): original print with drop outs and specks; (R): enhanced  image

It took 8 months to complete its restoration, starting with the scrupulous process of choosing the best available 35mm prints of the film. Four copies of prints were checked and two of which were chosen to be the source of the restored version. ABS-CBN then tied up with CDL, which handled the impairments of the prints and the audio. CDL painstakingly cleaned the scratches, specks, dirt, and flicker on the prints. For the audio, they had to clean up the noise, pops, crackles, hiss, hum, and also had to deal with the audio being out of sync.
The restored version was then quality checked around five times with corresponding corrections being made each time to enhance the video and audio. After all the adjustments that have been made and the best possible output has been attained, the restored and HD version of Himala will premier on December 4, 2012 to celebrate its completion and to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

Image of Mang Igme (Cris Daluz), Orly (Spanky Manikan), and Nimia (Gigi Dueñas).
(L): original print with adhesive residue; (R): enhanced  image

Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao! Nasa puso nating lahat.” [There are no miracles! It is all inside us!  We make the miracles ourselves.] Who can forget these iconic lines in the film spoken by Nora Aunor’s character, Elsa?  All the hours, effort, and hard work that was put into the restoration of the chosen films were done with dedication and heart. Despite the difficulties that arise in restoring films, the people involved in this project chose to make this miracle happen. This will not only allow a new generation to appreciate this classic film but it will hopefully also raise the awareness of the importance of the preservation and restoration of Philippine films.

As Elsa aptly expressed in the film, “ . . . Kung wala na ang lahat. Kung kalansay na lang tayo. Ang matitira’y ang sinasabi mong sining.” [When all is over and we’re reduced to bones . . . what remains is what you call ‘art’.]

*The birth of Philippine cinema is a much debated topic and 1919 would be regarded as its beginning if Dalagang Bukid is considered to be the first Filipino Film.