This Is Not A Lost Film, which screened at the International Silent Film Festival Manila (ISFFM) on August 31 as the Philippine entry, is a film like no other. An omnibus work comprising four silent films,This Is Not A Lost Film is a worthy addition to experimental filmmaker-musician Khavn de la Cruz’ already impressive body of work.
The film includes Aswang (1933), Juan Tamad Goes to the Moon (1898), and features Khavn’s own Filipiniana (2016) as well as excerpts from “NITRATE: The Ghosts of the 75 Lost Philippine Silent Films (1912-1933)” from 2013. Presented in a found-footage horror format, the film is curated by film historian Teddy Co who describes it as dealing with “our lost film heritage due to the absence or lack of film archiving.”
Each exploration of silence in Philippine cinema is a historical one. Altogether, the works chosen for the film deal with history in different ways. Filipiniana stares it squarely in the face, but reimagines it as colorful hyperbole. Aswang, which is the first film made in the Philippines to feature optically recorded sound, is a nod to the country’s colonial past inevitably tied with filmmaking, and carrying on into any form of artmaking today. Juan Tamad Goes to the Moon is somewhat a celebration, being an art of work before its time (premiering three years before Melies’ “Le Voyage dans la Lune”), and also being created by an indigenous photo-surrealist. Meanwhile, NITRATE may be seen as a film within the film, a collage of silent voices in the long history of Philippine cinema.
What renders a voice silent? In this experimental film we are asked to examine and question the realities of postcolonial Philippine artmaking, both thematically and materially. With the “absence or lack” Teddy Co mentioned of film archiving, it is clear that identity loss is, and will always be part of artmaking and the larger culture in the Philippines.
Its insistence on the found footage horror format fittingly mirrors identity loss–for all horrors are rooted in the past. It is also ironic that the silent film as a genre would be the perfect vessel for this theme, but no other genre would give it such weight. Cut up and meshed together, this experimental treatment forces its audiences to confront uncomfortable truths, while still paying homage to the genre. It also asks its audiences to look at the screen and think–and not just be passively entertained. This short film, both old and new, is brilliant in showing that though we don’t have many silent films these days, there are things that have not changed.