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Community Bulletin Board

Was 1930s silent film set in Sulu a Filipino production?

The Philippine movie industry has produced roughly around 75 silent films between 1912 to 1933. Sadly, all of the titles are deemed to be lost forever due to the absence of any film preservation efforts, up until the 1970s. The films were all made from highly combustible nitrate stock, and were believed to have been destroyed during fires, floods, and fighting during World War II. That's why the Philippines has never been represented by any film during the annual International Silent Film Festival at the Shangri-la Mall. Until now.
1930s matinee idols Adelina Moreno and Eduardo de Castro star in the silent movie Brides of Sulu, to be shown for the first time at the International Silent Film Festival at Shangri-la Mall this month. Photo courtesy of Teddy Co
But there is a dilemma. BRIDES OF SULU, credited as an American producton but shot in the Philippines with native actors, presents film historians with a conundrum. It's not listed in any written accounts or filmographies as a Filipino film, although the country at the time of the film's release was still a colony of the United States of America. Nevertheless, assiduous research has uncovered some exciting information about the film's provenance, and throws in some questions about the film's real authorship. Available on home video for the last two decades, BRIDES had been circulating in the U.S. film market, catering to collectors and aficionados of early American B-movies, genre cinema, and exploitation film fare. Its distribution had been passed on from its original owner in 1934 - Exploration Pictures Corp., to specialist purveyors of B-movies Sinister Cinema and currently, Alpha Home Video. With each re-issue, the film's year of release has kept advancing - from 1934, to 1936, to 1937. While the home video release has sound, no dialog is spoken by any of the actors, as the film is narrated with an American voiceover. Technical credits culled from the American Film Institute Move Catalog 1931-1940 consist of nondescript names that when googled, yield no interesting information. Notably, no sound technician is given credit, which increases the likelihood that BRIDES may indeed have been a Filipino silent film, in an earlier incarnation. Interestingly, there were two late silent-era Filipino films made in 1931 about the Moros of Sulu - PRINCESS TARHATA (Araw Movies) and THE MORO PIRATE (Malayan Movies). The first was produced by the forgotten cinematographer Jose Domingo Badilla, while the latter was produced and directed by Jose Nepomuceno, acknowledged as the Father of the Philippine movie industry. TARHATA's lead actress is Adelina Moreno, while main actor of MORO PIRATE is Eduardo de Castro. Moreno would later be renamed Gilda Gales, and promoted as the local version of Greta Garbo, but with black hair instead of blonde. De Castro, an early matinee idol, was likened to Rudolph Valentino at that time, albeit a chubbier version. Coincidentally, both Moreno and De Castro, are the main starring actors in BRIDES OF SULU. The film also looks like it has two separate parts- the dramatically acted scenes and the documentary portions. Which raises the the intriguing possibility- is BRIDES the mutant offspring of the re-cutting and reconstitution of two earlier local films via the editing room? . Then dubbed in English and re-editorialized for U.S. release with the intention of making it look like an American production so it would be easier to sell abroad? And who is director John Nelson? Looking up, he has apparently made only one film in his lifetime- BRIDES. And why are his initials the same as those of Jose Nepomuceno's? So is the nationality of the film American or Filipino? For the exciting conclusion, please attend the opening of the 5th International Silent Film Festival on Aug. 26 at the Shangri-la Mall Cinema. BRIDES OF SULU screening is sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and SOFIA (Society of Filipino Archivists for Film), with support from the Film Development Council of the Philippines. For more information, please contact Ms. Mylene Narciso Urriza of the NCCA at 527-2209. — Teddy Co