manila film center

This is the Manila Film Center, located in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, in Pasay City, a neighborhood of Manila. This is the national film archives of the nation of the Philippines. It is also supposedly haunted due to a horrific accident that occurred here during the final stages of its construction, which melds superstition into the narrative of political corruption that plagued this Southeast Asian island nation from the 1960s to the 1980s and beyond.

The story goes like this. Imelda Marcos, First Lady of the Philippines and extravagant wife of U.S.-supported dictator Ferdinand Marcos, thought her nation should have a national film archive, so she demanded the construction of this complex which was to hold auditoriums for film exhibition as well as cinema archives. The project was sped up way beyond any responsible construction schedule. On November 17, 1981, scaffolding around the building collapsed, pitching 169 workers into pits of quick-drying concrete. The legend is that Imelda Marcos ordered a blanket of secrecy around the accident which impeded rescue workers, and dozens or perhaps hundreds of workers were entombed in the concrete. Imelda, demanding her film center be completed, glossed over the accident and ordered construction to continue. The center opened in 1982, and Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley, was the first film shown here. Kingsley attended the premiere in person (he played Gandhi in the movie).

manila film center 2

This is what the Manila Film Center looks like on the ground.

Naturally, the ghosts of the workmen supposedly haunt the structure. It has had a troubled history. Severely damaged by an earthquake in 1990, the structure was declared unstable and remained abandoned for 12 years. Since 2001 it has been used off and on, but never really for its intended purpose. The Marcos family fell from power in 1986 and since then the Philippines has been ostensibly a democracy, though a troubled one.

The real story is less spooky. An investigation into the 1981 accident, conducted after the Marcos regime was gone, concluded that no more than 12 workmen died in the incident, and none were actually entombed in the concrete. Nevertheless, the Manila Film Center’s reputation as one of the most haunted places in the Philippines continues.

Like haunted movie theaters? Check out my previous post about the Washington Square cinema of Tigard, Oregon.