If bricks could talk, those at the Manila Film Center would have a sinister story to tell. Back in the 1970s, Imelda Marcos wanted to stage an annual film festival that would rival Cannes and put Manila on the international cultural map. But the centre she commissioned for the purpose was jerry-built and a floor collapsed in 1981, allegedly burying workers under rubble and killing many. No one knows exactly how many (some claim around 170), because most were poor labourers from the provinces and records were not kept of their names. Police were told to throw a cordon round the building so the press couldn’t get to it, and work continued round the clock. The centre was completed in 1982, some say with dead workers still entombed inside, in time for the opening night of the Manila International Film Festival. Imelda celebrated by walking onto the stage to greet the audience in a black and emerald green terno (a formal gown) thick with layer upon layer of peacock feathers that were shipped specially from India.

The centre staged just one more film festival – some say it was haunted and Imelda herself had it exorcized – and it soon had to make ends meet by showing soft-porn (bomba) films for the masses. It was briefly rehabilitated in the late 1980s when it was used as a centre for experimental film-making, but after an earthquake hit Manila in 1990 it was abandoned. In 2001 it was partially renovated and now hosts transvestite song and dance extravaganzas organized by Amazing Philippine Theater (t02/834-8870), especially popular with Korean tourists.

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