Local cinemas have yet to welcome moviegoers a year and a half since the pandemic forced the majority of the country’s entertainment business to a standstill. It hasn’t been much of a problem for film buffs, who only had to turn to streaming platforms for easy, safe, and accessible leisure. Yet it’s been a stab in the heart when cineastes and an entire industry have been displaced indefinitely.
It might come off as ironic then that TBA Studios just opened its own physical cafe, right beside its microcinema Cinema ’76 Film Society in Anonas, Quezon City.
“When we opened our second branch (in 2018), we knew we had to do it,” begins TBA Studios general manager Daphne O. Chiu.
“There was enough space to offer drinks and popcorn much to the delight of our regulars. Then came the idea of ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a space where cinephiles, filmmakers, and moviegoers can hang, chill as well as discuss the films they’ve just watched over a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer or two?’”
Three years would pass to realize that dream. Cinema ’76 Café finally opened in the middle of this year—and amid a crisis, at that.
A place for movie conversations—and more
Located on the second floor of the Anonas LRT City Center, Cinema ’76 Café is an open-air coffee shop poised to be the next neighborhood hangout. Initially there to complement the microcinema adjacent to it, the place now goes beyond the usual movie house experience to allow more intimate and interesting conversations.
Here, eclectic is the aesthetic: ceramic tabletops, wooden floors and furniture, black steel frame ceilings, blue bean bags, and blue single booths that instantly bring Cinema ’76’s own seating to mind. A marquee lights up above the barista station, as if to pander to anyone who’s sorely missed the theater. Framed posters of “Birdshot” (2016), “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral” (2018), and “Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon” (2019)—straight from TBA Studios’ own portfolio—also contribute to the retro vibe.
Framed posters of “Birdshot” (2016), “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral” (2018), and “Tayo sa Huling Buwan ng Taon” (2019)—straight from TBA Studios’ own portfolio—also contribute to the retro vibe of the open space.
“We wanted the design to be clean and simple. It was intended to create nostalgia for our followers and moviegoers especially at this time. It is also a place to pay homage to the art of film,” says Chiu.
Next to its bestselling carrot cake and salted caramel latte, Cinema ’76 Café tries to inject some movie inspiration into its food offerings. The mango cake, for one, can quickly get “Goyo” fans giggling. In the period drama, a jealousy-provoked, fruit pun-filled banter transpires between Gregorio del Pilar’s lovers Felicidad and Remedios while shopping for, yes, mangga.
“In the coming weeks, we will be adding new featured coffee drinks to our menu. And there might be ‘I’m Drunk, I Love You’-inspired drinks,” reveals Chiu.
“Cinema ’76 Film Society has always been positioned as a home for Filipino film enthusiasts. Whether you’re a filmmaker looking for a place to showcase your work or a fan looking for movies that speak to you, this is the place for you. We carry that same spirit with Cinema ’76 Café.”
Al fresco for aficionados
There seemed no way a microcinema like Cinema ’76 could easily pivot as much as other businesses did. There was an opportunity, however, when it came to the cafe.
Cinema ’76 Café is entirely al fresco, facing the LRT 2 tracks that snake along Aurora Boulevard.
“With regard to health and sanitation protocol, the al fresco factor of the cafe has been a great contributor to our operations,” says Chiu.
“Opening a cafe in the middle of a pandemic has its challenges—and believe me, saying it’s challenging is an understatement. But it has also inspired us to be more proactive when it comes to creating a sense of ‘normal,’” says TBA Studios general manager Daphne O. Chiu.
Highlighting the brand’s commitment to frequently sanitizing the space, she adds, “This pandemic has taught us to be more creative. No doubt, opening a cafe in the middle of a pandemic has its challenges—and believe me, saying it’s challenging is an understatement. But it has also inspired us to be more proactive when it comes to creating a sense of ‘normal.’”
In May this year, the Philippine Motion Pictures Producers Association revealed a P16 billion loss since the pandemic struck in March 2020. It also reported that from earning around P1 billion in its annual December run pre-COVID-19, the last Metro Manila Film Festival fell to around P25 million only.
The Film Development Council of the Philippines also appealed last July to the national government to aid the industry, especially with a 30 percent increase in production costs with standard health measures now in place on set.
Despite TBA Studios feeling the same effect, however, Chiu says “the cafe couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.”
“2020 has been the most difficult year for everyone in the film and entertainment industry. With cinemas closed indefinitely and filming limited due to restrictions, it really became a challenge for us to stay afloat during this pandemic.”
A movie house-themed nook like Cinema ’76 Café surely won’t ever conceal the local film industry’s current plight. But through TBA Studios’ own little ways like employing former microcinema staff into the new establishment, the concept is here to flicker some hope for a barely breathing industry.
“The best entrepreneurial lesson we’ve learned is to keep your eyes and minds open to new opportunities,” says Chiu.
“Even when the fact that a lot of us are struggling to survive the pandemic, we’re thankful that we have supporters and avid fans who keep coming back to support us—whether it’s in the movies we release, online content, merchandise, souvenir items, and in this case a new F&B business.”
Against the deafening silence of empty theaters, it’s these stories of optimism and community-building that are worth watching.