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Century-old theatre to be declared heritage site

By Keren Anne Bernadas

THE city government of Naga is making efforts to declare the 101-year-old Bichara Cinema as a cultural heritage site in the Bicol region.

According to Naga City Mayor Nelson Legacion, the goal is to develop, recognize, and preserve the infrastructure that has become a part of the culture and arts of the region.

The cinema has been a source of livelihood for Bicolanos since 1923. The establishment was founded by a migrant couple, Victor Bichara Sr. - a Lebanese - and Emily Bichara - a Palestinian, according to Nestor Almen, the couple’s long-time auditor.

Legacion has announced plans to convert a section of the theater, formerly known as Cine Bichara, into a museum highlighting the cinema’s history to attract more tourists.

This proposal has been strongly supported by the Siklab Lingkod Bicol (SLB) group, which has lobbied the city council to issue a resolution in support and compliance with the criteria of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

SLB chairperson Ronald Rodriguez expressed optimism that this will expand the Camino de Peñafrancia pilgrimage route, allowing visitors to explore various historical areas throughout the year, rather than just during the weeklong Peñafrancia Festival in September.

“We believe that Naga City has a lot to offer in terms of its vibrant culture and arts, active potentials of human resources and lively creative industries, so we wanted to give Marian devotees an opportunity to make their religious visit also a learning traveling experience for them as well,” he said.

The Camino de Peñafrancia, Rodriguez added, revolves around Mt. Isarog, starting from the towns of Ocampo to Partido area, then to Naga City.

“We also identify remarkable and significant areas and tourist attractions through these towns in a digital mapping that we are developing.”

Bichara Cinema has become a reference point for travelers within the city and also served as an educational facility in a region that had limited areas for learning during its early years.

Ateneo De Naga University historian Jennifer Lyn Romano wrote about the Bichara family’s film and exhibition business in her work titled, “From Middle East to Bikol Land: The Bicharas and their Movie Houses.”

In 2014, the movie “Past Tense” featuring Kim Chui and Xian Lim was shown in Bichara Cinema. After the show, the cinema closed its doors.

Although the curtains have fallen on the movie house, it has already made a significant impact on the film industry in the region.

Romano said the Bichara Cinema had already established “a large scope of influence” in the region’s movie industry.

According to Rodriguez, Bichara Cinema was memorable for Ateneans because it used to offer free educational shows after class dismissals.

Victor Bichara Jr., namesake, son and heir of the theater founder, shares the same vision for their long-time family business.

In a press conference on Feb. 9, he appreciated the initiatives of the Naga City government to refurbish the Bichara Cinema.

Legacion said that these steps will soon lead to the creation of the Naga City Heritage District, where historical domains in the city will be preserved and recognized for their societal value and cultural significance. (PIA5/Camarines Sur)


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