Manila Film Center - Atlas Obscura

Manila Film Center

Pasay, Philippines

A film center envisioned to rival Cannes ended up as a haunted place after at least 168 people were killed during the rushed construction. 


Imelda Marcos envisioned Manila as the cultural center of Asia. Fresh from a successful staging of the 1974 Miss Universe Pageant, where a specially built theater was completed in just 77 days, she wanted a film center that would rival the famed Cannes Film Festival of France.

Employing a celebrated architect of that time Froilan Hong, a building inspired by the Parthenon in Athens was to be constructed in the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay City. UNESCO was even consulted for the structural designs of the auditoria and the archives. With three months to spare before the scheduled film festival, the deadline was tight. To make it work, some 4,000 workers were employed to work in three shifts across 24 hours. The lobby was finished in 72 hours by 1,000 workers—a job that was supposed to entail six weeks.

The frenetic pace of construction didn’t allow for proper precautions. On November 17, 1981, at around 3 a.m., scaffolding collapsed and workers were trapped in the quick-drying cement. Immediately, a blanket security and a media blackout were imposed for fear of creating a scandal. No rescuers and ambulances were allowed until an official statement was prepared. Rescuers were only allowed after nine hours. Of course, by then it was too late. At that point, 168 workers had died or were buried in the cement. 

Two months later, the first Manila International Film Festival took place from January 18 to 29, 1982.

After an earthquake in 1990, the building was abandoned because of structural damage. It was rehabilitated and leased out to the private sector, but after it caught fire in 2013 it was abandoned once again.

Know Before You Go

The building is located behind the Philippine International Convention Center in the CCP complex. You can visit the place but the strict security guard will discourage you from taking photos.

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