Lino Brocka broke into the Philippine movie industry in 1970. Together with Ishmael Bernal and other filmmakers (directors, screenwriters, cinematographers, production designers, music composers, and editors), Brocka paved the way for a new generation of filmmakers to lead Philippine Cinema towards some sort of renaissance. Brocka re-introduced Philippine Cinema to the world with his films, like Insiang, Maynila… Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila… In the Claws of Light), and Bayan Ko (My Country). Unfortunately, in 1992, Brocka died in a car accident, marking the end of a significant chapter in Philippine Cinema.
What happened to Philippine Cinema after the ’70s and the ’80s when Lino Brocka and his generation of filmmakers produced their key works? What happened to Philippine Cinema while filmmakers from Iran, Taiwan, China, and Korea had been winning recognition around the world? Why is the local film industry in a slump? From an annual output of over 150 movies to as high as 190 movies in the ’90s, production since 2004 has dwindled to a little over 50 movies a year.
Various excuses are given and the voices from the industry begin to grind like a broken record: the industry is taxed heavily, local movies suffer against the competition from high concept Hollywood movies, television offers an alternative where people can watch their movie idols, cable TV is available where local and foreign movies proliferate and, of course, pirated VCDs and DVDs flood the market. However, on second thought, could not the reason be the filmmakers themselves?
What happened to Philippine Cinema in the mid-’80s and the entire decade of the ’90s was a history of footnotes. No filmmaker, I dare say, deserves a main entry in this history. In other words, no one is important enough to deserve a treatment in the body of the essay; the contribution of filmmakers after Brocka and his generation can be relegated to a few footnotes.
Several decades have passed since Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal and their generation broke into the film industry in the ’70s. However, when we talk of the Philippine national cinema, it is still the films of Brocka and his generation that come to mind, together with some homage to Lamberto Avellana, Gerardo de Leon and their generation of filmmakers in the ’50s. In other words, the filmmakers who followed Brocka and his generation are now mere footnotes to the history that was created in the ’70s. Nothing in the films of the ’90s could equal the achievement of Brocka’s Insiang, Bernal’s Manila by Night, Mike de Leon’s Kisapmata, Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata, Mario O’Hara’s Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, Lupita Concio’s Minsa’y Gamu-Gamo, and Celso Ad. Castillo’s Burlesk Queen.
After Brocka, Philippine Cinema fell down the pedestal, as it were; a few films were able to break into some international film festivals for various reasons, including connections with festival programmers. I could mention some names and films, but I would not dare do it; I’m sure these filmmakers are not aware that they are mere footnotes to Philippine film history. In fact, the only Filipino feature film that was shown in the Cannes Film Festival after the debut of Mike de Leon’s two films (Kisapmata and Batch ’81) during the Directors’ Fortnight in 1983, was Babae sa Breakwater (Woman at the Breakwater) by Mario O’Hara. This happened after a little over two decades. And O’Hara belongs to Brocka’s generation.
If we look at the actors today, it would be clear that they are mere footnotes to the major actors during the time of Avellana in the ’50s (like Leopoldo Salcedo, Rogelio de la Rosa, Anita Linda, Nida Blanca, Lolita Rodriguez, Gloria Romero, Charito Solis, Mario Montenegro, Fernando Poe, Jr.), and to the actors during Brocka’s time in the ’70s (like Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Hilda Koronel, Rafael ”Bembol” Roco, Christopher de Leon). There are so many aspiring actors today, mostly teen wanne-be stars – so many footnotes to the history of film actors in Philippine Cinema.
However, there are some developments that have happened and are happening that are important to write about as main entries in the current history of Philippine Cinema. And this is the history that is being written by independent filmmakers. Belonging to this generation is Raymond Red whose ten-minute short film Anino (Shadows) won the Palme d’Or in the short film category of the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. Lav Diaz also belongs to this generation. Diaz tried his luck in the mainstream of the industry until he regained consciousness and is now making films without regard for conventions in the industry. His long films, ranging from 5 to 12 hours – Batang West Side (West Side Kid), Ebolusyon (Evolution), Heremias – have been well-received in international film festivals. And there are many more new Filipino filmmakers who are making waves in various festivals, and most of them are independent filmmakers of the present generation.
A new generation of Filipino filmmakers has been born and these young indie filmmakers have shown that they have the right to succeed Brocka and his generation. Today, in the age of digital video, more and more filmmakers of the new generation are creating their own marks in the history of Philippine Cinema – and this is happening outside the mainstream of the industry.
In 1970, it must be remembered that Brocka and his fellow filmmakers broke into the scene like a big wave that watered the desert of Philippine Cinema of the ’60s. Today, armed with new technology, Filipino indie filmmakers are creating an onrushing wave, crushing against the dilapidated walls of mainstream cinema.
There are so many, young indie filmmakers; too many to enumerate. Let me just name a few: Michiko Yamamoto who wrote Magnifico and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros); Raymond Lee, a screenwriter who produced Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and who is now busy with his indie group UFO; Aureus Solito, who directed Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros; Mes de Guzman, a fiction writer and filmmaker, who has made full-length digital videos, notably Ang Daan Patungong Kalimugtong (The Road to Kalimugtong); Raya Martin, whose film Indio Nacional made waves in some international film festivals; Khavn de la Cruz, one of the busiest indie filmmakers, who has made a name with his uncompromising and experimental films; and there are many more who have the passion to use film as their medium – John Torres (Todo Todo Teros), Joel Ruiz (Mansyon), Coreen Jimenez and Mario Cornejo (Big Time), Rica Arevalo (ICU Bed #7), Ron Bryant (Rotunda) – and other filmmakers from the Cinemalaya group (grantees of the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival), Cinema One, CineManila, and filmmakers based in various schools and universities. At last, a generation of Filipino filmmakers who will not be mere footnotes in the history of Philippine Cinema!