in any account of the 2nd golden age of philippine cinema, lino brocka and ishmael bernal top the list of best directors, and always in that order. when a bernal fan asked me why, gayong even alphabetically her idol should come first, i said, well, chronologically brocka came first, and his debut film Wanted: Perfect Mother (1970) was a huge box-office success. bernal’s first, Pagdating sa Dulo (1971), a film within a film, was a critical success but a commercial flop.
bernal was a bit too high, too sophisticated, for the beginner that he was. only now are cineastes one in saying that bernal was ahead of his time. no wonder it took a while for people to rise to his occasion.
it helps, of course, that some of bernal’s best films have been showing intermittently on cable TV since 1994 courtesy of cinema one, and that sari dalena and keith sicat kept the flame alive with their documentaries on ishma. and when Pro Bernal, Anti Bio finally went to press in july 2017, rogue magazine’s jerome gomez was quick to ask for excerpts that came out as “Stardust Memories” announcing the imminent launch in november.
kicked off with personal funds, and some more from friends of bernal — this is my chance to thank you so much, evelynne horrilleno, dannie alvarez, noel anonuevo, tisi and winston raval, pis boado, bobbie malay and satur ocampo, julie de lima-sison, deanna ongpin-recto, maribel ongpin, leny de jesus, ricky lee, raquel villavicencio, laida lim, butch perez, and mt. cloud bookshop — Pro Bernal, Anti Bio (2017) is co-published by ABS-CBN publishing inc. and the indie book producer everything’s fine (EF). of the 1000 print-run, the publishing house took on 300 copies to distribute in mainstream bookstores. the rest EF is paying for (50% down, 50% due a year from launch) which is why katrina continues to seek collaborators on bernal events where we can peddle the book.
it was a boon that mark yambot, head of abs-cbn publishing, allowed us to dictate the content and the look and the feel of the book (though we did concede on a few minor details :-), thanks to katrina who took over the project the moment i dropped the manuscript — raised funds, negotiated with mark, and harassed the printing press peeps about quality control hanggang sa dulo.
mark graciously arranged for and attended two november launches a week apart. the soft one in trinoma on the occasion of cinema one‘s filmfest screening of sari & keith’s Ishma! the docu, before which mark asked katrina to say a few words about Pro Bernal, and where she met cinema one‘s ronald arguelles. the hard(core) one in victorino’s where i finally met mark, and author bernal was represented by his sister ging ledesma and nephew andrei, and co-author jorge arago by his sister sol and her kids robin and nico sagun. #intrafamilia
noel añonuevo and joel saracho who were with katrina in trinoma were again in victorino’s, joining dannie and deanna, bobbie and satur, raquel aka kelly, national artist bien lumbera, randy david, nic tiongson, tom agulto, sari & keith, celina cristobal, boni ilagan, roly peña, joe carreon, lucy quinto, leo martinez, bembol roco, and elmer gatchalian, among others. friends from left, right, and center, what a rare and fun gathering!
erwin romulo slipped in, got a book, and slipped out. and then there was oliver ortega aka bolix, the book’s designer who was unfazed, undaunted, by my quirky format. i finally got to ask him about the margins, ang kitid sa itaas, nakakapanibago, but there had been no moving him (or the margins). ayun pala, there’s such a thing as “the golden ratio”. fascinating! #angtaray
december 6, Archivo 1984 Gallery, a makati museum of local art and memorabilia, held a film showing of bernal’s Pabling (1981) and invited katrina to come and sell books. marti magsanoc bought a pile, some of which are available in The CCP Shop, archivo’s branch in pasay. #BernalNight
krip yuson’s rave review Reliving Ishmael Bernal came out in philippine star on december 10, elaborating on an earlier facebook post: “What a wonderful book: ANTI BIO PRO BERNAL, on Direk Ishmael Bernal’s life, films and milieu.” two days later came jessica zafra’s ProBernal AntiBio is the best Filipino film book of the year, maybe of all time! thank you, krip and jessica (and butch perez, for getting a copy to jessica)!
ISHMAEL BERNAL GALLERY
february 2018, we were invited by sari dalena to do a small exhibit for the Ishmael Bernal Gallery of the UPFI film center. katrina got to flex her amateur-curator muscles, plotting out the friendship of bernal and arago from UP undergrad days through to bernal’s filmmaking years to bernal as actor on the Dulaang UP stage, with memorabilia unearthed from jorge’s old office and movie stills we had salvaged from his room in binangonan in 2012.
books were sold, Nunal sa Tubig (1976) was on loop, and i got to chika with sari and keith, fidel rillo, lem garcellano, dannie alvarez, sol and jorge’s favorite bayaw steve sagun and kids, especially with obet and team who had worked with jorge back when virgie moreno was director of the film center. also i finally met and got to thank carlo vergara who did the bernal and arago avatars for the book. #zsazsazaturnnah
in early march, ronald rios, head of the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film that’s doing a Reflexive Cinema series — a three-year celeb (2017-2019) of the centennial anniv of Philippine film in partnership with CCP and NCCA — invited us to the screening of Pagdating sa Dulo in CCP’s dream theater. katrina read excerpts from Pro Bernal to introduce the film and, after the screening, joined producer george sison (the peace and prosperity new-age guru) and production designer cesar hernando in the open forum. #ReflexiveCinema
april 19-20, katrina was back in CCP, this time for NBDB’s philippine international literary festival. she was given a booth in the main lobby, where her own books were among the 75 (+1) launched by the ateneo de naga press on the 19th, making it easy to slip from tindera to author mode, haha, and she finally got a copy of the book to eli guieb whose work on Nunal sa Tubig (1976) was part of the anti bio, and who said that he had a new essay on it. Nunal lives! #PILF2018
GAWAD URIAN 2018
in may, we heard that the jazz musician winston raval was receiving the Natatanging Gawad Urian, the first ever awarded to a musical director-film scorer-composer. the awards night was to be co-produced by cinema one, so katrina asked, and was allowed by, ronald arguelles and the manunuri to sell books at the event held in ABS-CBN’s vertis tent in QC. she finally met winston who flew in from the states and who, with wife tisi de los santos, was part of bernal’s kansas family (and of Pro Bernal). winston was musical director of 18 bernal films, among them Nunal, Manila by Night, Himala, Tisoy, Relasyon, and Ikaw ay Akin (for which his ’70s band vanishing tribe won urian’s best music award in 1979). #LifetimeAchievementAward
impressed by their mini film festivals and curation of film screenings, katrina emailed cinema centenario, asking if a bernal collaboration was possible. salamat kina hector barretto calma, dev angeo, ivy peralta, and rollie inocencio who were quick to reply and arrange for the all-day bernal film fest last july 29. focusing on bernal’s restored films, they were set on Himala and Ikaw ay Akin but were needing a third film; katrina offered to ask george sison for Pagdating sa Dulo, and he was quick to say yes (thank you!).
of the three films it was bernal’s first film Pagdating that got the most interesting responses from a larger audience. in between screenings katrina was part of a talk with young critics circle’s aris atienza on bernal and his work. the conversation, i hear, spanned everything from that comparison between brocka and bernal to the state of film workers and film culture in general.
cinema centenario also took in some copies of Pro Bernal for selling, and put up a wall of bernal’s photo collection. bernal would be thrilled that microcinemas are now part of the landscape of culture — small scale, rebellious, creatively defiant — and at teacher’s village yet! #PHCinema100
when katrina sent a letter to CCP artistic director and vice president chris millado about the possibility of a book event for bernal’s memoir, she didn’t think it would happen so soon, but things just fell into place. cinemalaya 2018 was paying tribute to actor bernardo bernardo by screening the bernal opus Manila by Night (1980) and there was a timeslot before the screening for a fringe event that was a perfect fit for Pro Bernal. salamat, chris millado!
serendipitously film scholar joel david, author of Manila by Night: A Queer Film Classic (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018) who is based in south korea, was home in time for the aug 7 event and gave a talk, moderated by patrick flores, no less. billed “Queer and Defiant: Ishmael Bernal, Bernardo Bernardo, and Manila By Night” it meant a command appearance for me in CCP’S silangan hall. time to finally meet personally and thank joel and patrick, without whose intellectual and moral support i might still be struggling with the anti bio. #deeplygrateful #ilovetheinternet
salamat rin kay minda casagan of the CCP film division, who was a student of bernal, at kay bebang siy and her team at the intertextual division, who always go the extra mile for katrina and the bernal book. twas also great to chika with raffy guerrero after so long (Genghis Khan pa!) and to meet the colorful khavn de la cruz of Balangiga fame! salamat rin, of course, kay vito hernandez, kasosyo ni katrina sa Pro Bernal sa hirap at ginhawa.
QUEER & DEFIANT
maybe it’s just the fag hag in me, but i love how “queer”, as it applies to film classics by and about LGBTQ people, is now synonymous with “awesome” and “amazing” because daring and brilliant. and fun! because honest and candid and, even, positively shameless about breaking taboos, as bernal and bernardo were in life and in print.
the reading by noel anonuevo and rody vera of selected excerpts from Pro Bernal, Anti Bio, with bernal (noel) and BB (rody) having a conversation of sorts on Manila By Night on the one hand, and kabaklaan during martial law on the other, was a blast. noel and rody got so into the spirit, and body language, of the two, it was like nabuhay muli ang dalawang bakla, and nakaka-miss sila.
it was also interesting, exhilarating even, how noel’s and rody’s reading / acting / vocal impersonating brought alive the text. sabi nga in bolix, nagkaroon ng isa pang layer. iniangat at nabigyan ng kakaiba pang dimension, kumbaga, ang mga iniwang salita ng dalawa. salamat, salamat, noel at rody! sa mauulit!
of course i’m now looking forward to a reading of the bosom buddies mismo, with noel as ishma and, um, maybe joel saracho as jorge? #extra challenge!