You can say Lino Brocka is having a moment. The College of Saint Benilde has an ongoing exhibit (until April 27) entitled "Brocka, Bernal and the City," which explores the universe the two National Artists in the title set many of their films against: big, bad Manila. This April, Brocka's birth month, the UP Film Institute will be screening his movies set in the political world: Sa Kabila Ng Lahat, Babangon Ako’t Dudurugin Kita and Miguelito: Ang Barang Rebelde. The series is called "Brocka and Electoral Politics."
But the director, who left us 28 years ago, doesn’t really have to be especially feted or given exhibitions to be relevant—as he is once again these days, along with his ideas and punch-in-the-gut statements, especially now that another Marcos is running for the senate and the former Malacañang family continues to assert their influence in national politics. Brocka never liked the Marcoses, and that's an understatement.
In early March, Mike de Leon’s Citizen Jake Facebook page posted an excerpt of the documentary Signed, Lino Brocka in which the director expresses his deep hatred of Ferdinand and Imelda. The video post garnered 2,400 shares, 1,500 comments, and was viewed 106,000 times. Released in 1987 and directed by the American Christian Blackwood, the film heavily depended on Lino's rhetoric—which in itself is endlessly fascinating. (Name one director who talks with the same courage and bravura like Lino today. I’ll give you 10 minutes. No one? Okay let’s move on.)
Filmed during the year he was shooting two movies for Viva Films, the docu takes us to the set of Maging Akin Ka Lamang (a Pinoy Fatal Attraction but bigger in scale; the two dramas were released the same year), and the set of Pasan Ko Ang Daigdig where Sharon Cuneta famously got deeply acquainted with Smokey Mountain—not the Ryan Cayabyab singing group. Signed Lino Brocka opens with the director walking around the slums of Tondo, then the beating heart of impoverished Manila, the setting for four of his movies even before Pasan Ko Ang Daigdig: Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag, Insiang, Bona and Jaguar.
The docu has been shown a few times in the Philippines, but it is released internationally thru Criterion Collection and BFI Blu Ray. Signed, Lino Brocka was reviewed glowingly abroad. Said Variety, “Sardonic and rebellious Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka and the tribulations of his impoverished but bustling homeland are the intertwined subjects of this engrossing, informative, and entertaining documentary” —although we don’t know what Lino would think about being called “portly.” The Chicago Reader called it “fascinating.” And as for Timeout London: “Documentaries about film-makers are generally a major snooze, but Lino Brocka (arch-foe of Imelda Marcos, best known for his Manila: In the Claws of Darkness) tells tales that could cure deafness.”
The more than nine-minute excerpt posted on the Citizen Jake board alone packs a torrential wallop. In it, Lino recalls the tragedy and horror that was the making of the Manila Film Center for the first Manila International Film Festival In 1982. Interviewed at the steps of the said edifice, Brocka related to Blackwood everything he knew of the “white elephant”: how its project head Imelda Marcos was so confident the building will be done in 70 days; how a week before the MIFF the third floor collapsed, trapping and burying a number of its construction workers; the stories of ghosts and wailings; of the efforts to exorcise the spirits inside the building; and of the two security guards who supposedly died of fright.
Brocka called the Film Center one of the Marcos government’s smokescreens “to cover up and neutralize the human rights violations.” In statements that were likely given after the Marcoses were thrown out of power, the director did not mince words about his sentiments towards the former occupants of Malacañang. “The Filipinos, I think we’re too kind,” Lino said. “They should have been killed. We were too kind. America was too kind to them. They should have been killed.”
Blackwood: “Could you kill?”
Brocka: “I think I can. With Marcos and Imelda? With pleasure. Point blank. I’m not kidding. I’m so squeamish about blood, blood on my set and all that, but with Imelda and Marcos the thing that goes into my mind are those thousands of people who had to go out of the country, migrate to some foreign land, hide and work as prostitutes, work as chambermaids and houseboys, all those young men who have gone to Saudi Arabia to look for better jobs because of their 20 years of plunder and rape of the country.”
He continued: “My answer to that question about Marcos and Imelda was always, 'No tears for them, absolutely no tears.' I think they should have been killed, and as far as killing them I would volunteer to be in the firing squad. I would want to be in the firing squad, and as a matter of fact I don’t know how to fire a gun—but for them I will train.”
We’ve never seen the entire documentary and we hope to catch it this Saturday, April 6 (2.30 PM), or on April 30 (2 PM) at the UPFI-Cine Adarna. Meanwhile, the quote above reminds us why Brocka remains relevant close to three decades after his passing. Because he never left the side of the Bonas and the Turings, the Lupe Velezes and the Julio Madiagas. His movies were where he exacted revenge on the powerful, even as he shouted at them from the streets or, in current parlance, IRL. He was a relentless fighter, never afraid to open his mouth, and never a bore when he does. “They may gag you and blindfold you, silence and imprison you,” he said when he accepted his Ramon Magsaysay award, “but they will never be able to destroy what made you an artist in the first place--your brave and continuing dedication to the human race."
Happy 80th, Lino.
Screengrabs from Signed, Lino Brocka