Khavn de la Cruz to premiere 2 new films in Rotterdam

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Jan 22 2023 09:01 AM

Khavn de la Cruz to premiere Lino Brocka biopic, tribute to PH silent films 

Khavn de la Cruz. Photo by Radek Lavička
Khavn de la Cruz. Photo by Radek Lavička

MANILA -- It’s a good start in the Year of the Rabbit for filmmaker-writer-musician Khavn de la Cruz. 

Two days after the Chinese New Year celebrations, he is set to fly in to The Netherlands for the world premiere of his two new works at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2023 as part of its Cinema Regained section. 

First is the biopic “National Anarchist: Lino Brocka” and the second is a tribute to the early years of Philippine cinema titled “Nitrate: To the Ghosts of the 75 Lost Philippine Silent Films (1912-1933)”.

On the intriguingly titled Brocka biopic, he told ABS-CBN News: “After Lino Brocka attended the burial ceremonies of a National Artist, he exclaimed that he didn’t want any of that. In one of his interviews, he mentioned that he belatedly realized that he is an anarchist. So, I combined the two. 

“As fate and the Philippine government like to play tricks on Filipinos, Brocka was given the National Artist award six years after his death.

“'National Anarchist' is an experimental biopic of Lino Brocka by using his films as found footage and his words — mostly from interviews — as intertitles.”

From the synopsis in the program notes for Rotterdam that Khavn shared to ABS-CBN News, he posits the questions: “Did Lino Brocka really die from an innocent car accident? Or was he maliciously murdered by one of his enemies in the Marcos/Aquino administrations? What if he was not a neo-realist melodramatic director, but an avant-garde experimental filmmaker?”

For “Nitrate”, Khavn explained, “As its long secondary title states, ‘Nitrate’ is a memento to all the Philippine silent films made in the early 20th century that have been lost due mainly to neglect. By using post-war horror films, I wanted to summon all the ghosts of our erased cinematic history.”

He said he started working on it a decade ago, sometime in 2013, upon being invited by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul to present a program for his Mirage City Cinema project for the Sharjah Biennial. 

Khavn said, “I showed a two-hour silent rough cut which The Brockas scored live. During the first year of the pandemic, I was itching to make films but I couldn’t. At the time, I was helping archive the Yesteryear vinyl collection of Nestor Vera Cruz who recently passed away. 

“This historical and relevant collection of Philippine music is massive and the biggest in existence. I wanted to immortalize and share it with others by using part of the collection as the source for the new soundtrack of ‘Nitrate’. With the help of editor and sound designer Furan Guillermo, we were able to pack everything into one explosive hour.”

Khavn is known for his non-linear, experimental films. His most accessible work remains the Urian and Famas best picture awardee, “Balangiga: Howling Wilderness.” The historical drama about the Balangiga carnage that happened in Samar during the early years of the American Occupation is still available on Netflix.
We asked him if there’s a chance that his two recent films could be made available in local cinematheques after the Rotterdam debut.

He said: “In the Philippines, making films is easier than showing them. Given my limited time and energy, I’d rather focus on just creating films. Maybe in the future, a cinema with proper curation and truly dedicated to independent and art films will exist for a very long time.”

Band leader of The Brockas

The Brockas vinyl album launch poster
The Brockas vinyl album launch poster

Khavn is also a prized-winning keyboard player during his teenage years. Eventually, he became band leader of The Brockas, a punk rock band formed nearly two decades ago as tribute to Brocka. It started when he and fellow filmmaker, the long-haired Lav Diaz would have coffee, and they’d be asked most often by baristas which band they played in.

“Lav and I decided to finally form one. Our original drummer was the late [film critic] Alexis Tioseco,” he said. There have been changes in members. 

At some point, the great veteran comedian Palito played drums. It was a time when Palito was nearly forgotten in local show business and it was revealed before he became an actor, Palito started as band member. He jammed with The Brockas just a few weeks before he died. 

“According to photographic evidence, the 2004 line-up consists of me, Lav, Roxlee, Norman Wilwayco, and my brother Khole De La Cruz aka singer-songwriter Roberto Nicolas. Various artists have joined the fun: John Torres, Tengal Drilon, film critic Chris Fujiwara, Lourd de Veyra and yes, Palito.”

Finally after 19 years, their debut album exclusively released on vinyl will have an official launch in Rotterdam.

“The album launch is on January 28, 10 p.m., at Theater Rotterdam as part of Club IFFR. The Brockas will be playing indigenous psychedelia to an obscure silent film ‘Manila Ist Nacht’ (1918) attributed to F.Q. Murnau, a cousin of F.W.,” Khavn told ABS-CBN News.

“The 12-inch vinyl album is titled ‘Manila By Night’ after Ishmael Bernal’s film which Imelda Marcos banned and retitled to ‘City After Dark’,” he added.

It was recorded in Berlin in 2022 by Brezel Göring of Stereo Total and produced by Stephan Holl of the German label Fun In The Church. 

“Fortuitously, all three of us — Roxlee, Lav, and me — were in Berlin at the same time. Rox was an actor in my theater play ‘SMAK!’ at Volksbühne and Lav was on his way for a retrospective in Brussels. The five quirky dark songs are ‘Pagtahan,’ ‘Bless You,’ ‘Two Birds,’ ‘Uniberso,’ and ‘Jingle Lang Ang Pahinga,’ an ode to the influential Jingle Magazine. The whole thing was recorded in a day in the legendary Rauch-Haus studio.”

The last time The Brockas performed in the Philippines was at the 2022 International Silent Film Festival in Shangri-La Mall Cinemas, providing the musical score for F.W. Murnau’s classic vampire film “Nosferatu: A Symphony Of Horror” on November 25.

Incidentally, the theme song for one of his acclaimed films, “Ruined Heart,” was used in a South Korean TV commercial with big K-pop names. The eponymously titled song that Khavn composed was performed and recorded by Bing Austria & The Flippin’ Soul Stompers.

“Last year it was used in a video ad for a car sales service in South Korea. It has South Korean superstars Han So Hee (“My Name,” “Nevertheless,” “World of the Married”) and Kim Hye Soo (“The Thieves,” “Juvenile Justice”). My German music labels Staatsakt and Fun In The Church Records, both from Berlin were responsible. At any rate, I got compensated naman because of the copyright and I distributed the talent fee, or what’s due for Bing Austria and the other session musicians. It was a big help during the pandemic lockdowns.”


‘Antimarcos’ novelist

Khavn also won last year’s Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, grand prize for the novel, Filipino category, for his work intriguingly titled “Antimarcos”. He told ABS-CBN News it has been a work-in-progress for decades.

“I officially started the day I turned 23, back in 1996. Though it also has some fragments from before that. I’ve been adding to it through the years. I still had plans to add additional chapters until the springtime of my nonagenarian years. My wife Achinette Villamor nudged me to submit my 500-page manuscript to the Palanca Awards last May. Receiving the award meant this novel is finished.

“It’s about me, myself, I, and everyone else who happened to be there at the time. Life after 16 years of Jesuit purgatory, Spirit Questors, Oracafe, desperate filmmakers, drunk musicians, wasted writers, everything including the girl and the sink.

“Karina Bolasco, the director of Ateneo University Press, told me that they will publish it sometime during the first half of 2023.”

We asked him if he’s worried he might be red-tagged because of the title itself? “Red-tagging is the most absurd concoction of the Duterte administration.,” he said.

On December 23 last year, Khavn turned 49, logging in a total of 365 films (50 plus features and 300 plus shorts), eight books of poetry, two short story collections, a novel, an anthology of contemporary Philippine poetry and a film book about the Philippine No Wave.

One may wonder who comes first in his persona: the filmmaker, writer or the musician? 

“I started playing dead white men’s music as a classical pianist when I was in grade school, fell in love with the written and spoken word in freshman college, began making films in fourth-year college," he said.

"At the end of the day, it’s all about one creative spirit, which can manifest itself in different art forms. When I was 10, I was intensely into breakdancing. And like all children, I love to draw and paint, create worlds with my hands.”

He added: “The important thing is that the creative energy is released and realized in the most positive possibility.”

Among his many compositions were recorded by Darryl Shy (“Lately: Here Tonight”), Max Surban (“Gitik-Gitik”), Lolita Carbon (“Katurog Na”) and Jolina Magdangal-Escueta (“Gusto”). 


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