MANILA -- Film auteur Lav Diaz, and National Artists for Film Lino Brocka and Ricky Lee may have been legends who helped push Philippine cinema into greater heights but in the eyes of the common folks, they are relatively unknowns.
There’s a popular story about Brocka during one of his location shoots that had big stars it had to be cordoned off due to the influx of screaming fans.
Coming from outside, Brocka had to pass the gated venue where a security guard was assigned. Surprisingly, Brocka wasn’t allowed entry.
The unassuming filmmaker was reportedly used to wearing simple T-shirt, maong pants and sandals so the guard thought he was just a regular fan.
“I am the director of the film,” Brocka reportedly told the clueless guard.
“There are a lot of people who say they are the director, one of the extras, stuntmen just to get in,” the guard said in Filipino and asked Brocka to show an ID for proof he was indeed the director.
But Brocka can’t produce any ID or any tangible proof, he was requested to move away because he was creating a scene. Finally, one of the lead stars was recognizable from their vantage point and within an earshot, Brocka called the artista. The crowd went wild.
Before hysterical fans could create a stampede, the famous star heard Brocka and in no time, the guard was apologizing to him.
An eyewitness to this incident was scriptwriter Ricky Lee. He told this writer he can’t recall what year and which film but he said it happened to his friend many times that the story has been a favorite anecdote on Brocka.
Despite his stature in theater and the film industry, Brocka was also known for his simple lifestyle, much more his frugality. He was also executive director of the Philippine Educational Theater Association for decades, after its founding artistic director Cecile Guidote-Alvarez left for the United States as political exile in 1972 because of Martial Law and handed him the leadership of PETA.
Fernando “Tata Nanding” Josef, then a member of PETA and who eventually acted in films directed by Brocka, recalled an example of Brocka’s frugality.
“In PETA, we all do other duties besides acting or directing or being stage hands. Walang star. Kahit lead actor ka sa play, on some days, maghuhugas ka naman ng pinggan. At some point, I was doing media relations and publicity. I was with another actor making the rounds of media offices, personally sending press releases,” Josef said.
It was the late 1970s and Brocka has been hailed as an internationally acclaimed film director. “Insiang” at the time was just shown in the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes Film Festival -- the first Filipino director to do that.
“One office was near Lino’s house. So we called him up and asked him if we could drop by and have lunch there with him. He agreed. When he served our lunch, it was rice and salted egg. ‘Yun ang ulam namin. We told him, partly in jest but partly serious, ‘Ano ba ‘yan, internationally acclaimed director tapos ang ulam, itlog na maalat.”
Brocka’s apartment had a small garden planted with camote. Josef recalled, “Lino pointed to the camote plants in his garden and told us, ‘Ayan o, mag-pitas kayo ng talbos ng kamote, ilaga niyo, masustansya pa.”
Ricky Lee is undeniably the greatest living Filipino scriptwriter today. A few years ago, despite countless TV interviews and You Tube videos on him, Lee was often addressed as the late newspaper entertainment editor Ricky Lo and vice versa.
When Lo was still alive, they decided to put an end to the issue by guesting live on Martin Nievera’s former talk show on ABS-CBN.
“To prove that Ricky Lo and Ricky Lee are two different persons, we felt we had to appear together in Martin’s talk show,” Lee said.
As we all know, Lee was awarded the Order of National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts last year. Though honored for his screenplays, Lee has also written novels, short stories and essays and they are being read by lovers of sensible contemporary literature. His latest novel, “Lahat ng B”, has sold 2,000 copies in the first week of January and the orders kept on coming.
Despite his stature, as much as possible even on social media he remains accessible to students, fans and just about anyone who wants to learn about scriptwriting or creative writing in general.
“Para akong carinderia, bukas sa lahat ng gustong kumain at libre pa,” Lee said.
Riding tricycles, taxis
Lav Diaz is often described a “rock star” in prestigious international film festivals like Venice, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto, Rotterdam, among others. He may be one of the much-awarded and acclaimed, credible filmmakers here and abroad but the regular man-on-the-street actually doesn’t recognize him. Since he doesn’t have any social media presence, even millennials won’t stop him at the mall for a selfie.
Diaz has also been known for living with simple means.
Diaz and Josef happen to reside in the same city somewhere up north in Metro Manila. Josef, now artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino, had a casual meeting with Diaz a few months ago for a film project. They agreed to meet in Josef’s house. It can be recalled Josef won his very first Best Actor trophy from the Urian Awards for his bad-guy role in Diaz’s “Lahi, Hayup” (Genus, Pan).
Josef lives in another barangay and Diaz reportedly rode a jeepney from his place. He recalled Diaz walked at least half-a-mile from the main street toward his residence.
“I waited for him in front of our gate because he might get lost. After our meeting, he walked again toward the main street where most jeepneys pass by. Or I think, tumawag siya ng tricycle. Very simple man. Napaka-unassuming,” Josef said.
Diaz reportedly has an old cell phone whose functions are only meant for calls and SMS. He can’t use any riding app.
If he rides a taxi, it’s usually the regular white metered cab.
Hazel Orencio, actor and assistant director to many of Diaz’s films, recounted how in one incident, Diaz as taxi passenger was asked by the driver to get out of the vehicle in the middle of the street for lecturing about the Marcoses or something like that.
“Hindi ako nag-lecture sa kanya tungkol kay Marcos. ‘Yung nagpababa sa akin, nangyari nung patapos na ang Noynoy (Aquino) administration. Pagsakay ko, banat na siya, na kesyo walang kuwenta si Noynoy, malamya, binabae, ang gawain umano ng mga Aquino ay ang maghiganti laban sa mga Marcoses, at lahat umano ng mga paratang kina Marcos ay gawa-gawa lang, na sa totoo lang umano ay napakadakila ng Martial Law, napakadakila ni Marcos, na ang mga aktibista ay mga pakawala ng mga komunista at ng CIA. Wala siyang tigil,” Diaz told this writer in an online conversation.
“Nang mapagod na siya, malumanay akong nagsalita, at pinabulaanan ko lang ang ilang sinasabi niya nang ayon lang sa facts, e.g., mga atrocities ng Martial Law, ang mga perang nasa Switzerland.
“Hindi pa man ako nakakabuwelo sa aking diskurso ay dinaganan na ng isang paa niya ang preno ng sasakyan, sabay singhal sa akin na bumaba na ako at baka hindi siya makapagpigil at masaksak niya ako.”
There’s a recent similar incident.
Diaz continued: “Nitong bago naman mag-eleksyon ng tunggaliang Marcos at Robredo, halos ganun din ang nangyari. Sumakay kami ng taxi, kasama ko ang staff ng produksyon, at hayun, habang tumatakbo ang sasakyan, bumanat na si Manong Drayber ng kung anu-anong kasinungalingan laban kay Leni at sa iba pang personahe ng oposisyon. Sinalungat ko ang mga sinasabi niya.
“At nakakatakot ang ginawa niyang pagmamaktol. Binilisan niya ang takbo ng sasakyan at halos mawalan na ito ng direksyon, at tumahimik na siya, nakabibinging katahimikan, walang salita, wala siyang reaksyon man lang nung i-abot ko ang pamasahe, nakatingin lang siya sa kawalan, at pagbaba namin ay habol pa niya kami ng nakapangingilabot niyang tanaw.”
Diaz continues to make acclaimed, epic art-house films whose themes and narratives he hopes would help open the eyes of the general populace, the masa, and millions of younger generations of Filipinos hooked to social median and blinded by historical distortion, fake news and disinformation.
As of posting, he’s serving as jury member in the ongoing 2023 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). His recent opus, “When The Waves Are Gone” will be the closing film at the IFRR on February 2, where there will be a talk-back session after the screening.
His adaptation of Lee’s classic short story, “Servando Magdamag” was co-produced by ABS-CBN, with former Kapamilya star John Lloyd Cruz in the lead. Retitled to “A Tale of Filipino Violence” the six-hour film is yet to be premiered in the Philippines.