Mike de Leon tribute at UP with film screenings, launch of Blu-ray boxset

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Mar 21 2023 07:23 AM

Mike de Leon holds a copy of Carlotta Films-distributed Blu-ray boxset with his eight films. Photo from Carlotta Films FB page
Mike de Leon holds a copy of Carlotta Films-distributed Blu-ray boxset with his eight films. Photo from Carlotta Films FB page

MANILA -- The last quarter of 2022 saw veteran filmmaker Mike de Leon getting tributes here and abroad with retrospectives and on-site screenings of some of his restored films.

Two retrospectives happened in November. One was the month-long event in New York’s Museum of Modern Art and simultaneously the nine-day festival in Nantes City in France. 

There was also the release of his thick, two-volume visual memoir, “Mike de Leon’s Last Look Back”. As of posting, there are only few copies left for sale via Casa Grande Vintage Filipino Cinema Facebook page. 

The tributes continue this year. Starting March 24 until April 28 at the Oldham Theatre in Singapore, the Asian Film Archive will have its first retrospective of 2023 focused on De Leon’s complete works as director, writer, cinematographer and producer. These will be presented with restored classic titles from the 1930s to the 1960s by LVN Pictures, one of the biggest film companies during the studio era founded in 1938 by De Leon’s grandmother, Doña Sisang.

Now in the Philippines, there’s the invitational screenings for students of his two films, “Bayaning Third World” (1991) and “Batch ‘81” (1982) on March 21, Tuesday afternoon, at the Videotheque of the UP Film Center. 

Prof. Patrick Campos will give a short introduction for “Batch ‘81,” while Prof. Nick Deocampo will handle the intro to “Bayaning Third World”.

This will be followed with the Philippine launch of the Blu-ray boxset of De Leon’s eight classic films being distributed by the Paris-based Carlotta Films. Vincent Paul-Boncour, co-founder and director of Carlotta Films, will be the special guest. Limited copies will be on sale at the UP Film Center Open Courtyard, in front of the Cine Adarna Theater.

There was no news if the reclusive De Leon would attend. The last time he was seen in public was also middle of November last year for the Philippine premiere of the restored “Itim (Rites of May),” his first feature film, at the 10th QCinema International Film Festival in Gateway Cineplex in Cubao. 

The main man who pushed for the UP tribute to happen is Deocampo, with the help of his students and co-faculty members at the UP Film Institute and the support of the UP Diliman Chancellor’s Office. Deocampo, besides being a professor and filmmaker, is author of several books on films. His latest book is 2022’s “Alternative Cinema: The Unchronicled History of Alternative Cinema in the Philippines.”

The tribute started when Deocampo thought of conducting a special undergraduate subject solely focused on De Leon’s filmography named UPFI Class 180 (The Films of Mike de Leon).

For the Tuesday event, unfortunately only 50 people are allowed inside the venue due to safety and health protocols. Much to the chagrin of most of De Leon’s followers. Deocampo promised he’d give more public lectures and write his own book about De Leon.

“We decided to focus on the young film students as our target audience. My film students are inviting their fellow film students from UP and other schools and universities to discover the master filmmaker. So much can be learned from studying Mike's films from politics under martial law to the power of semiotics in producing meanings. These topics will be discussed by UPFI Prof. Patrick Campos and myself in our introductions to the two films. Mike de Leon has a lot to offer to young filmmakers and the UPFI is grateful to host this event,” Deocampo said in an earlier announcement in his Facebook account. 

We had a follow-up online conversation with Deocampo and here are excerpts. 

Q: Regarding the invitational screenings on March 21, kindly tell us how did the project start? 

Deocampo: “The project came from a simple query made by Mike de Leon to me if there would be any interest from the UP Film Institute—where I teach as a faculty—to sponsor the launch of his new Blu-ray boxset collection of films which will be released by Carlotta Films of Paris. It happened while I was interviewing Mike at the Mowelfund library in preparation for the class that I was teaching. 

“I took interest in it and suggested the Blu-ray launch during our faculty meeting. The faculty was excited, knowing fully well that it was rare to have Mike de Leon to engage himself in social events such as the launch of his films. Despite some apprehensions regarding the project, the faculty approved it and the UPFI director Rob Rownd gave me a go-signal to negotiate with Mike and organize the event. 

Q: About the class focused on Sir Mike’s films, is it going to be a regular subject every semester? If not, how frequent is it going to be? Is it Ok to tell us how many students can be allowed to enroll? 

Deocampo: “It was an audacious act on my part to suggest to our Institute that I hold a class on Mike de Leon’s films. That seldom happens when a film director becomes a subject of a semester-long study. Classes focused on the works of particular directors are hardly organized. I got the idea to teach Mike’s films from my studies in New York University where I had classes on Woody Allen and Sergei Eisenstein. The last one—and perhaps the only time—that a similar class was held was in 2018. It was a class on Lino Brocka. It was I who also taught that class. 

“The big difference is that the class on Brocka was on a masteral level and, for this current semester, it is daring for me to teach to an undergraduate class the films of de Leon, and using semiotics as a means to study his films. Introducing both the politics of terror (because of Martial Law) and the visual lexicon used to depict it through the study of signs (semiotics) is a difficult task but my undergrad students are all eager to learn. 

“Mike’s films, despite their serious and intimidating themes including his comedies (which are really satires) the films actually lend themselves well to those who want to study them. This is because Mike is among the most cinematic among our film directors, across the entire years when cinema was made in the country. He is the most disciplined when it comes to making films. His film language is masterfully executed and his use of visual signs produce meanings that go beyond what is literally seen. Very few in our film culture has such mastery of the cinematic medium as Mike de Leon. Our class is one way to discover, unpack and discern the meanings Mike has encoded into his images. And we are the better students of cinema, and Filipinos, in doing so.”

Q: In relation to this, do you also teach classes solely focused on other masters like Bernal, Diaz-Abaya and so on, besides Brocka and De Leon.

Deocampo: “In the future, I intend to perhaps teach a course on a more thematic basis based on the works of these directors like finding one theme—such as the use of cinematic space and apply this to the films of, say, Ishmael Bernal, Lav Diaz and Eddie Romero. Teaching the works of the masters is a way of knowing how both cinema and the culture where it is produced work in tandem to arrive at an idea of who we are as Filipinos.”