Note by Randy Ford: Lino was a close friend. He gave so much…and among other things, he gave my wife and me a puppy named PETA and two chicks named Chitty-Chitty and Bang-Bang (the dog and the chicks were named by Lino); both chicks suffered a violent deaths: PETA killed one and the other drowned in a toilet bowl. I didn’t learn of Lino’s deaith until I went to buy a DVR of his last movie for a Christmas present.
Renowned Film Director
Lino Brocka was an eminent film, television, and stage director who blazed the path for socially oriented Filipino films in the seventies. He was born on April 3, 1939 in Nueva Ecija. His father, Regino, was a skilled carpenter and boat builder as well as an itinerant salesman from Sorsogon.
Regino Brocka settled his schoolteacher wife in Pilar, Sorsogon while he carried out his occupations around the country. On a trip to Nueva Ecija, he fell in love with a 15-year-old lass named Pilar, who became Lino’s mother. Despite the objection of Pilar’s parents, Regino took Lino and his mother to Bicol and, deserting his legal family, lived with them on an island off the coast.
His legal wife filed a case of bigamy against Regino. He was convicted and sentenced to two years in Muntinglupa Prison. The young Lino and his mother moved into a house near the prison, where Lino’s brother, Danilo, was born. After his sentence, Regino returned with them to their island-home in Bicol.
Regino Brocka had a profound influence on Lino. He poured his knowledge, time, experience, and love into the growing boy. He taught his son the alphabet, arithmetic, and natural sciences, as well as the art of singing, dancing, and reciting poetry.
Regino was an important man on the island, he took an interest in politics. He often took the young Lino to his meetings. His father was killed in what looked like a political murder. With his father’s death, their family lost its financial and social position. His mother had to accept odd jobs in town, and later, stayed with local fisherman who was kind to young Lino and his brother but who had been totally indifferent to his late father.
His mother’s new life apparently did not work out well. Pilar and her family went to her relatives in Nueva Ecija where they were split up. Lino lived with his aunt.
While living with his aunt, Lino was treated as a houseboy and subjected to insults and physical abuse. He had to put up with everything for four years, until he had a heated argument with his aunt, who threw a large bowl at him, knocking him unconscious. After that, he ran away to his grandmother, where he was reunited with his mother and brother.
Upon learning about the maltreatment, Lino’s mother broke off with her elder sister and returned to San Jose, where she and her two sons were reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence. He attended the San Jose Elementary School, studying there from 1947 until his graduation in 1952.
Apart from school, the only respite Lino had from his daily chores was the movies. He became an avid movie fan, and since most of the movies he saw were made in Hollywood, he developed a fondness for American lifestyles and movie plots.
When his mother started teaching, Lino now focused his attention on being successful in high school. He excelled in his academic subjects as well as in debate, oration, and in any other activity that needed performing. He also read most of the books at the San Jose Library, and was influenced by authors like A.J. Cronin and William Somerset Maugham.
Lino Brocka graduated from high school with six medals and won a scholarship to the University of the Philippines, where he enrolled in a pre-law course.
However, he dropped his pre-law course and took only subjects, which interested him, like literature. He lost his scholarship by the end of his freshman year, and he had to work to pay for his tuition. By the time he left the University, he had enough English units for master’s degree but lacked credits for a freshman course in other subjects.
While he was still at UP, Brocka joined its Dramatic Club. When he applied for membership, he was not accepted because of his provinciano accent. Disgusted, he again started watching American movies and practiced speaking like an American. He returned to the UP Dramatic Club, but not as an actor but as a stagehand pulling curtains. He also worked at the music shop of the UP Canteen and did publicity work for American B-movies shot in the Philippines but packaged in Hollywood. Once, he worked as an assistant director. Among the many friends he made at the Dramatic Club was Behn Cervantes, who later became a fellow stage and film director. Cervantes introduced him to a team of young Mormon’s first Filipino convert and missionary. He was sent to Hawaii, where he taught part of a course in world religion in the University of Hawaii.
After completing his missionary work, Brocka enrolled at the Mormon College of Hawaii to try to complete his college education, but the balmy Hawaiian climate militated against it. He found himself sleeping under the coconut trees instead of attending his classes.
Brocka left Hawaii for San Francisco. Having little money, he lived among the bums and hoboes of the city. Later, he took a job as a busboy in a diner, where he had his first complete meal in months. He worked next in a hospital for the elderly. Its administrator offered him permanent employment and a chance at getting an American citizenship, but he refused. After five months in San Francisco, he returned home in 1968.
His friend from UP, Behn Cervantes introduced him to Cecille Guidote (now Mrs. Heherson Alvarez) who had founded the Philippines Educational Theater Association in 1967. Brocka joined her group in 1969.
At PETA, Brocka did everything. He ran errands, wrote scripts, and led in theater exercises. Eventually, he started directing for PETA’s drama show for television.
In 1970, a movie producer asked Brocka to do a film, which his outfit, LEA Production, would enter in the Manila Film Festival. The result was “Wanted: Perfect Mother,” based on “The Sound of Music” and a Filipino comic serial. It not only won an award for best screenplay at the festival but also proved that Filipino films could earn as much prestige as foreign films.
Also in 1970, Brocka directed “Santiago,” a war movie that won for him the best director award from the Citizen’s Council for Mass Media. Later in the year his “Tubog sa Ginto,” a film about a wealthy married homosexual and his family, also garnered an award.
For the next four years, he made seven more pictures for LEA Productions.
Brocka realized that he had to make two moneymaking films for the company before he could make one that he really liked. He exploited topics, which were usually taboo and approached these with sensitivity and sympathy, using actors and actresses with background in the theater. He kept looking for new talents in scripts writing, musical scoring, and acting. Among his now-famous acting “discoveries” were Hilda Koronel, Christopher de Leon, Philip Salvador, and Bembol Roco.
In 1971, Brocka won another best director award from CCMM for “Stardom,” a film about a young performer forced tragically into stardom by his ambitious mother,
Not wishing to be tied down permanently to filmmaking, he quit LEA Productions to teach film, drama, and speech at St. Theresa’s College and St. Paul’s College. He impressed upon his students the importance of doing films and plays that would make the audience think.
In 1974, with about 100 artists and 10 businessmen, he formed a film company, CINEMANILA, which he himself headed. In the same year, he directed “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang,” a film about a teenaged lad growing up in a small town amid its petty and gross injustices. A box office hit, it won another best director award from FAMAS for Brocka, apart from a best actor award, and was made a required viewing in religious classes in Catholic Schools.
CINEMANILA however, was short-lived. It made only three more films, after “Tinimbang…” When it folded up, Brocka, who had been very liberal in signing checks and personally guaranteeing loans, found himself more than P800,000 in debt. Despite his precarious financial condition, Brocka turned down offers by the Marcos administration to do films it “approved.”
In 1975, Brocka went on to win another FAMAS best director award from “Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag.” Which was about a young man searching for his sweetheart in Manila. The young woman was taken in by a “recruiter” who refuses his requests to see her. The young man becomes enmeshed in the intrigues of criminal groups and the lower strata of society and finds out about the fate of his sweetheart. He ends up taking revenge on the “recruiter,” a brother owner, and he was killed by a mob.
Still another such award from FAMAS came his way in 1980 for “Jaguar.” Brocka entered “Jaguar,” which also won the best director award from the Urian, a critics’ association, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1977. Brocka entered two other movies of his, “Insiang” and “Bona”, in that prestigious film festival in France.
In 1983, Brocka formed the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, which he led for two years. His stand was that artists were first and foremost citizens and, as such, must address the issues confronting the country. CAP, which was one of the organizations that gathered at then Manila International Airport to welcome Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino from his self-exile in the United states, became active in anti-government rallies in both Manila and the provinces after the Aquino assassination. It also figured prominently in protest actions against media censorship. After a nationwide strike supported by jeepney drivers in 1984, Brocka was arrested and imprisoned for 16 days. That year, he became a national council member of the anti-Marcos Coalition of Organizations for the restoration of Democracy (CORD).
While participating in rallies by day, Brocka made movies at night to support himself and pay off his debts. After securing the support of Malaya Films, an outfit with anti-Marcos leanings, he came out with the movie, “Bayan Ko, Kapit Sa Patalim.” In the title “Bayan Ko” referred to a popular protest song while “Kapit Sa Patalim” formed part of a Filipino saying concerning someone in desperate straits. When he arrived at the Cannes Film Festival to show this film, Brocka wore a barong adorned by a blooded map of the Philippines within the country. “Bayan Ko” gained rave reviews at Cannes and was later adjudged best film of the year by the British Film Institute.
The government tried to stop its showing in the country, saying that it was subversive, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of it. However, before it could be shown to the public, the Board of Censors dubbed it “lascivious” and said it had to cut many scenes. Another legal battle ensued at the Supreme Court before Brocka and Malaya Films secured the showing of the film in its uncut form, but only to audiences over 18-years-old.
After his return to France, the government refused to renew Brock’s passport, but backed down after he was invited to speak at human rights conference by French Prime Minister.
In 1985, Brocka, who had become the most popular and respected film director in the country, was honored with the Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts “for making cinema a vital social commentary, awakening public consciousness to disturbing realities of life among the Filipino poor.”
With the overthrow of the Marcos regime, Brocka strove for a freer media atmosphere. He was selected by the new government of Corazon Aquino as one of the members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission. However, he and some other commissioners later resigned in disgust, saying that the new charter it was drafting was repressive and anti-Filipino.
An anti-bases activist, Brocka vigorously campaigned against the presence of USS military facilities in the Philippines.
In the film, “Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak,” he portrayed the abuse of power by self-serving politicians. In another film, “Ora Pro Nobis,” which was shown in Cannes, he portrayed the abuses of the military and religious cults it had recruited in the anti-insurgency war in the country.
Brocka made many films, which were actually rehashes of American originals. He participated in many other film festivals, like those in Toronto, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Chicago, and was interviewed by prestigious magazines.
On May 21, 1991, Brocka met his sudden death in a car crash in Quezon City. At the time of his death, he was filming “Sa Kabila ng Lahat.” Brocka, who had remained single, left behind his mother Pilar and brother Danilo.
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