Award-winning writer and director Maryo J. Delos Reyes was destined to stand out and deliver quality art that does not merely entertain, but also open minds.
While developing a passion for films that move and make a difference at an early age is quite rare, Delos Reyes surrounded himself with inspirations that cultivated his interests. This then paved way for his advocacy in life—to use art as a way to communicate awareness and compassion.
Known for multi-awarded and inspirational films such as Magnifico, Kamoteng Kahoy, and the more recent Bamboo Flowers, he claims that there is more to this industry than merely entertainment. He believes that artists have the power to raise awareness and promote solutions to the problems in society. He believes that making the audience feel that they are part of the film is one way to make them reflect and realize the issues that need to be addressed.
According to Delos Reyes, his drive to make such films is fueled by his love for country, a belief that Filipinos can do so much more as a nation, and by his faith in God.
Currently, through his ongoing inspirational series on GMA Network, Pari ‘Koy—a story that follows the life of an unconventional yet devoted priest in a small community—the director is grateful for the opportunity to further his advocacy by helping Filipinos realize how the smallest acts of kindness can make a big difference in society.
Today, Delos Reyes shares his growth an artist with The Sunday Times Magazine, through recollections of experiences that compelled him to perpetually present the need for social awareness and compassion in all his works.
The artistic seminarian
Maryo J. Delos Ryes grew up with the best access to knowledge because his mother was a professor at the Philippine Women’s University’s Home Economics Department. He recalls how he started to observe and eventually participate in the activities that her mother administered in class.
“Pagkatapos akong sunduin sa Letran, doon muna ako sa klase niya mag-ii-stay. Nag-o-observe ako whenever meron silang ginagawang projects. [After I would be fetched from Letran, I’d stay in my mother’s class to observe her class’ projects]. Then I became interested in what they were doing. It was an art class so they did a lot of things like glass painting, making models of houses, and even how to put up curtains.Those things interested me!” the director laughs.
He believes his fondness for arts and crafts was the impetus for his creative passion. Eventually, even his own teachers relied on him for suggestions on school projects. They would always let the young Maryo do his magic and come up with the most artistic creations for special events and projects.
Graduating to high school, Delos Reyes began taking his passion to the next level and moved on to stage plays. Even if he was studying in an all-male school, he set his creativity free, and even once portrayed the role of the Virgin Mary.
His passion was different form his vocation, however, as he soon decided to enter the seminary. Then already part of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), he confessed how his faith and interest in the performing intensified at the same time.
Delos Reyes recalls, “I brought PETA to the seminary, and I started to direct there. Though nagulo ko na yung seminaryo, kasi ginawa kong teatro yung chapel kaya di na makapag-mass doon. (But I caused a bit of a stir inside because I used the chapel as a theater and masses could no longer be held there). Kasi kahit yung playground, mga ganun, nagiging stage na rin [even the playground became a stage]because I was taught that any place where you can put your ideas can be the theater. And then one day the prefect of discipline told me ‘I think it’s better if you evangelize outside’.”
The award-winning director
Delos Reyes’ teachers and mentors were all in agreement that he should make the most of his undeniable talent and recommended he pursue arts in college. He obeyed them and went to the University of the Philippines where he completed a degree of Broadcast Communications minor in Humanities.
His thesis on teaching family planning through theater principles, which he also presented in an international event in Mexico, paved the way for Delos Reyes to secure a scholarship and study in Europe. The experience enriched his knowledge in culture and immersed him in deep societal issues that he would later stitch in his works as a filmmaker.
After finishing his course in Europe, he returned to the Philippines and started writing for Balintataw, a television program that featured anthologies based on plays. Soon he began administering workshops for children, and also became involved directing the program, which eventually paved the way to his debut as a filmmaker.
However at the age of 35, he started doubting his talent and career and sought the counsel of monks in Malaybalay in a weeklong retreat. Setting his mind free, reflecting and meditating, he found himself asking, “Is this really my calling?” As if he got his answer from God, he was surprised to learn from the monks that they like a movie called Bongga Ka ‘Day, a film they had no idea had been directed by their very visitor.
“Pati monks pinapag-direct ako. So sabi ko, this is it. Siguro sabi ni Lord, ‘Ang gulo gulo ng isip mo. Diyan na nga kita nilagay, nagtatanong ka pa. ‘Wag ka na magtanong pa ‘no! [Even the monks told me to keep directing so I told myself, this must be it. I think the Lord thought my mind was such a mess and I had so many questions. So through the monks, He told me, don’t keep on asking anymore. This is what you should be doing],” he related.
If awards are a sign that a person is in the right place, then the international and local recognitions of his most noted film Magnifico—an inspirational story of a young boy with a good heart and a large spirit that allows him to give joy to hopeless people in his impoverished community—is the strongest proof. The movie won Delos Reyes the Famas, the Gawad Urian, as well as awards from the Berlin, Brussels and Hawaii international film festivals.
His other works such including Naglalayag, Higit Pa Sa Buhay Ko, and Tagos ng Dugo among any others, also swept trophies throughout the director’s impressive career.
More than winning, however, Delos Reyes values the recognitions because for him, they mean that his films were able to deliver their message, be it about a social truth or injustice, or an inspiration for its viewers.
The solutions man
Delos Reyes believes that the best way to help the Filipinos is to compel them to open their eyes, and acknowledge society’s problems. Now actively directing inspirational material for television, including Nino and now Pari ‘Koy, both for GMA Network, the director makes sure that the problems they tackle should be told as they are, and then given a concrete solution in the end. He believes that an audience should not merely acquire information, but they should also be educated and motivated to action.
“Karamihan sa atin, hindi nakapag-aral. So kailangan natin silang i-reach tapos bigyan natin ng solusyon. At the same time, kung hindi tama yung solusyon, bigyan natin sila ng karapatan to reject it. [Many Filipinos were not able to finish school so through my work, I try to reach out to them and help them by suggesting solutions for their realities. But they should also be given the right to reject them],” Delos Reyes continued.
“Now that I’m working on Pari ‘Koy, I am amazed at this setting that I have in a depressed area. I find it difficult to see how people can live in such poverty, so much so that if I were the president I wouldn’t know how to address the problem,” he shares. “In the days that I’ve spent there, I saw so many children, and around them, there was so much drinking, so much gambling. I have to ask why things are that way? Why do Filipinos these days become so adept at using a cellphone but they don’t seem to know how to handle and take care of their families? I think education is the answer to all of these situations.”
The energized director
Energy is Direk Maryo J.’s trademark as a director. His works are always charged with life and power. His being a teacher at heart brings outthe best in all his talents, and this serves as an inspiration for them to develop their craft.
With every project, he says he wants to convey the message that people should find the beauty in what they already have. In directing Pari ‘Koy’s, which stars Dingdong Dantes as an unconventional priest who is passionate in serving his community, Delos Reyes has specifically chosen to focus on the Seven Capital Sins to compel viewers to reflect on their daily lives. These are pride, greed, gluttony, lust, sloth, envy, and wrath, which he believes, unless portrayed as what they truly are, can easily be accepted as a way of life for people today.
Besides the series, Delos Reyes also plans to further pursue his passion for the arts and its importance in society by popularizing paintings and sculptures in provinces. He has started treading this new road by teaching arts appreciation in Bohol, and later plans to convert his parents’ farm over there into an art barn.
With all the different ways he is expressing his art and advocacy to bring out the good in people and to inspire them, Maryo J. Delos Reyes continues to hope and pray that he has truly fulfilled what he was tasked to do before he left the seminary: To evangelize his audience with his works.