First Pinoy indie film is a story in itself

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DANNY VIBAS

DANNY VIBAS

DO you know that Ishmael Bernal’s Pagdating Sa Dulo, which will open the 3rd World Premieres Film Festival Philippines on June 29, may be considered the country’s first indie film?

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Although the iconic film was produced in 1971 yet, it wasn’t any of the big time movie companies then that bankrolled it. It was some kind of fly-by-night company that produced it: Frankessa Films. The outfit was put together by the movie’s main producer, George Sison, who had to cajole some of his equally well-off friends to invest in the film which would turn out to be Bernal’s first completed directorial ouevre. (Oh, yes, not too many know that Bernal got more than halfway directing the comedy Ah, Ewan, Basta sa Maynila Pa Rin Ako for Virgo Films’ of the then actor-producer couple Eddie Rodriguez and Liza Moreno.

The would-be National Artist for Film decided to give up what would have been his first directorial creation when he was asked to scrap some scenes and add new ones conceived by the producers.

“We couldn’t produce any follow-up film because Pagdating Sa Dulo also led the company to its end: it was a great flop,” deadpanned George one night recently at a Makati restaurant.

Though Pagdating Sa Dulo is listed by critics as one of Ten Best Filipino Films of All Time, it had the look, feel, and intention of an independent film. Almost all of the film’s settings are cramped and suffocating. And if you would read the few retrospective reviews in the internet, you’d find out that all the critics stress that the tight settings are appropriate to what the filmmaker wants to say about life and filmmaking as an art.

Pagdating Sa Dulo was already indie in 1971 even as it top billed big stars Rita Gomez, Vic Vargas, Eddie Garcia, Ronaldo Valdez, and then-television’s hottest host Elvira Manahan (who never appeared in any other film).

The digitally-restored film was previewed to the press recently to drum up the forthcoming 12-day international film festival put together on its third year by the now very dynamic government agency, Film Development Council of the Philippines, headed by former filmmaker Briccio Santos. The venue was Cinematheque at the very accessible TM Kalaw St. in Manila where Instituto Cervantes used to be. All the entries and non-competing films from various continents will be shown in the same venue, where parallel events (such as symposiums and live variety shows) will also be held.

A number of films however, including those in competition (categories: Filipino and continental) will also be shown in SM North Edsa, Greenbelt 3, SM Megamall, Shangri-la Plaza , and Uptown Mall.

For more details on the festival, logged on to www.wpff.ph. The festival also has a Facebook page.

We all know that after Bernal did Pagdating sa Dulo, he went on to do other film masterpieces and prestigious commercial films. As for Sison, he evolved mainly into a spiritual guru (though he seems to prefer to be tagged these days with the worldly title “life management coach”). He founded the spiritual study group Temple of Prayer, Peace, and Prosperity, which remains active up to now. He writes the uniquely combined spiritual and high-society column And so it is for a broadsheet and recently published the bold and daring book You Are God (As You Are).

Sison will attend the grand screening of Pagdating at Cinematheque and will be presented in a press conference right after the screening to answer questions about the film and Bernal who was his fellow member of a theater guild at the University of the Philippines Diliman, along with Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes.

It was Sison who gave the film its title, which is a line from the Tagalog folk song Leron Leron Sinta.

“Ishma (Bernal) showed me his script with no title yet, and asked me to think of one. Almost immediately after reading it, I blurted to him ‘pagdating sa dulo, nabali ang sanga.’ He liked it on the spot, though we removed ‘nabali ang sanga’ to make the title more exciting, if not titillating,” revealed the irrepressible Sison who was incarcerated at Camp Crame during Martial Law for his exposes against the Marcoses writing as a journalist under the pseudonym Conde de Makati.

As producer of Pagdating sa Dulo, he had to go by another pseudonym: Desi Dison.
We’ll reveal why he had to hide under an assumed name, after his press conference at the festival’s opening day.

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