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Brocka: The Filmmaker without Fear

Written and Illustrated by Jose T. Gamboa

Catalino Ortiz Brocka

Catalino Ortiz Brocka (b. April 3, 1939 d. May 21, 1991) is considered the Philippines’ greatest filmmaker. Born in Pilar, Sorsogon, his father died when he was only six years old, leaving his mother, Pilar, to raise him and his brother Danilo on her own. Life was very difficult for Lino growing up, and his only escape was the local movie house which at the time, admitted children free of charge.

Lino won a scholarship to take up pre-law at the University of the Philippines, but after a year had lost both interest and his scholarship. Instead, he attended only subjects that interested him, such as literature and poetry. He auditioned for the Dramatic Club but was only allowed to join as a stagehand in charge of opening and closing the curtains due to his provincial accent.

In 1961, Lino became the first Filipino convert to the Church of Latter Day Saints. As part of the Mormon tradition, he was sent abroad for two years as a missionary, eventually ending up in a leper colony in the island of Molokai, Hawaii. He eventually left the Mormon church and worked in a hospital for the elderly in San Francisco. The administrator offered him American citizenship, but missing his country, Lino chose to return to the Philippines in 1968.

Brocka joined the Philippine Educational Theater (PETA) Group where he learned the craft of directing. His wrote and directed his first film, Wanted: Perfect Mother in 1970 under Lea Productions. It won the award for Best Screenplay at the Manila Film Festival.

After making nine films for Lea he spent two years teaching drama and speech while directing for television and continuing his work with PETA.

In 1974, together with other artists and businessmen he formed CineManila. They produced four films, with Tinimbang Ka Nguni’t Kulang winning Best Director at the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards. However, due to poor business management, the company declared bankruptcy.

After his film Insiang was screened at the Cannes Film Festival, his movies began to be shown around the world and win awards. Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim won the Best Film of the Year Award at the British Film Institute, but was considered subversive by the local censors, who tried to ban it in the Philippines.

Brocka, who openly admitted to being gay, confronted heretofore taboo issues such as homosexuality, poverty, and injustice with unflinching honesty and sensitivity. He believed that artists were first and foremost, citizens, and had the duty of addressing issues confronting society. He founded the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, and during martial law, began to speak at rallies and be more vocal about censorship.

In 1985 Brocka was given the Magsaysay Award “for making cinema a vital social commentary, awakening public consciousness to disturbing realities of life among the Filipino poor.”

Brocka died in a car crash at the age of 54. At the time of his death, he was filming Sa Kabila ng Lahat. He was posthumously awarded the National Artist Award for Film in 1997. His film Manila In the Claws of Light is listed among the 1001 Films to See Before You Die anthology, and is currently being digitally restored by Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation.