Mike de Leon is a multi-awarded cinematographer, screenplay writer and director in Philippine cinema. Among his first works as a cinematographer was Maynila, Sa Kuko ng Liwanag, directed by Lino Brocka. It was a harsh portrayal of life in the metropolis and the struggle for survival by its masses. Mike’s latest film, as director, was Citizen Jake, an indictment of Philippine politics and the octopus-like tentacles that have strangled the country and the citizenry.
Mike is also the son of the late Atty. Manny de Leon, and grandson of the legendary, Doña Sisang de Leon, the pillars of LVN Pictures and of the Philippine motion picture industry.
Most significant of all, Mike is a concerned Filipino citizen who has often portrayed, exposed and criticized the ills of his country through his art. Citizen Jake is one such portrayal by citizen Mike.
Like many of us, writers and opinion makers, who have bewailed the cancer eroding our beloved country, there is a sense of helplessness in Citizen Jake, the movie, as of someone drowning and gasping for breath, flailing desperately for help but knowing the utter futility of his efforts.
I myself have been writing a newspaper column for three decades and, frankly, I wonder if I have made any impression at all in the minds of the readers and if Philippine politics and society have paid any attention to me.
I had the pleasure of having dinner and drinks with Mike the other night, along with advertising man Chris Viriña. They asked to meet with me about Citizen Jake. Mike would like to exhibit the film to the Filipino community in the US. Chris had told Mike about my access to the community in America and wondered if I could help.
I readily agreed to help. There is a soft spot in my heart for LVN Pictures and Mike’s father and grandmother, not to mention my admiration for Mike’s cinematic accomplishments. I wrote my first story and screenplay for LVN back in 1957, when I was 17 years old. Barkada, which starred Lou Salvador, Jr., was a story about teenage street boys. Being a teenage street boy myself who just happened to have gotten a rare break in the movies, I felt that I was in my elements when I wrote Barkada.
Not according to Doña Sisang. When she spotted me at the De Leon mansion in New Manila, Quezon City, where the old lady also had her office, she gave me a thorough dressing down. According to Doña Sisang, a movie had to appeal to all kinds of viewers — those looking for drama, action, music and comedy — and one had to please everyone of them.
“Tinamaan ka ng lintik,” the grand old lady of Philippine cinema snapped, “You only pleased yourself with your movie.”
I would subsequently refer to that classic lecture on screenplay writing as the Diningding Doctrine or the Pinakbet Principle.
The good part was when Doña Sisang concluded the scolding with, “Next time, you should do better.”
Thank heavens! That meant I could look forward to another screenplay assignment. In fact, my second assignment was the 20th anniversary film of LVN, Casa Grande. It was a trilogy that featured all the stars of LVN and was directed by the studio’s most accomplished directors.
The first story in the trilogy was Herederos, directed by the legendary Manuel Conde. I wrote the screenplay based on a story by Manoling. The second story was Gerilyang Patpat, directed by another legendary director, Dr. Gregorio Fernandez. I also wrote the screenplay based on a story by still another legendary movie man, Lamberto Avellana, who would be named National Artist for Films. I was also assistant director of Gerilyang Patpat.
Mike and I relished our recollection of the Golden Age of Philippine movies (although past its zenith). However, the more important issue was finding ways to exhibit Citizen Jake in America to Filipino audiences.
One group seems to be the ideal partner for this undertaking. US Pinoys for Good Governance has been at the forefront of overseas activism against corruption and incompetence in the Philippine government. Its national president is San Francisco lawyer Rodel Rodis, one of the most outspoken against President Rodrigo Duterte’s lapdog relations with China over the West Philippine Sea transgressions.
I also mentioned my activist friends in Washington DC, led by Jon Melegrito, in Las Vegas, with Gloria Caoile and Rozita Lee, and in London, with Peps Villanueva and Gene Alcantara.
But the body of work of Mike deserves more exposure than simply through Citizen Jake. Wikipedia lists Mike’s accomplishments as follows:
“De Leon produced and served as cinematographer for Lino Brocka’s Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in 1975. He won best cinematography award from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences(FAMAS) for Maynila.
“His first major full-length work was Itim (Black) in 1976. It was voted by the Philippine’s Urian Awards as one of the Ten Outstanding Films of the Decade: 1970-79. The film also won him the best picture award at the 1978 Asian Film Festival held in Sydney, Australia.
“De Leon created Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising in 1977, a tribute to his grandmother Doña Sisang, to celebrate the centennial of the family’s film company, LVN Pictures. Known for his varied experiments in styles of film directing, he made Kakabakaba Ka Ba?, a landmark film which portrayed a number of self-important totems of Philippine society. It won for de Leon the Urian award for best director.
“His other movies include Kisapmata (1981), Batch ‘81 (1982) and Sister Stella L. (1984). These films were later listed as the Philippines’s Ten Outstanding Films of the Decade: 1980-1989 by the Philippines’ Urian Awards.His blockbuster film, Hindi Nahahati ang Langit (1985) was an adaptation of an earlier Filipino Komiks version of the same title. In 1987, De Leon also made Bilanggo sa Dilim, a full-length video commissioned by Sony Entertainment.
“Batch ‘81 was voted best picture by the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) where de Leon also won a best screenplay award. For Sister Stella L., he won best director and best screenplay in the Philippines’ Urian Awards in 1984. Kisapmata and Batch ‘81 were presented during the Directors’ Fortnight at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. The film Sister Stella L. was an entry during the 1985 Venice Film Festival.”
“Mike de Leon deservedly received the Parangal Sentenyal sa Sining at Kultura at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in February 1999.”
Indeed, a Mike de Leon Film Festival may be a good idea following the exhibition of Citizen Jake.
Just one comment about this film. Mike expresses his frustration over the ills of his country by ending his movie with a gunshot. This reminds me of a play with so many characters and so many complications in the plot that one wonders how the conflicts could ever be resolved. Suddenly, a new character bursts on the scene with an automatic weapon and shoots dead everyone onstage.
The character then faces the audience and introduces himself: “I’m the playwright. I couldn’t resolve the conflicts, so I had to end the play this way.”
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.