The restoration of Lino Brocka’s 1975 film “Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag” has found a surprise benefactor from across the globe: Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation (WCF) has taken a keen interest in the preservation project.
Acclaimed by critics for such films as “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “The Departed” and “The Aviator,” Scorsese has adopted film archiving and preservation as a pet advocacy.
In the WCF website, Scorsese explained that “the… foundation was created to help developing countries preserve their cinematic treasures.”
According to the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), Scorsese enthusiastically embraced the digital restoration of “Maynila.” “I want a Brocka,” it quoted Scorsese as saying.
In a rare interview, filmmaker Mike de Leon, the film’s cinematographer and producer, told the Inquirer that a “few select people and institutions” played crucial roles in preserving “Maynila” through the years.
De Leon, who is emerging from a hiatus from show business for the restoration of the Brocka masterpiece, talked to the Inquirer, the first media outfit to have the chance to interview the reclusive master in a long, long while.
De Leon pointed out: “That this 1975 film still exists in a relatively excellent state is due to the generosity and expertise of LVN Pictures and its color laboratory, Pierre Rissient of France and Tan Bee Thiam of the Asian Film Archive (AFA) in Singapore.”
Now this list will include the FDCP and the WCF, as Scorsese teams up with De Leon to save Brocka’s masterpiece.
De Leon recalled that LVN Pictures and its color laboratory “ensured that the film negatives were processed to give maximum stability that would last for decades.”
De Leon recounted: “Sometime in the late 1970s,” French cineaste Rissient “deposited the original film negatives of ‘Maynila’ and ‘Itim’ (De Leon’s debut as director) in the British Film Institute (BFI).”
Rissient is largely credited for bringing Brocka to the Cannes film festival, where “Insiang” was shown at the Section Parallele in 1978.
In a fitting homecoming, the digitally restored “Maynila” is being earmarked for a possible premiere at the Cannes film festival in May next year, according to FDCP.
When the LVN Film Archive closed shop in 2005, De Leon transferred “the only good print of ‘Maynila,’ along with the restored master negatives of Lamberto Avellana’s “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” to the Asian Film Archive in Singapore.
De Leon expressed his gratitude to Tan, founder of the AFA.
“My film collection is now kept at the AFA. ‘A Portrait’ was produced by my father (Manuel de Leon) and he bequeathed it to me,” the award-winning director said. “LVN had a fully functioning archive in the early 1990s and no matter what people now say to the contrary, there was already a growing awareness of the need for film preservation within LVN in the late 1980s.”
The master negatives at the BFI and the only extant good print at the AFA will surely help the experts in restoring “Maynila” to its full glory.
“I am confident that these original film elements of ‘Maynila’ in London and Singapore will provide the World Cinema Foundation and the L’Immagine Ritrovata with a solid basis for a pristine restoration of Brocka’s film,” said De Leon.
Clearly, it will take the joint efforts of various institutions from different countries to save “Maynila” from the claws of deterioration.
Based on a novel by Edgardo M. Reyes, “Maynila” is widely regarded as one of the best works of Brocka.
It swept the Famas awards in 1976, winning best picture, director, cinematography (for De Leon), screenplay (for Clodualdo “Doy” del Mundo Jr.), actor (for Bembol Roco) and supporting actor (for Tommy Abuel).
It is the only Filipino film included in the anthology “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die,” where it was described by critic Chris Fujiwara as a “low-budget hit… a breakthrough for Filipino cinema… still often regarded as the best Filipino film of all time.”
While restoring another Filipino classic, Manuel Conde’s 1950 costume epic “Genghis Khan,” the FDCP developed a working relationship with the restoration laboratory, L’Immagine Ritrovata, based in Bologna, Italy.
“The ‘Maynila’ prints (from London and Singapore) are already in Bologna,” De Leon said.
The WCF works closely with L’Immagine Ritrovata, said Briccio Santos, FDCP chair.
In a way, “Genghis Khan” laid the groundwork for the collaboration between the FDCP and Scorsese’s foundation.
Santos told the Inquirer, “WCF has been in the forefront of film restoration worldwide.”
Santos pointed out that WCF’s interest in “Maynila” “validates FDCP’s decision to embark on major film restoration projects.”
The FDCP chair explained that “restoring films like ‘Maynila’ can be an effective means to provide the masses with much-needed access to these masterpieces.”
De Leon envisions the “Maynila” restoration as an apt tribute to Brocka.
Santos asserted that Brocka’s message remains as relevant today as it was in the 1970s.
“Brocka has always been known for his discipline and sense of determination to imbue his films with a social purpose. He undertook filmmaking to serve the Filipino people. This may be the reason why he was proclaimed a National Artist,” Santos said.
Del Mundo, who wrote the script of “Maynila,” agreed with Santos: “More than any other Filipino filmmaker of his generation, Brocka dealt with social and political issues. He was sincerely interested in exposing the injustices in our society, to find genuine solutions.”
Abuel, who portrayed lead star Roco’s friend Pol in the film, recalled that “Maynila” was produced only three years after the declaration of martial law.
“It bravely showed the exploitation of the working class, the poverty in the slums. It dared expose the ugly side of Manila, at a time when then First Lady Imelda Marcos only wanted to emphasize ‘the true, the good and the beautiful’ in the movies,” Abuel told the Inquirer.
“It was the height of martial law,” Santos related. “And yet Brocka challenged viewers to confront the actual conditions of oppressed Filipinos in an era characterized by danger and repression.”
Abuel related that Brocka also pushed the cast and crew to grapple with the harsh realities of the martial-law regime.
Abuel said that Brocka took the actors to an actual construction site, where the Bureau of Internal Revenue building now stands in Quezon City. “It was an immersion exercise. Lino asked us to interview real construction workers. He even encouraged us to buy the laborers’ tattered clothes, to wear onscreen.”
Del Mundo said that Brocka collaborated closely with the entire cast and crew. “With me, he discussed the additional scenes he wanted to include in the screenplay, particularly, the subplot about male prostitution.”
Del Mundo described Brocka as “fun co-worker.”