‘Biyaheng Quiapo’: first docu on National Artist Ricky Lee to be screened today | Inquirer Entertainment

‘Biyaheng Quiapo’: first docu on National Artist Ricky Lee to be screened today

/ 12:15 AM October 13, 2023

Lee, with half sister LucyPeredo and the “Biyaheng
Quiapo” production team

Lee, with half sister Lucy Peredo and the “Biyaheng Quiapo” production team —PHOTOS BYRON BRYANT

Sometimes, a rejection is simply a redirection,” said Byron Bryant on why it took him almost a decade to finish “Biyaheng Quiapo,” a documentary on National Artist for Film Ricky Lee that will be screened for the first time at the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) today.

The film also features actress Chanda Romero, filmmaker Mac Alejandre, the late Bien Lumbera (National Artist for Literature) and the late folk-rock singer and composer Heber Bartolome talking about Lee’s impact on their lives. It will be screened at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the UPFI Film Center Videotheque today.


“In 2013, my producer (Chantel Garcia) and I asked Ricky about the idea of doing a docu about him. We interviewed him at his home right away. He also allowed us to go with him to his hometown, Daet (Camarines Sur), where he reconnected with his old friends, especially his Grade 2 teacher. We were able to get important footage from that trip,” Bryant told Inquirer Entertainment in a recent virtual chat.


“After that, I didn’t know how to move on. I didn’t know who else to interview about him and I didn’t have enough funding,” recalled the director, adding that he applied for a grant from the organizers of the QCinema International Film Festival, but it was not approved, forcing him to stop production.

“When we resumed in 2019, it was the time when Ricky received his doctorate from PUP (Polytechnic University of the Philippines). If we had finished the docu in 2015, for example, this important milestone wouldn’t have been included,” Bryant explained.

He added that Lee’s graduation, held at the Philippine International Convention Center, served as the climax of the documentary. “It was a big production. All of the graduates were inside a massive venue. That would have been impossible to mount on a set.”

Bryant continued: “Sometimes, a rejection should be regarded as redirection. I got rejected by QCinema, but was directed to the right path the project had to take. I had wanted to show it on March 19, 2020, which was Ricky’s birthday, but Metro Manila was put on lockdown on March 15. Now that the situation is starting to normalize, and Ricky was declared a National Artist, we felt now was the time to show it. Back then, we still couldn’t see life according to its divine design.”

Lee with his high school friends (from left) Levy Rivera, Manolo Vargas and Ruben Yu at theChung Hua High School in Daet, Camarines Sur.

Lee with his high school friends (from left) Levy Rivera, Manolo Vargas and Ruben Yu at the
Chung Hua High School in Daet, Camarines Sur.

Anxious anticipation

Meanwhile, the soft-spoken and shy screenwriter admitted to feeling very anxious that the documentary would draw too much attention to him. “This has nothing to do with what Ron (Bryant’s nickname) has done. I’ve long resisted offers to make a movie out of my life story because it made me feel awkward,” said Lee, adding that his dear friend, the late National Artist for Film Marilou Diaz-Abaya, had almost gotten a “yes” from him.

“It was supposed to be a Regal movie based on my childhood. I said, ‘Yes’ because it wasn’t a docu, and the story was supposed to be only until I first set foot in Manila. After about two meetings, I had cold feet and told her, ‘Huwag na lang. Nakakahiya!’” he recalled. “Malou (Santos) kept asking permission to make my story into an episode of MMK (‘Maalaala Mo Kaya’), but I stalled for more time. There were other offers, but I kept turning them down.”


It was when Lee watched the documentary “The Cinema of Celso Ad Castillo,” also by Bryant, that he finally agreed for a film to be done about him, too. “Ron interviewed me about Celso, and so I got to see the film. I agreed with Ron because he was so enthusiastic about this project and he really worked hard on it. To be honest, now that it’s about to be shown, I’m having second thoughts again.”

National Artist for Film Ricky Lee

National Artist for Film Ricky Lee

The ‘hawi incident’

Lee confessed to feeling worried, “Because people have already been reading and hearing so much about me,” especially when he was proclaimed National Artist in July 2022 and then, most recently, the controversy with Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach that he referred to as the “hawi incident.”Lee created a buzz online after a video showing him getting pushed by a guard during the launch of Pia’s book went viral recently.

“I appreciate all the attention, but it’s making me feel shy—and now there’s even a film about me that’s going to come out. I understand what people tell me—it’s good that attention turned to a scriptwriter, this time, and not a director or actor. I just can’t help but feel anxious. People might not understand me, so I had to explain this to Ron,” Lee pointed out.

Still, he looks forward to watching the film, “For reasons that are more personal,” Lee said.

Bryant was able to interview a number of Lee’s close friends before they passed on. “I was good friends with Heber, but never got to speak with him before he died, as well as with my childhood friend, Levy Rivera. There’s also my Grade 2 teacher (Mrs. Marina Adevoso), who had a memory so sharp that she still remembered me after all those years. Again, she’s no longer with us, as well as my friend Bien. It’s sad, but the thought that they were in the film, talking about me kind of warms the heart.”

After the screening in UP, “Biyaheng Quiapo” will be shown in PUP in Manila and New Era University in Quezon City. “This is only the first trip,” declared Bryant. “We’re hoping that this will have a snowball effect and eventually get screenings all over Southeast Asia.”

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Prior to interviewing Lee for the documentary, Bryant said he had never met the award-winning writer in person. “I got interested in him after I read his book ‘Trip to Quiapo’ in 1999. This motivated me to shift from being a studio recording engineer to a scriptwriter. There’s a line in his book that really spoke to me. It said, ‘Tumalon ka.’ While telling him about it, I said, ‘I really jumped, Ricky.’ He said, ‘Sorry, ha?” recalled Bryant, laughing.

TAGS: National Artist, Ricky Lee

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