MANILA, Philippines — There is something to discover at every turn and corner of the Brocka, Bernal, and the City exhibit mounted by the College of St. Benilde as part of the celebration of the centennial of Philippine cinema.
“Everything is equally divided,” says Architect Gerry Torres, the director of the Center for Campus Art, who made sure that the two feature National Artists Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka were given equal representation up to the number of panels dedicated to each filmmaker.
The 12th floor gallery at the School of Design and Art was made to evoke the narrow eskinitas of Manila, with one wide avenida down the middle, lined by the neon signs, a throwback to the old stand-alone cinemas that once dotted the capital.
“The whole idea here was to re-create Avenida. Avenida was like the Times Square of Manila back then and that was where all the movies would premiere,” says Torres.
Kokoy Brocka Anupol is Brocka’s grandnephew and an aspiring filmmaker.
The cornerstones of this exhibit are two movies: Brocka’s Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag and Bernal’s Manila by Night, exploring the two directors’ takes on the city.
As one enters the exhibit, the voices of the two directors are heard on two TV monitors simultaneously broadcasting interviews of them. The walls are bathed in neon colors and are full of well laid-out text, photos and videos.
“I wanted this to be like you’re reading a movie magazine where there’s a lot of photos, there’s text that’s not too long and very interesting bits about the movies, about the actors,” says Torres.
Posters of Anino and Manila, both films inspired by Brocka and Bernal, beside an overview of filmmakers and actors who were interviewed for the exhibit.
He adds the neon color palette is also a reference to Maynila, which is sometimes translated as Manila in the Claws of Neon.
“Brocka said that the liwanag in Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag is not about the sun or the day, it was the neon lights that attracted the probinsyanos into Manila, but it was also the kind of light that would spell their doom,” Torres says. “I was conscious of using elements from the movies and incorporating them into the exhibit.”
As visitors walk through the alleyways of the exhibit, we get to know the two National Artists by their works, by glimpses of their personal lives from photos shared by their families, and through memories of those who they had worked with.
Torres has put together interviews form actors such as Cherie Gil and Bembol Roco, both of whom were present at the exhibit opening; filmmakers such as Joey Reyes, Raymond Red, Peque Gallaga and more.
Visitors enter the wide avenida with neon signs.
A major highlight of the exhibit are the three mini viewing rooms – one showing Brocka’s films, another Bernal’s and the third, films inspired by the two directors.
Viewers can choose any film they want to watch on a tablet before settling down in comfortable movie theater chairs.
The access to films that would otherwise be almost impossible to find is what keeps bringing visitors, mostly film students, back to the exhibit more than a few times.
Cherie Gil poses with her picture during the opening. She worked extensively with Bernal.
Bernal is quoted on one of the walls addressing them: “To young directors, make full use of the opportunity you hold in your hands, to mold people’s minds, to change, improve society.”
The exhibit has also given birth to several other projects. Outside the gallery are sketches and paintings of Manila by the Urban Sketchers of Manila. Torres is bringing together several architect colleagues and artists in creating a book exploring the intersections and hidden gems of Manila as a live character. The book project is led by curator Marian Pastor Roces.
The interviews that Torres compiled for the exhibit will be used as material for a documentary directed by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. The documentary, like the exhibit, will further explore the similarities and differences of the two directors, rooted in the backdrop of their depictions of Manila.
Center for Campus Art director Gerry Torres with director/actress Gina Alajar, who shared her insights on the two directors for the exhibit.
One rare photo that Torres points out in the exhibit is of Brocka and Bernal together at a rally against censorship.
“This is the only photo of Brocka and Bernal together, in the exhibit,” he says. “You can see them, they’re both there, that’s Brocka and Bernal behind him. Fighting the censors. This was before the internet, and that was again another way for the state to control the creative output of an artist.”
Torres reflects, “They were somewhat rivals, but not a lot of people know – they were not really friends but they respected each other. And they both knew that they were like the yin and yang of one message,” says Torres. “Which is about equality and love of country and upholding the dignity of being Filipino.”
De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde Board of Trustees members Br. Mike Valenzuela FSC (far left) and Dr. Lydia Echauz (second from right) with DLS-CSB president Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC (second from left) and Torres (right) at the opening of the exhibit.
Brocka, Bernal, and the City tells the tale of two Manilas, from the eyes of two filmmakers whose work defined the best of times in Philippine cinema.
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Brocka, Bernal, and the City runs until April 27 at De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, School of Design and Arts.