(SPOT.ph) The first screening at the UP Film Center on March 10 of Citizen Jake—Mike de Leon's long-awaited comeback film after a hiatus of almost two decades—makes this a good time to revisit the body of work of one of this country's greatest filmmakers.
Together with Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, and other highly original artists of their generation, De Leon helped forge the Second Golden Age of Philippine cinema. This period, spanning the 1970s until the mid-'80s, continues to inspire filmmakers because of the fiery collective vision of that era's movies, amid a time of repression during the Marcos dictatorship.
De Leon stands apart from his peers for his relatively limited film output—his IMDb page lists a mere total of 15 directorial credits. But this is a diverse film collection unlike any other, ranging from the rom-com to the politically charged. With these movies, De Leon extended and subverted as well the film legacy of LVN Studios of which he is a direct heir, being the son of the renowned producer Manuel de Leon and grandson of LVN's matriarch, Narcisa "Doña Sisang" Buencamino-de Leon.
Unlike the Second Golden Age, whose output is being steadfastly restored by the likes of the ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project, the First Golden Age around the 1950s, of which LVN forms part, has become a fading memory to TV viewers who grew up in the '70s watching afternoon reruns. But film clips from that lost era have been retrieved here and there and are getting a new lease on life thanks to social media, courtesy in part of the Citizen Jake Facebook page. De Leon's own movies have had better luck in the current restoration efforts, although some, like his horror masterpiece Itim, are long overdue for a reappreciation. De Leon himself, now 70, is a veteran artist coping with a new film environment fueled by social media. He is also confronted by the undead: The creeping return of repression, Batch '81 redux in today's political reality.
This is by no means a complete list of De Leon's work. Not included here are his early shorts, his 1986 video feature Bilanggo sa Dilim, the 1984 documentary Signos, and his contribution ("Aliwan Paradise") to the 1992 Southeast Asian film anthology Southern Winds; as well as Eddie Romero's epic Aguila (1980) and Brocka's Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (1975), for which De Leon won a Famas in the cinematography category.