By Ibarra C. Mateo,VERA Files
Photos by Jude Bautista
Many Filipino cinema critics and cineastes are of the opinion that actor-screenwriter-playwright-director Mario O'Hara should have won an award for his cutting-edge indie film with a magic-realist hue, "Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio," in the 2010 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival and Competition.
"Ang Paglilitis" masterfully tells the story, using the actual minutes of the military court trial for alleged treason, of Andres Bonifacio and his brother Procopio following their capture, after Andres lost to Emilio Aguinaldo the presidency of the revolutionary government at the Tejeros Convention.
"Ang Paglilitis" have been likened by critics and veteran indie film directors themselves to Carl Theodore Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc." O'Hara's supporters consider it one of the better films among the 2010 Cinemalaya entries.
Those who were at the 2010 Cinemalaya awards night remember the moment that O'Hara got up from his seat, quietly strode to the exit, and calmly but repeatedly paced the cavernous foyer of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater.
His silent demeanor was deafening.
After 10 long minutes or so, he walked back to his seat in the special row dedicated to the most senior film directors in the country.
Amid the public controversy, O'Hara never questioned nor hinted doubts about the 2010 Cinemalaya jury decision. This was a very typical O'Hara attitude.
He always walked away from controversy, never explained to anyone his moves, but steadfastly kept on doing what he thought was right and just, endearing him to an extremely wide cross-section of the Philippine radio, television, stage, and cinema communities.
Starting tomorrow,July 20, O'Hara returns to the CCP Main Theater, together with some of his unforgettable films including, "Babae sa Breakwater" in a special retrospective on his works as actor, screenwriter, and director.
O'Hara, 66, died on June 26 of cardiac arrest as a complication of acute leukemia at the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City.
O'Hara started his career as a voice talent in 196, when he was 17 years old in Manila Broadcasting Corp and DzRH, while he was a third-year student of chemical engineering in Adamson University, before being lured by television and eventually by theater and cinema.
He directed episodes or installments of television series "Lovingly Yours, Helen," "Flordeluna," and "Alitaptap sa Gabing Madilim." In 1968, he met film director Lino Brocka at DzRH who offered him a job as "a series announcer" in Brocka's television show "Balintataw".
O'Hara joined the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) in 1969 and acted various roles for stage plays mounted by PETA, Dulaang UP, Tanghalang Pilipino, and other theater groups.
to the late O'Hara with a special retrospective on his works as "an actor, screenwriter, and director" beginning with gala premiere on Friday, 7:30 pm, of "Babae" to officially signal the opening of this year's Cinemalaya at the CCP Main Theater.
The following day (July 21), the screening of "Babae" at the Trinoma Cinema 1 at 5:30 pm starts Cinemalaya festivities in venues outside of its original home, the CCP.
Chris B. Millado, CCP vice president and artistic director, said the 2012 Cinemalaya organizing committee, the CCP, and the Philippine cinema community celebrates Mario O'Hara and his multifaceted contribution to Philippine cinema as an actor, scriptwriter, and director. Mario O'Hara's films are an invitation to those nocturnal wanderings — into worlds idiosyncratic and sublime," said Millado in an interview.
Babae" is about the plight of Manila's "invisible" underclass which lives along the Roxas Blvd. breakwater, only a few meters away from the CCP complex. O'Hara, when an opportunity arose, would fondly tell his companions whoever they maybe as they walked the streets around the CCP complex, that he crafted his only film that was shown in Cannes over there, pointing to the direction of the breakwater.
Produced by Entertainment Warehouse, Inc., "Babae" starred Gardo Versoza, Amy Austria, Lou Veloso, Lucita Soriano, Alchris Galura, Jonard Lomangaya, Ian Valdez, and introduced then-neophytes Katherine Luna and Kristoffer King as lead actress and lead actor, respectively.
In the interview, Millado, who is also the 2012 Cinemalaya festival director, said: "O'Hara an actor, brought gravitas to his roles — even when he was portraying the most marginalized characters like the leper in 'Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang' and the hustler in 'Tubog sa Ginto.' It was, therefore, not surprising that he struck a deep artistic liaison and friendship with the actress Nora Aunor, and drew out from her one of her most unforgettable portrayals in 'Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos."
"It was with the same self-effacing dignity that he portrayed the characters in his work as a scriptwriter and director. Often, unflinching in his portrayal of personas living on the fringes of society — the slums (Insiang), cemetery (Babae sa Bubungang Lata), found spaces of the boulevard (Babae sa Breakwater) ¬ O'Hara created enigmatic characters that were comfortable with their contradictions," he added.
"It makes one wonder where he got his ideas. I suspect a lot of those characters and situations unfolded with the streets during the long walks he would usually take after rehearsing in the theater," Millado said.
Among Ohara's films that would be included in the 2012 Cinemalaya retrospective are: Tubog sa Ginto," "Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang," "Insiang," and "Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa."
Millado is directing a musical written by O'Hara for Tanghalang Pilipino called "Stageshow" to be mounted at the CCP's Tanghalang Aurelio V. Tolentino from Oct. 10 to 21 this year.
"Stageshow", O'Hara's last major written work for theater, is a poignant and emotionally charged play which sheds light on the plight of a small group of dedicated Filipino artists as their careers ebb, with the disappearance of what used to be the most popular, but now forgotten Philippine theater form, the stageshow.
O'Hara's musical is one of the official entries to the National Theater Festival to be held this coming November.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")