Feature by: Tiffany Limsico
From Erwin Romulo
Dear Cesar Hernando,
I was never your student although I met you while you were teaching (At the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts, where you still teach now.). I never enrolled in your class—all my friends signed up to someone else, the burden of peer pressure still carried a lot of weight back then—but I nonetheless became one of your regulars, visiting you at your desk at the faculty room or going to the screenings you cajoled or even arranged at U.P. Film Center or at our college auditorium. All we did was see movies and talk about them—see other movies, and talk about them even more.
You nodded with approval that I knew all about the nouvelle vague, the Italian neo-realists, Japanese filmmakers such as Ozu and Oshima rather than just Kurosawa. At that time, I really hadn’t seen most of them but had read about them in the school library. I knew a lot of trivia, like you did, and we exchanged a lot of that. But our conversations and the things you taught me were never trivial.
You would frequently bring up-and-coming and semi-famous starlets for your nude sketching classes as well as an impressive number of working filmmakers to lecture in your classes. Here, you offered us both enticement and instruction—the flesh and muscle that filmmakers should acquaint themselves with. You organized the forming of a film student organization, the Cinema as Art Movement, with a couple of my friends in our college. You credited me as one of its founders but you were only being gracious. (In reality, I only joined months later when things were beginning to get interesting.) Not only did you make us watch Eisenstein, Chaplin, Kubrick and Lang, but you screened for us films like Roxlee’s Lizard, Raymond Red’s A Study for the Skies and RA Rivera’s Chicken Soup to name a few. You showed us that we make cinema too.
The education we were getting was lost on many of us; but for those who appreciated your efforts no film school in the Philippines (then and now) could give us a better schooling in the artistry of cinema, the skill and craftsmanship involved, the sheer wonderment of these visions and dreams, as well as the painstaking costs it took to realize them.
There were no digital cameras, nor was there any burgeoning ‘indie’ scene back then. Film was still shot in either 16mm or 35mm and—if it was called anything—it was “underground” or “alternative”. You remain the epitome of this movement, even if you’d surely balk at that description. Even mainstream or industry people held you in high esteem because most of them had passed through your tutelage or had engaged you while they were still working their way to their respective careers. You had obviously been around, had worked and been part of one of the most fertile periods in Philippine cinema. You could’ve done the same thing and joined many of them in the industry if you wanted. But you never did. I suspect you never thought of making a career. All you cared about was making films.
Those were exciting days, looking back at them a decade later. I knew you were impressed by the fact that I had seen and remembered a lot of movies that you thought nobody my generation remembered, much less seen, especially Filipino films from the 1970s and 80s, the films of Ishmael Bernal, Lino Brocka, Eddie Romero, Joey Gosengfiao and Mike de Leon. A lot of which you either had a direct or indirect hand in making; and, despite all the disappointments and heartaches, you always betrayed a fierce fondness for.
A famous Filipino director once told me that you were the “unsung hero of Philippine cinema.” I’d agree with that wholeheartedly—as would many others, including our friend, Alexis Tioseco, who asked me to write this. But, now, I’m not sure if that’s how I see it. (I’m certain you wouldn’t.) You never did care much for acclaim or glory but only sought the satisfaction of working and being surrounded by people who were there on your sets because they believed in your work. Proof of this is that you’re currently working on another film (your own) and that certainly is something to hold our breaths for. After all, it ain’t over until Marilou Diaz-Abaya sings.
To say that you’re unsung is to neglect the fact that there are still enough of us around to sing your praises.
To say that you’re a hero should go without saying. But—oops—I just had to go and say it out loud.
No matter, time will prove everything.
With much love,
Erwin Romulo is an editor and journalist living and working in Manila. Currently, he is editor-at-large for The Philippine Star, executive editor for men's lifestyle magazine UNO and associate editor for the Philippines Free Press. He won the Don Carlos Palanca Award for Literature in 2004.
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