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Ishmael Bernal

Ishmael Bernal (September 30, 1938 - June 2, 1996) was an acclaimed Filipino film, stage and television director. He was also an actor and scriptwriter. Noted for his melodramas particularly with feminist and moral issues, his 1985 film about the justification of abortion Hinugot sa Langit is often cited as one of the greatest Filipino films of all time.


Born in Manila on 30 September 1938, Bernal was the son of Elena Bernal and Pacifico Ledesma. He studied at Burgos Elementary School, Mapa High School and at the University of the Philippines where he finished his Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1962. After graduation he worked with Lamberto Avellana's documentary outfit before proceeding to France where he earned his Licentiate in French Literature and Philosophy at the University of Aix-en-Provence. He received his Diploma in Film Directing in 1970 at the Film Insititue of India in Poona under the Colombo plan scholarhip. An active pariticipant in the struggle for artist's rights and welfare, Bernal was also a board member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and the Directors Guild of the Philippines, Inc. Until his demise, he remained part of DGPI, an organization that studies the role of film as an instrument of entertainment, education and development.

The artist

Ishmael Bernal truly loved the arts. He nurtured his passion for literature and theater by actively participating in the U.P. Dramatic Club]] while finishing a college degree. He was also an avid fan of classical music including opera. During the 1960s, Bernal put up When It's A Grey November In Your Soul, in Malate which became one of the favorite watering holes of Manila's artists and intellectuals. Unfazed by its short live-success, Bernal put up Kasalo in Quezon City three decades later, which became the hang-out of students, journalists, poets, bands, theater and film artists.

The film director

Bernal directed and wrote his first film, Pagdating Sa Dulo (At The Top), in 1971. In this film we catch a glimpse into what Ishmael Bernal's ouvre would prefigure for the industry: it is a scene showing an aspiring actress (played by the late Rita Gomez) pondering on dreams blooming in deserts of desolation and dying out in a mirage that painfully conjures images of squatter colonies and sordid lives. The bold star stares out into the landscape and scans it, with the camera acting as her surrogate, but finally framing her against the embarrassingly majestic Cultural Center of the Philippines. The scene captures it all: the decadence of the Martial Law regime, along with its perverse aspirations to art, has doomed the destinies of Filipinos. From that time on, Bernal was established as an innovative and intelligent filmmaker who would not be content with conventional formulas of local film making. Under his name is a broad range of film genres and themes: historical dramas like El Vibora (The Viper), and the Bonifacio episode in the unreleased Lahing Pilipino (The Filipino Race); sophisticated comedies like Tisoy (Mestizo), Pabling (Playboy), Working Girls I and Working Girls II; experimental films like Nunal Sa Tubig (Speck In The Water) and Himala (Miracle); and contemporary dramas exploring human psyches and social relationships, such as Ligaw Na Bulaklak (Wildflower), Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko (Your Husband, My Lover), Ikaw Ay Akin (You Are Mine), Relasyon (The Affair), Aliw (Pleasure) and the film classic Manila By Night (or City After Dark). His sturdy filmography is mainly clustered around the themes and problems that inevitably encrust the "social" as the core of personal malaise.

Bernal considered himself a feminist director and admitted that it was part of his interest to tackle issues affecting women. A significant part of his work is stories about and for women. For example, Relasyon, Hinugot Sa Langit (1985), and Working Girls. Before Bernal died in Quezon City on 2 June 1996, he was scheduled to direct a film about the life story of Lola Rosa Henson, the comfort woman during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines.

In Philippine television

Aside from film, Bernal also directed television shows like the long-time drama series Ang Makulay Na Daigdig Ni Nora (The Colorful World of Nora) for which he was named Outstanding Director in a Drama Series by the Patas Awards in 1979; Metro Magazine, Isip Pinoy, Dear Teacher and episodes for PETABISYON and Lorna. As an actor, he played lead roles in stage plays like Kamatayan Sa Isang Anyo Ng Rosas (Death in the Form of a Rose) in 1991 and Bacchae in 1992.

Bernal is a tireless and committed educator. He taught film direction to film students of the University of the Philippines and Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He has conducted film and theater workshops and directed plays for school-based theater groups. He has also collaborated with artists from different regions through BUGKOS, the national coordinating center for people's art and literature. A real art crusader, he supported and co-facilitated workshops and critic sessions for aspiring writers until his last days.


He won the Urian for best director four times for Dalawang Pugad, Isang Ibon (Two Nests, One Bird), 1977; Broken Marriage, 1983; Hinugot Sa Langit (Wrenched From Heaven), 1985; and Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (Lend Me One Morning), 1989; and the best screenplay for City After Dark, 1980. His film Pagdating Sa Dulo, won for him the FAMAS for best screenplay award while Himala (Miracle), 1982, garnered nine major awards in the Metro Manila Film Festival. In that same year, Bernal was chosen by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino as the Most Outstanding Filmmaker of the Decade 1971-1980. Among the 10 best films chosen by the critics, five were his. These include Pagdating Sa Dulo, Nunal Sa Tubig, Manila By Night, Himala and Hinugot Sa Langit. He was also hailed as Director of the Decade by the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA).

Bernal also won the CMMA Best Director Award (1983), the Bronze Hugo Award in the Chicago International Film Festival (1983) for the movie Himala. The Cultural Center of the Philippines presented him the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining for film in 1990. In 1993, he received the ASEAN Cultural Award in Communication Arts in Brunei Darrussalam.

Bernal, the daring artist, bohemian, and activist, undermined the established canons of the Philippine popular movies from within, created a void, and then filled it with cinematic excess, an hysteria that was illuminating and iridescent.

In New York City

His Nunal sa Tubig (A Speck in the Water), Aliw (Pleasure) and Relasyon (The Affair) was among the 25 Filipino films shown in New York from July 31 to August 1999, organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, in partnership with the Philippine Centennial Commission, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, IFFCOM, the Philippine Information Agency, the Consulate General of the Philippines in New York and the Philippine Centennial Coordinating Council - Northeast USA. This series of Filipino films were presented at the Walter Reade Theater of the Lincoln Center, in celebration of the 100th year of Philippine Independence.

A summary of his filmography (1971 - 1994)

  • [1971] Pagdating sa Dulo (Reaching The Top)
  • [1971] Daluyong (Wave)
  • [1972] El Vibora (The Viper)
  • [1972] Inspirasyon (Inspiration)
  • [1972] Till Death Do Us Part
  • [1972] Si Popeye Atbp.
  • [1973] Pito ang Asawa Ko (Seven is My Husband)
  • [1973] The Sleeping Dragon
  • [1974] Scotch on the Rocks to Remember
  • [1974] Black Coffee to Forget (Unreleased)
  • [1974] Mister Mo, Lover Boy Ko (Your Husband, My Lover)
  • [1974] Lumayo...Lumapit ang Umaga (Morning Goes, Morning Comes)
  • [1975] Ligaw na Bulaklak (Wildflower)
  • [1975] Babaeng Hiwalay sa Asawa (Anna Karenina) (The Woman Separated From Her Husband)
  • [1976] Tisoy (Mestizo)
  • [1976] Nunal sa Tubig (Speck In The Water)
  • [1976] Dalawang Pugad, Isang Ibon (Two Nests, One Bird)
  • [1976] Lahing Pilipino (Bonifacio Episode)
  • [1976] Walang Katapusang Tag-araw (Never Ending Summer)
  • [1977] Lagi Lamang ba Akong Babae? (Will I Always Remain Woman?)
  • [1978] Isang Gabi sa Iyo, Isang Gabi sa Akin (One Night With You, One Night With Me)
  • [1978] Ikaw ay Akin (Your Are Mine)
  • [1979] Menor de Edad (Underaged)
  • [1979] Boy Kodyak
  • [1979] Bakit may Pag-ibig Pa? (Why Is There Love?)
  • [1980] Aliw (Pleasure)
  • [1980] Salawahan (Unfaithful)
  • [1980] Good Morning Sunshine
  • [1980] Sugat sa Ugat (Wound In a Root)
  • [1980] City After Dark (Manila By Night)
  • [1980] Girlfriend
  • [1981] Pabling (Playboy)
  • [1982] Ito Ba ang Ating mga Anak? (Are These Our Children?)
  • [1982] Galawgaw (Unlady-like)
  • [1982] Relasyon (Relation)
  • [1982] Hindi Kita Malimot (I Can't Forget You)
  • [1982] Himala (Miracle)
  • [1982] Broken Marriage
  • [1984] Working Girls I
  • [1984] Shake Rattle and Roll - Pridyider Episode
  • [1985] Gamitin Mo Ako (Use Me)
  • [1986] The Graduates
  • [1987] Hinugot sa Langit (Snatched From Heaven)
  • [1987] Working Girls II
  • [1987] Pinulot Ka Lang Sa Lupa (Picked Up From The Earth)
  • [1988] Nagbabagang Luha (Smouldering Tears)
  • [1989] Pahiram ng Isang Umaga (Lend Me One Morning)
  • [1992] Mahal Kita, Walang Iba (I Love You, No One Else)
  • [1994] Wating (Streetsmart)



See also

  1. Brocka-Bernal: Alaala ng mga Artista ng Bayan, December 1996

External links

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