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Filipino Director Nick Deocampo as a Revolutionary Film Artist

Filmmaker Nick Deocampo is a rare breed in the local entertainment industry mostly peopled with commonplace.

He is as common as anyone in the planet, yes, but he rises above the ordinary.

As a matter of fact, as early as his post-film school (from the University of the Philippines), Nick was already a dissenting film artist.

I remember very vividly, it was in the onset of the late eighties when I was covering field events and stories for “Star News” of ABS-CBN’s primetime newscast “TV Patrol” that I came face-to-face with him.

We were at one corner of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) waiting for someone I can’t recall at the moment for a scheduled interview. Deocampo was sitting across us in a bench. He was wearing the idealism of the youth at the time being a relatively fresh grad of the state u.

During that time, there was a national issue about artists’ rights being ventilated by now National Artist for Film Lino Brocka and CCP was one of the objects of protest. There wasn’t an assembly of protesters around but once Nick heard the issue being talked about in our huddle, I saw him quickly raised his right fist in defiance of the state curtailment of artistic freedom and relegation of the arts to the backburner during the Aquino administration.

His earlier films were expression of his running against the grain when everyone was gaga over doing full-length film projects for commercial producers. His filming a gay bar performer constructing a spider’s web from white threads coming out from his anus was one of them. The monumental film, “Oliver” was a standing ovation during its showing here and abroad no matter the limited audiences.

It was the advent of an aggressive experimental filmmaking (although now National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik, aka Eric de Guia was the forerunner of the movement even in the sixties). Of course, the capitalist world wouldn’t consider it a moneymaking business so it didn’t push many enterprising minds to join the bandwagon.

The factory of experimental films was mainly Mowelfund, the Movie Workers Welfare Foundation, Inc. where Nick was employed as one of its young officers who introduced new wave film art and the advance technical support to filmmaking. Aside from the UP Film Center and other iconoclastic filmmaking entities, creative processes in industry including workshops and film labs were fully recognized, enhanced and implemented by Mowelfund.

Thirty years ago, the Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibog Pelikula at Video was launched to encourage filmmakers, old and new, to try unconventional styles, topics and techniques in film art.

Director Nick Deocampo

It was also the era independent filmmaking (as a sort of euphemism to experimental) was gaining momentum worldwide and as a purveyor, Deocampo led an army of indie filmmakers inching their way to the market of film ideas in the local front. After all, even if the consumerist’s concept of big studio system was to prevail in the hegemony of mainstream filmmaking over indie, it was and still is filmmaking just the same.

Film festivals of short features and documentaries on various themes and persuasions and even full-length films with non-formulaic narratives were held in many venues in Metro Manila and elsewhere. They were commercial ventures as well because they were grounded on ticket sales and the general public patronage. These bold ventures in form and content were exactly the novel ideas that could rock the complacent boat of the existing order.

Deocampo was the main man of the hour. As a matter of course, he was and still is ahead of his time.

Proof of this is his trailblazing effort and organizing spirit in the Philippines of the first ever Pink Film Festival, an event that zeroes in on screen interpretation of gay life. Although there were times the fest had to take a respite it always comes back with a vengeance. Truth to tell, Pink is way ahead even in the coinage of the gender libber block LGBT.

When Nick and his cohorts were making names aside from making noise for the development of independent filmmaking, the trendsetter leader was enticed to try studio work particularly Regal Films where he did “Pedrong Palad.” It was an unforgettable experience Nick has better put aside but he learned a lot about his craft and his attitude towards it.

Deocampo went to do a lot in his indie spirit like doing bio docu films such as the celebrated painter Victorio Edades and the pious Mother Ignacia del Espiritu of the Filipino Roman Catholic Church.

No, Nick didn’t leave show business.

Director Nick Deocampo with Boy Villasanta

His presence is always felt especially his scholarly writings of books, articles and mementos on the history and relevance of Philippine cinema in society. His worthwhile initiative film fest, “Pelikula at Lipunan,” although in respite is also ahead of many film feasts in the country. His book “Cine: Spanish Influences on Early Cinema” published by the Program for Cultural Cooperation of the Ministry of Education and Culture of Spain and Ateneo de Manila University and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is a rich source of significant information about the history of the nation in relation to cinema.     

His interesting lectures on Philippine cinema are enjoyable and educational to both the academicians and the laymen.

When we talked to him recently, he was busy compiling and writing materials for an intensive and extensive history of Philippine cinema. Volumes after volumes of books he will come out to give the public the colorful and exciting things which happened and still happening in Philippine society vis-à-vis national cinema. According to a blurb in his “Cine” book, “…With his five-volume series, History of Philippine Cinema, Nick Deocampo aims to articulate the country’s film history that has remained largely unwritten for the past 100 years.”

He has many film projects in the pipeline one of them is a documentary film on the Father of Philippine Movies Jose Nepomuceno. Its first feature is it’s in 3-D.  

A graduate of master’s degree from New York University, Nick is now a professor of Film at the UP Film Institute.

Another first among his long-list of achievements is a curriculum of introducing, orienting and teaching The Films of Lino Brocka as a course at UP. “Marami nang kabataan at estudyante ngayon ang nakakalimutan na si Lino Brocka. Hindi dapat maibaon sa limot si Brocka at ang kanyang sining at importansiya sa Pilipinas (There are many youth, millennials and students who have already forgotten who Lino Brocka is. We shouldn’t bury Brocka in oblivion, his art and his importance in Philippine society),” exclaimed Nick.  

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