Mike De Leon, the producer and cinematographer of Lino Brocka’s haunting masterpiece Manila in the Claws of Light (1975), is one of Filipino cinema’s most fiercely political and dramatic storytellers in his own right. This complete retrospective, the first ever presented in North America, brings together all of De Leon’s feature films and shorts as a writer and director. De Leon’s films are presented alongside some of the few surviving classic melodramas, musicals, costume dramas, and noir films of the 1930s–’60s to come out of the greatest of all Filipino studios, LVN Pictures, which was founded in 1938 by De Leon’s grandmother Doña Sisang. Inspired by this storied history of popular moviemaking in the Philippines—one he experienced firsthand as a child on the LVN studio lot—as well as by Hollywood and European cinema, De Leon’s own films mix the genres of melodrama, crime, supernatural horror, slapstick comedy, and the musical with blisteringly critical stances toward his country’s history of corruption and cronyism, state-sponsored violence, feudalist exploitation, and populist machismo: the festering legacies of the nation’s colonial past made even more purulent by the dictatorships of Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte.
MoMA’s retrospective includes De Leon’s debut feature, ITIM (The Rites of May) (1976), in a new restoration that premiered at Cannes earlier this year; Kisapmata (1981); Batch ’81 (1982); Sister Stella L. (1984); and Citizen Jake (2018); along with Signos, the defiantly subversive anti-Marcos short he made in 1983 with an underground collective of filmmakers and activists; and rare behind-the-scenes production footage from Manila, ITIM, Moments in a Stolen Dream (1977), and Will Your Heart Beat Faster? (1980) shown alongside the features themselves.
Organized by Joshua SIegel, Curator, Department of Film.