Ishmael Bernal

Ishmael Bernal
Born (1938-09-30)September 30, 1938
Manila, Commonwealth of the Philippines
Died June 2, 1996(1996-06-02) (aged 57)
Quezon City, Philippines
Occupation Film director
Pambansang Alagad ng Sining ng Pilipinas

Ishmael Bernal (30 September 1938 – 2 June 1996) was a Filipino film, stage and television director, actor and screenwriter. Noted for his melodramas, particularly with feminist and moral issues, he directed many landmark Filipino films such as Nunal sa Tubig (1975), City After Dark (1980), Relasyon (1982), Himala (1982), and Hinugot sa Langit (1985). He was declared a National Artist of the Philippines in 2001.


Born in Manila on 30 September 1938, Bernal was the son of Elena Bernal and Pacifico Ledesma.[1] 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 1959. 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 scholarship. 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.[1]

As an 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-lived 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.[1]

As a 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 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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[1]


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).[1]

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.[1]

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.[1]

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.[2]

A summary of his filmography (1971–1994)


Year Group Category Work Result
1983 Berlin International Film Festival Golden Berlin Bear Himala (1982) Nominated
1983 Chicago International Film Festival Bronze Hugo Himala (1982) Won
1990 FAMAS Award Best Director Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (1989) Nominated
1989 FAMAS Award Best Director Nagbabagang Luha (1988) Nominated
1988 FAMAS Award Best Director Pinulot Ka Lang Sa Lupa (1987) Nominated
1985 FAMAS Award Best Director Working Girls (1984) Nominated
1984 FAMAS Award Best Director Broken Marriage (1983) Nominated
1983 FAMAS Award Best Director Himala (1982) Nominated
1979 FAMAS Award Best Director Isang Gabi Sa Iyo... Isang Gabi Sa Akin (1978) Nominated
1976 FAMAS Award Best Director Lumapit, Lumayo Ang Umaga (1975) Nominated
1972 FAMAS Award Best Screenplay Pagdating Sa Dulo (1971) Won
1972 FAMAS Award Best Director Pagdating Sa Dulo (1971) Nominated
1995 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Wating (1994) Nominated
1993 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Mahal Kita Walang Iba (1992) Nominated
1990 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (1989) Won
1986 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Hinugot Sa Langit (1985) Won
1984 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Broken Marriage (1983) Won
1983 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Himala (1982) Nominated
Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Relasyon (1982) Nominated
Best Screenplay (Pinakamahusay na Dulang Pampelikula) Relasyon (1982) Nominated
1982 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Pabling (1981) Nominated
1981 Gawad Urian Award Best Screenplay (Pinakamahusay na Dulang Pampelikula) City After Dark (1980) Won
Best Film of the Decade (Natatanging Pelikula ng Dekada) Nunal Sa Tubig (1976) 1970-1979 Won
Best Film of the Decade (Natatanging Pelikula ng Dekada) Pagdating Sa Dulo (1971) 1970-1979 Won
Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) City After Dark (1980) Nominated
1979 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Aliw (1979) Nominated
1978 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Dalawang Pugad... Isang Ibon (1977) Won
Best Screenplay (Pinakamahusay na Dulang Pampelikula) Dalawang Pugad... Isang Ibon (1977) Nominated
1977 Gawad Urian Award Best Direction (Pinakamahusay na Direksyon) Nunal Sa Tubig (1976) Nominated
1982 Metro Manila Film Festival [3] Best Director Himala (1982) Won
1990 Star Awards for Movies Movie Director of the Year Pahiram Ng Isang Umaga (1989) Won
1995 Young Critics Circle, Philippines Best Film Wating (1994) Won



See also

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