Beyond Fashion: Bravo, Mario O'Hara

2:35 PM

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Multiawarded film auteur Mario O'Hara passed away on Tuesday due to complications from leukemia. That day, I received a call from my boyfriend JR, his voice was shaking and eventually he was able to say the one thing I was scared to hear, "Wala na si Tito." 

Not a lot of my friends know this but yes, JR and Direk Mario are related. I don't just look up to the veteran director as a well-respected figure in Philippine cinema. My deep admiration comes from the fact that I was given the opportunity to know him as JR's uncle. I see him during family gatherings and at occasional random weekends when JR and his family would visit his house which is about a 15-minute drive from their home.

When I got the phone call, I could tell JR was holding back his tears. He was the only person there when it happened. JR has been taking care of his Tito and was by his side almost every night. Though I would have wanted to go and be there for him right that minute, JR asked me to wait until the situation was under control. A lot has been going on in the hospital at that time, add to that the press outside clamoring for a scoop.

I followed his request and waited for his text updates instead. Since last month when Direk Mario was first brought to the hospital (and was rushed back this June), I never got the chance to visit no matter how much I force JR to allow me. Their whole family wanted to make things really private. Everything I know about his condition and illness, I really had to keep to myself because the family and most of all, Direk Mario, didn't like media attention.

While everyone was talking about Dolphy's health condition, Direk Mario battled cancer in silence. That's just how he really was. I was quite puzzled why someone working for the entertainment industry would live such a private and quiet life.

The Great and the Humble

Jessica Zafra said it well,"Mario O’Hara should be one of the best-known filmmakers of our time. His name should be mentioned alongside Brocka’s and Bernal’s. The fact that it is not, is an injustice partly of his own making. For Mario O’Hara hides from the spotlight as if it would burn him."

Even before JR and I got in a relationship, I had no idea they were related but I knew Direk Mario because of my film classes. My professor would put his name on the pedestal and would cite his films as part of Philippine Cinema's Golden Age, some of which include Condemned (1984), Bulaklak ng City Jail (1984) among others and Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976) which the critics hailed as "one of the finest Filipino films ever made."

He wrote the story and screenplay of some of Lino Brocka's greatest films like Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (1974) and Insiang (1976), the first-ever Filipino film to screen at Cannes Film Festival. After the first one, it is only after 2 decades when a Filipino film finally returned to Cannes - Babae Sa Breakwater (2003), written and directed by Direk Mario himself. 

"This low-budget independent film [Babae Sa Breakwater] was one of the pioneers leading the charge of Philippine cinema on the international festival circuit," Zafra noted.

Mario O'Hara is an accomplished director, actor and writer for film and theater but he didn't make such a big deal out of it. Reading most of the features about him, a lot of the writers described him as reclusive - which I think is true because he really hid from the limelight. 

His movies would travel to film festivals and win prizes but he wouldn't receive them personally. Film writers and students have tried interviewing him but he would decline. Most of all, JR has mentioned that Direk Mario has been offered directing and acting projects for mainstream media but he would turn down the producers because he stood firmly on his principles (I'm assuming against commercialism in film and TV).

Behind the Lens and the Curtains

In my film classes, we have watched the movies and studied the achievements of this multi-hyphenated film master and never did I ever imagine of meeting him in the flesh. When JR introduced him during his cousin's birthday party in 2008, to my surprise, right in front of me was a man who didn't even mention being a director. He was an old man with foreign features, in simple clothing, who sat at one corner while enjoying a cup of ice cream.

The thing about being the girlfriend of Direk Mario's nephew is that I had to avoid acting like such a fan girl when he's around. Eating with him, talking to him and going to his house should appear like it was no big thing. I tried so hard to contain myself during our conversations because he seemed a bit intimidating for an amateur like me.

I've witnessed how Direk Mario lived a simple life. He didn't own a lot of gadgets except for an old Nokia phone and he still used a typewriter to write his scripts. Coming from a middle-class family, I've been working so hard for material possessions and monetary earnings only to realize that for brilliant people like him, a modest house is enough and great work wasn't always and didn't really need to be paid a big fat check.

What I'm Taking With Me
To Direk Mario, I was a secret admirer. But it wasn't such a secret when I'm with JR. My boyfriend knew how enthusiastic and hopeful I was to working with his uncle in his projects.

Sadly, I only got to work with him once. Still, I am more than thankful for that experience. Although Direk Mario didn't know anything about my production skills during that time, he still gave me the chance to do wardrobe styling for his last period film, Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (2010). 

As I observed from afar during our shoots, I noticed that he was quiet and focused. He was never harsh and remained calm no matter what setbacks we encountered during the course of shooting. A lot of  (mostly TV) directors would scream, throw stuff and belittle their crew but Direk Mario treated everyone as equals. 

The extreme dedication he has portrayed and his work ethic was indeed inspiring and worth emulating. I learned everything from this movie production and I'm beyond grateful for the experience because it has made me competent at what I do now because I've worked with the best people.

When Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio didn't win any award last Cinemalaya 2010, the production was quite down over its loss. Because of Direk Mario's confidence over his work and positive attitude towards it, I realized that exceptional work doesn't need to be popular or appreciated. He showed that success isn't measured by the awards, the money or the recognition people give you. When you find happiness and contentment in what you do in your life, then you are the most successful.

Thank you, Direk Mario for everything. I'm giving you a standing ovation, clapping my hands with all my might because you have put on a great show in your life and in your works. Goodbye and rest well, Tito(30)

Photos by: JR Espejo


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  1. He is such an inspiration! I remember his name also being mentioned during my film/production classes. The way you described him really made me realize how simple of a life he lived and how he was already contented with that. May he rest in peace.

  2. Lovely tribute. And I share the sentiment: if the judges didn't give O'Hara an award, that reflects less on the film's merits, more on their absolute cluelessness.

    Oh, and I loved the costumes in Paglilitis.


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