Make no mistake about it. While she had asked what she had gotten herself into many times during the shooting of “Oro, Plata, Mata” in 1982, Maggie Ledesma Jalandoni looks back at the experience now with so much warmth and happiness.
There had never been an event in Negros Occidental as big as the shooting of “Oro, Plata, Mata” 31 years ago, says Bamboo Tonogbanua who also looks back at the experience with laughter.
And it wasn’t just the scale and sweep of the movie, which is now one precious gem of Philippine cinema that had been remastered in high-definition and will soon be reshown in cinemas. It was also about how an entire community mobilized to celebrate art and culture; in this case, film.
“The whole Bacolod got excited and came out in full force for the directorial debut of Peque Gallaga,” says Maggie a close family friend of the director. It had seemed like every other person here in the city was involved, Bamboo said.
Maggie was location manager for the film that was shot entirely in Negros Occidental, specifically in Silay, Manapla, Talisay ,Cadiz, Bacolod, Mambukal, Murcia and Ara-al in La Carlota. Bamboo was with the production design department. The two were among the hundreds of locals who were tapped, or got themselves tapped, for what is now known as Gallaga’s opus.
Maggie recalls how she had immediately said “Yes!” when Peque asked if she could help in the shoot. She and Peque and his wife Madie go a long way in theatre productions, back to their Genesius Guild days in school. In the thick of the shooting, she would find herself asking what she got herself into, especially during the times when the crowd around the shoot got frighteningly thick and restless [she got ready with a fireman’s hose for crowd control]. For two months, she remembers, she did not see her husband.
Bamboo laughs at how they had to address some of the more extraordinary demands of casting like finding a woman who had mestiza features but morena skin – and would be willing to bare in front of the cameras.
He swells with pride, however, at how the production made sure every detail, down to the food on the birthday buffet and the jewelry the cast wore, was authentic. For example, they had to research for the calendar that was used in the walls in one of the scenes.
“Oro..” was one of those times when Negrenses got together for one cause. Even roads were built so otherwise inaccessible places were opened for the shoot. Bamboo recalls how the set never ran out of food; Peque’s relatives and friends kept sending them. But perhaps the most graphic example of how painstakingly detailed Peque was and how the community came out to support him was the case of Maggie’s mom, Nena whom she found one time patiently sitting around the set at 2 a.m. It sure was way past her bedtime, Maggie recalls, but she stayed on, waiting for the shoot to wrap up because the cast was wearing her jewelry and she wanted to make sure she got them back. Her son, Georgie, who was also in the production, had borrowed them.
Handling those antiques with care is one of the things Maggie remembers from the Oro days. We would go down from the mountains where the authentic antique dinnerware were used and make sure we returned them to the owners. Oftentimes, she says, they’d be on the road in the wee hours; they wanted to return them as soon as possible because we did not want to risk anything, these were heirlooms.
Maggie also recalls the funny stories, like how they had to literally tie down one actress so she wouldn’t fall off the jeep they rode going into the jungles. Or the times they had to go to moviehouses in the dead of the night so Peque could watch the rushes.
Aside from watching a riveting three-hour-and-a-half movie, Negrenses had many other fringe benefits from “Oro…”, such as experiencing the magic of film: how the old Negros Occidental High School quadrangle for example was redone as an abandoned hospital for the movie, and how scenes here were interspersed with scenes from the Mambukal bathhouse to make it “look” like they were all taken in one place. Or how the house in Silay that was along the road suddenly had a garden, when it was shown on screen.
“Oro…” of course broke ground on several fronts in Philippine cinema. It was the first major Filipino film that did not use superstars; in fact, the lead actor, Negrense Joel Torre, debuted here. It is also deemed the best historical or war movie ever made in the country.
For Negrenses, it was one film that captured their glorious past – and celebrated their love for the arts.*