By Rica Arevalo
Back in 1997, I got my baptism of fire in full-length filmmaking on the set of director Gil Portes. For more than a month, we were locked up in Puerto Princesa making an environmental film with Ricky Davao. With little experience, I was assigned to be the second assistant director. There, I saw the passion of Direk Gil. He was welcoming but fierce. He was always determined to share his vision on the big screen to the movie going public. He was very supportive of my film career and we became colleagues at the Directors Guild of the Philippines, Inc. (DGPI).
His demise brought sadness to the entertainment industry. He was born Sept. 13, 1945 in Pagbilao, Quezon. He got his bachelor of Philosophy degree from the University of Santo Tomas in l965. He finished his Master of Arts in Film and Television from the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York in l97l. He received a diploma in film and television from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1974.
An independent filmmaker, his film debut was Tiket Mama, Tiket Ale (1976). He directed socially relevant films like Miss X, 1980, ‘Merika (1984), Andrea, Paano Ba Ang Maging Isang Ina? (1990), winner of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) Best Story, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and the Young Critics Circle (YCC) Gold Prize.
Among his award-winning films are Mulanay (1996), about the country’s doctors in the barrio program was a runaway winner at the Manila Film Festival. Saranggola (The Kite) (1999), was awarded MMFF Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Story, Best Screenplay, and Best Theme Song. It also won for Portes and Jose Dalisay, Jr. the Original Screenplay and Davao as Actor of the Year at the Star Awards for Movies. Davao also won Best Actor at the 1999 Cinemanila International Film Festival and 2000 Gawad Urian Awards. Lester Llansang won the 2000 FAMAS Best Child Actor. This drama film about an ex-cop trying to cover up a murder witnessed by his son was the Philippines’ official entry to the Academy Awards (Oscars).
Markova: Comfort Gay (2000), won the Prix de la Meilleure Interpretation for Dolphy, Eric Quizon, and Jeffrey Quizon at the 2001 Brussels International Film Festival.
Mga Munting Tinig (Small Voices) (2002) was awarded 2003 FAMAS Best Director, 2003 Urian Best Direction, and 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival Best Feature, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
Two Funerals (2010) won a Special Jury Prize and Best Director (Director’s Showcase) at the 2010 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.
His last two films were Hermano Puli (2016) and Moonlight Over Baler (2017).
We asked his colleagues to share their experiences with the 71-year-old director.
Director Joey Reyes claims: “Gil Portes never gave up being a filmmaker. He left a comfortable life in New York City, including his family … to remain in this country in order to stay as a filmmaker. Whereas the landscape of mainstream filmmaking changed, Gil persisted down to the very end.”
He adds, “He would enter a room with his booming voice and an enthusiasm that defied his years. We would always joke that if Gil was shipwrecked on some Pacific isle, that tiny spot in the ocean would have a film industry in two months.”
Portes never stopped being a filmmaker. “Whereas so many in his generation have either retired or allowed time to bring them to different shores, Gil remained steadfast. He was planning his next movie … right until that very day when somebody up there called for the roll of his closing credits. I will never forget the resilience and persistence of Gil Portes.”
His best friend, Joel Lamangan, has this to say: “He knew how to tell a good story, how to scout for prospective producers who will believe in what your film would like to say! He was generous to other Filipino filmmakers in sharing constructive comments on a finished film. He knew how to defend the freedom of expression of Filipino filmmakers against censorship and other restraints to that constitutional right! He had a deep love for Filipino films and all kinds of films!”
When we asked what he would miss about Portes? “Masayang kasama! Maganda ang sense of humor! Siya ang isang taong nakakapagpatawa sa akin! Nagagawa niyang tawanan maging ang isang seryosong political event or happening! (He was fun to be with! He had a good sense of humor! He was one of the few people who could make me laugh! Even in serious political event or happening, he used humor).
Actor Ricky Davao worked with Portes on numerous projects. “Direk Gil didn’t give up, he was a go getter,” he says. “If he had an idea, he would pursue it until he got the project. Madalas nakukuha n’ya (Most of the time, he would nail it). He was a good storyteller. He always had a new story to tell based on his experiences in his province and his life in the United States. All of his films were based on this. Masarap siya magkwento. Magaling din sya manglait (He told fun stories. But he could also give insults). While we were in St. Petersburg walking, we saw an Italian painting. It was his inspiration for the film, Gatas, Sa Dibdib ng Kaaway.”
Portes gave a screenwriting break to Adolfo Alix, Jr. “He was the epitome of an independent filmmaker as most of his films were produced on his own efforts,” recalls the screenwriter. “He always spoke his mind and was not afraid to give his opinion on anything. I think as an independent filmmaker, I learned the value of fighting for your vision for the project and speaking your mind. I will always be thankful to him for opening the doors for me as he hired me as one of the writers of Mga Munting Tinig. I will miss his opinions on anything as he openly gave his two cents worth on issues concerning anything under the sun.”
Senedy Que, 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival Best Screenplay winner, co-wrote the screenplay of Mga Munting Tinig with Portes and Alix. “Direk Gil taught me life lessons, not so much with words but by example,” he says. “He exemplified the values of believing in oneself, going for one’s dreams and never giving up until you reach your goals. He was truly a pioneer with a genuine independent spirit and approach to filmmaking. He deserves a better place and eternal respect from the industry that he loved very much, so much that he kept postponing his retirement to join his family in New York because there always was one more great story that he was very passionate to direct and give life to on the screen.”
Portes left behind his wife, Estela “Telly” Davao, and two sons, Carlo and Justin Portes.