No more melodramas: Farewell, Direk Danny

Bert B. Sulat Jr.

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The esteemed filmmaker behind some of Philippine cinema’s most memorable dramas has passed away

SHOOT, HE’S GONE. Danny Zialcita at his prime spot: behind the camera. All images from the Danny Zialcita Facebook fan page

MANILA, Philippines – Daniel “Danny” L. Zialcita, the director and sometimes story and screenplay writer and producer of over 50 films, passed away last Sunday, March 10. He was 73 years old.

If Zialcita’s name doesn’t ring a bell to today’s generation of moviegoers, it’s primarily because he stopped making films long before the new millennium set in. Yet the man was a prolific filmmaker, having helmed a long succession of motion pictures since 1965’s “Lady Killer,” his debut at about age 26.

“Lady Killer” and Zialcita’s several flicks in the ’60s were mostly action movies, including “Palos Strikes Again,” a Bernard Bonnin starrer in 1968 and one of almost 10 films where Zialcita is listed in the credits as simply “DLZ.”

Zialcita went on to make provocative dramas, often with sentence-like titles such as 1970’s “Ina Ko, Patawarin Mo Ako, Ako’y Nagugutom.” He also dabbled in sexy flicks, such as “Gutom” and “Hidhid” in the early ’70s.

Amid a stifling yet heady decade marked by Martial Law, as well as the rise of compelling cinema both in Manila and in Hollywood, Zialcita began hitting his filmmaking stride, peppering the bell-bottom decade with some 20 films which include the likes of “Gumapang Ka sa Lupa,” “Katas ng Langis,” “Anak sa Una, Kasal sa Ina,” “Hindi sa Iyo ang Mundo, Baby Porcuna” and “Kulang sa Init, Kulang sa Lamig.”

THOU SHALL NOT COMMIT… Adultery was a frequent topic of Zialcita’s filmography, which includes this 1983 classic

The man’s career reached its apex in the ’80s.

Whereas the oeuvre of the period’s most renowned filmmaker, the late Lino Brocka, was marked by gritty realism depicting the working class and the masses, Zialcita dabbled in melodramas that doubled as canny portrayals of Filipino society’s middle to upper echelons ― often navigating the complexities of romance and relationships and depicting slices of adulterous or homosexual lives.  

Such celluloid milestones of Zialcita’s include love team-propelled box-office hits like 1981’s “Dear Heart,” the first movie together by Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion, and 1986’s “Always and Forever,” which was led by singing sweethearts Pops Fernandez and Martin Nievera. There was also “Tinimbang ang Langit,” a 1982 feature starring Christopher De Leon and Kuh Ledesma; and “Bakit Iisa ang Pag-ibig” from ’87, led by Snooky Serna and Concepcion.

But such lovey-dovey ventures are something of a minority compared to Zialcita’s more extensive, and emotionally explosive, forays into adult relationships.

Those include “Ang Kabiyak,” “Langis at Tubig” “Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi,” “Si Malakas, Si Maganda at si Mahinhin” and what is reputed to be his best effort, “Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan.” The latter even went on to be remade by the GMA network into a 2008 TV series as “Danny Zialcita’s Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan,” with Marvin Agustin, Camille Prats and Diana Zubiri taking on the roles handled by the late Dindo Fernando, Vilma Santos and Hilda Koronel for the 1982 original.

PLEASED TO MEET YOU. Danny Zialcita flanked by his 'Tinimbang ang Langit' stars Kuh Ledesma and Christopher De Leon

Zialcita also elicited strong portrayals of gay characters via “Mahinhin vs. Mahinhin,” which had Ronaldo Valdez and the late Dindo Fernando; “Lalakwe,” another Valdez tour de force; and “T-Bird at Ako,” which featured the dream-come-true tandem of Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos.

Many of Zialcita’s ’80s flicks were box-office hits, aided in no small part by their theme songs’ becoming radio hits, such as “Langis at Tubig” and “Dear Heart,” which were sung by Cuneta, and “Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan,” rendered by Basil Valdez. All 3 ballads were composed by the late, revered songwriter George Canseco.

Moreover, Zialcita had a penchant for dialogue as lengthy and witty, or silly, as his movie titles, in effect becoming “characters” in their own right and, some might say, even deserving of a print anthology. channel editor Totel De Jesus cited this sample on Facebook: “When you think of love, ang tawag nila diyan, poetry. When it takes form, [they call it] sculpture. When you color it, they call it a painting. When you accept it, ang tawag nila d’yan, suicide!” — a hefty chunk delivered by Cuneta’s character to the late Miguel Rodriguez’s own in 1983’s “To Love Again.”

Per entertainment writer-editor Jerome Gomez’s interview with the director in 2008, Zialcita did make one movie post-’80s: “Paano ang Kahapon Kung Wala na ang Ngayon,” a drama costarring Cristina Gonzales, Jaclyn Jose and Mark Gil, but which did not make a killing at the tills.

Watch brief clips of Danny Zialcita’s ‘Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan’ here: 

Zialcita had won several awards for his work, including Best Story at the 1980 Metro Manila Film Festival for “Langis at Tubig” and Best Screenplay at the 31st FAMAS Awards in ’83 for “Gaano Kadalas ang Minsan” (the latter shared with co-writer Tom Adrales). In 2009, at around age 70, he was given the Special Honorary Award at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival.

As indicated in the man’s Facebook fan page, Zialcita is survived by his wife, former actress Leonor Vergara, and their 3 children, which include daughter Beth and son Michael. –

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