Friday, May 8, 2009

Cirio H. Santiago obituary

Cirio H. Santiago interviewed for The Search For Weng Weng, February 2007

It is with great sadness that I post this blog from Tim Lucas' Video Watchdog website...

Filmmaker and producer Cirio Santiago, who award-winning Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino considers a big influence and inspiration, died Friday night of complications from lung cancer. He was 72.

Santiago, who was diagnosed early this year, was pronounced dead at 11:50 p.m. at Makati Medical Center. His doctors declared respiratory failure as the immediate cause, his sister Digna, an official of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, told the Inquirer by phone on Saturday.

Like Cirio, Digna is a film producer for the family-owned Premiere Productions.

At the time of his death, Cirio was chair of the Laguna Lake Development Authority.

Cirio’s son Cyril died of testicular cancer six months ago, said Digna. “Cirio became very depressed.”

She said her brother was taken by ambulance to the hospital on Sept. 18 after he complained of difficulty breathing. “His family learned of his condition in March, after his son, Cyril, was buried,” Digna said. “He didn’t even tell us, probably because he didn’t like too much attention.”

He is survived by wife Annabelle; children Christopher, Cathy, Claudine and Cirio Jr.; and siblings Digna and Danilo.

Cirio was cremated on Friday. A Mass will be held tomorrow, 10 a.m., at Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati.

Cirio, who also used the screen name Leonard Hermes, was chair emeritus of Premiere Productions. In 1995, he was president of the Philippine Film Development Fund.

In 1960, he was one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines, for Movies.

Among Cirio’s better-known films were T. N. T. JACKSON (1975) and FIREHAWK (1993). In the 1980s, he made low-budget Vietnam war movies, working with American producer Roger Corman and directors Jonathan Demme and Carl Franklin.

Several of these B-movies have become cult favorites, cited by such “renegade” Hollywood filmmakers as Tarantino. During his first visit to the country last year, Tarantino sought a meeting with his two “idols,” Cirio, and Filipino director, Eddie Romero. Tarantino proudly announced that he had based some of the characters in his iconic film, KILL BILL, on those in Cirio’s earlier movies.

Cirio in the set of Road Raiders [photos courtesy of Peter Emmett who also worked as an extra]

At the time of his death, Cirio was filming ROAD WARRIORS [sic, actually ROAD RAIDERS], produced by US-based 147 Productions, as the sequel to his [1983] sci-fi flick STRYKER. He was to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Film Academy of the Philippines next month.

I talked to Jo Mari Avellana the other night to pass on my condolences - Jo Mari is one of Cirio's oldest friends and co-workers - and he's given me permission to reprint his speech from Cirio's Ninth Day Mass:

Good evening everyone.

When Annabelle asked me to say a few words for Cirio tonight, I decided to write down my remembrances because my heart is so full of good memories I am bound to go on all night.

There is no simple way to describe Cirio.

Dan (Cirio's brother) said he was a great mentor and a loving brother – he certainly was. Not only to Dan, but to all whose lives he touched.

Digna (Cirio's Sister) said he made stars out of actors and actors out of stars – yes he did. He also created a few directors, gave several production designers an opportunity to shine, taught his staff and crew the proper way to make movies, and showed the industry that the Filipino had the capacity, the flair and the genius to match talents with the rest of the film world.

Pom (Cirio's brother-in-law) said he was a master at getting people connected – sure enough. No one was beyond Cirio’s reach.

Everyone was his friend. No matter that they may never have been formally introduced.

Kathy (Cirio's daughter) said he was a doting father – without contest. And not only to his own children, but to the many people who had the opportunity to work with him – his staff and his crew.

What do I remember about Cirio? He loved his family above all. He loved Annabelle with a passion. He loved his friends. He loved making films.

He loved this country. He loved to have fun. He loved good food.

Cirio loved life. And we all loved him.

He has gone ahead now, but he hasn’t really left us- because we have such lasting memories about that lovely man called Cirio.

(Many heartfelt thanks to Jo Mari for sharing his words, and again our condolences go out to all of Cirio's family, friends and co-workers)

Nick Nicholson telling you to eat motherfucking lead in Cirio's Future Hunters (1986)

Long-time friend of Cirio and one of his regular "white gorillas" Nick Nicholson (The Destroyers, Dune Warriors, Live By The Fist etc etc...) left a comment on the blog page:

I worked with Cirio for years. When Henry Strzalkowski informed me about Cirio's death I was devastated.

Cirio was a great friend and mentor. He was like a father to us all.

The thing I remember most about Cirio was his sense of humor! He loved practical jokes. When we were filming Silk at Manila Domestic Airport, Bill M and I had our mexican stand off, Cirio told me, "Just lay there babe, we'll move in closer". So I laid thereon the tarmac with my eyes closed as I usually did while waiting for a shot. I noticed that it had become dark and quiet. I opened my eyes, and I was all alone on the tarmac. Cirio and group had moved way over to the other end of the tarmac!

Nobody can fill Cirio's shoes... He is sorely missed....

Nick Nicholson and Henry Strzalkowski getting roasted on the set of Eye Of The Eagle (1987)

Henry Strzalkowski is another of Cirio's longtime friends, actors and crew members, and emailed me this soon after Cirio's funeral:

Cirio H. Santiago: friend and mentor.

I was an extra working on a Cirio Santiago film shooting in the sand dunes of Suba beach in Ilocos Norte, in January of 1983. It was the first set up of the day and they were planting blast pots in the dunes for explosions and they asked if anyone had worked around explosion effects. Since I had just come off working on Boys in Company C and Apocalypse Now, I volunteered. The explosion was on the side of a hill and it was supposed to go off right after I stepped over it. And it did. The force threw me forward and being on a hill that translates to downward. I came down on my rifle and cracked a rib, not badly. When I composed myself, I looked up to see the production vehicles starting up to move to another location. I scrambled to my feet and jumped into the back of a production truck. Sitting there across from me, was the director, Cirio Santiago. I fumbled for some small talk to fill the silence and came up with, "Wow. This place is beautiful. I've never been here before." Cirio winked from behind his sunglasses and said, "Work in the movies, babe. See the world!"

That was when I first met the man. Well, I never got to 'see the world.' But I did get to go to places I'd never dreamed I'd go. That film, Wheels Of Fire was the first film that I was given lines in and I went from an extra to a bit player overnight. I was a theatre arts major in college so I actually did have formal training as an actor. I would go on to become a member of Cirio's crew and a regular among his actors. This was the beginning of ten of the best years of my life.

I would be hard-pressed to choose other anecdotes about Cirio or 'the boss' as I used to call him. I still called him 'boss' on his latest film "Road Raiders," last July. I can only say what I knew about him. I can say there was no film set that was more fun than Cirio's. I can also say there was no film set where we worked harder. I can say that he ruled the set with sheer presence alone. I never saw him lose his temper. I never heard him raise his voice in anger. And he still managed to make us all laugh. You worked your skin off for him because you wanted to please him. Maybe that is why twenty years and thirty films later, I still called him 'boss.'

Now, he is gone. It is the end of an era. Although his films were not that well known among his countrymen, since he distributed abroad, those in the industry who were in the know, were all at his memorial service last Sept.29. It was a sad day for Philippine cinema. We all filled the church in Sanctuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park and sat misty-eyed as friends and relatives read their eulogies. I am not embarrassed to say I wept like I'd lost a blood relative. He was my mentor. He was my friend. And I will miss him. See you, boss.

Henry Strzalkowski

1 comment:

  1. As one of the Pigs In Space founders, our band of struggling artists, I wish to add my own comments on 'Direct' Cirio Santiago. He was the greatest Filipino director and indeed a mentor and friend. As Nick said, he was always a practical joker and I never recall him losing his cool on the set. He was the pro who had seen it all and took it in stride. He reminded me of some of the great 'old school' directors of Hollywood.
    One of my first memories was during the "Ito Ang Lahing Filipino" or "This is the Saga of the Philippines"? I had done my bit piece as Pvt. William Greyson, who fired the first shot of the Filipino-American War. Direct asked me if I could ride a horse. I replied, sure I can, no problem. (I use to go 'riding' in the Coronado Hills and City of Industry, where for $5-10 dollars you could ride horses even at night. The horses many times knocked unsuspecting drunks off by going under trees or jumping fences. I was never bucked off but was certainly NOT a cowboy. One must stretch the truth in order to get 'a part' sometimes.
    Everything was going well in the first scenes, with a dozen of us dressed as US cavalry, riding old Polo horses through a Filipino village and burning down the huts. We were quite the sight and not one of us could really ride. Then the next day we attacked the Filipino troops, a cavalry charge, well, sort of a charge. I was riding a spirited but stubborn stallion who abruptly stopped at a low ditch, sending me over his head. I was holding my revolver in my left hand, reins in my teeth! waving my aluminum saber in my right hand. Somehow I landed on my feet after a complete rolling sommersault bent my saber slightly, lost my hat, but continued with the action. I ran up the side of the ditch waving my saber, smack into a dozen blazing muskets spewing hot gases, and Died Gloriously.
    Direct came up to me afterwards and with that knowing wink in his eyes, asked me, "Heh, did you plan that?" I looked him in the eyes and smiled, "Sure".
    Direct Cirio, Boss but also a friend often let us embellish our 'character' roles. In one "post nuclear-war-survival
    Mad Max-type film", Cirio noticed me breaking a pair of sunglasses, and while the Property guy was freaking out, I explained that it looked more realistic broken, Direct nodded in approval. I also had my own short wakizashi Samurai sword behind my back, a .45 cal. Colt Automatic on my hip, and rode a motorcycle. Direct let us develop our character, wound up using me in the opening scenes to kill the parents of the lead woman. Cut off her father's head with my sword.
    He will live on through his work but most of all in the memories of all that worked for him. Wonder if Cirio is directing in Heaven. Hmmm. Not sure I'll get there but think of the possibilities..."The Saga of Mankind" with our dear Boss directing along side other great directors.