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I heard that Francis Ford Coppola left a son in Baler

Meet Ford, the character in Mario Cornejo’s Apocalypse Child coming soon in a theater near you

By Rica Arevalo

Three decades ago, director Joey Romero, son of National Artist for Cinema and Broadcast Arts Eddie Romero, was in his early 20s when he was assigned as one of the assistant directors of Francis Ford Coppola in the Vietnam War epic film, Apocalypse Now shot in the Philippines in 1976.

Baler, at that time had no electricity, no hotels, and no amenities for any form of film “tourism.” With the arrival of Coppola’s team, open spaces like school grounds became landing and parking grounds for helicopters. Houses were converted into hotels.  Bars and restaurants opened and business boomed.

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  • IN ACTION Vittorio Storaro (left) and Francis Ford Coppola (seated with hat). (www.cinephiliabeyond.org)
  • Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola (www.cinephiliabeyond.org)
  • Lights, Camera, Action Surfing Scene from Apocalypse Now (Getty Images)
  • Apocalypse cast Annicka Dolonius, Sid Lucero, and Mario Cornejo (Image by Joey Romero)

It was no secret that the production was plagued with problems.  From a projected 59-day shoot, it took Apocalypse Now a year to finish!  Romero recalls:  “After two days shooting in Baler, we had a day off.  That extended to days.  Word came to us that after viewing some rushes, Francis was disappointed at his leading man, Harvey Keitel.  He said, ‘He’s not coming across as Willard.’  Before anyone knew it, Martin Sheen had arrived in Baler by chopper to take Harvey’s place.  So all that footage of like five big shooting days was thrown away.  Chaos?  That was only the start.”  (Watch the documentary Heart of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse to know the real score.)  Sheen became the film’s surprise star.

How was it working with Coppola?  “Francis had a gentle voice and was like a child.  He would be so polite as to say, ‘Can I borrow your radio to talk to Vittorio?’  He meant Vittorio Storaro, the Italian cinematographer who brought in his own team of all-Italian grips and even equipment from his own company.  We had to hire interpreters to communicate with them.” The talented Storaro won an Oscar for his masterful work.

Marlon Brando played the antagonist Colonel Walter E. Kurtz.  “One time, in the middle of an argument with Brando, Francis went into a tantrum, threw his script in the mud, and stomped on it.  Regarding Brando, he came as Brando and worked as Brando, the legendary star.  In his death scene, he just had cameras roll and refused to be cued.”

Flash-forward to 2016, QCinema’s Best Director winner Mario Cornejo unearths the 1979 Cannes Film Festival Palm d’Or winner in his new film, Apocalypse Child.

Sid Lucero plays Ford, a surfing instructor who believes that he is the son of the legendary director Francis Ford Coppola.  The drama unfolds when he awaits the director’s acknowledgement.

Cornejo reveals, “Coppola shot the surf scenes in Baler and left a surf board that started the local surfing there.  It’s a legend.  It suddenly became a metaphor.  He didn’t just leave a surfboard but he left a son.”

Cornejo has a four-year-old son, Andres, with partner Monster Jimenez.  “I really wanted to make a film about getting older and about fatherhood.  When we decided to have a child, all my fatherhood issues came out,” he muses. “ I thought of myself being a father and the father figures I got in my life.”

The theatrical run is up against Hollywood movies and mainstream local productions.  “We got such an enthusiastic response to the film.  It’s a small movie and it deals with complex themes, but it’s honest and emotional.  People really responded to it well during the QCinema and New York Asian Film Festival.  It made us think, maybe there is an audience for this kind of movie.”  The film also stars Annicka Dolonius, RK Bagatsing, Ana Abad Santos, and Gwen Zamora.

Apocalypse Child opens on Oct. 26 in cinemas nationwide.