Screenwriter, director and producer Danny L. Zialcita passed away last Sunday due to natural causes. He was 71.
Although he is probably best known for directing “Dear Heart”, the very first screen team-up of Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion, Zialcita has a distinguished body of work dating back to 1965 with “Lady Killer”, starring suave leading man Romano Castelvi in the title role.
During his long career where he made 52 films as director, 22 of which he wrote either the story or screenplay or both, Zialcita has explored various genres that included action, drama, suspense and comedy. In 1968, he directed “Palos Strikes Again” starring the original “Palos” actor, Bernard Bonnin, with whom he worked again in “Bart Salamanca” that same year.
In the early ’70s, he dabbled in the “bomba” genre and directed skin flicks with titles like “Gutom”, starring Rosanna Marquez, and “Hidhid”, starring Rosanna Ortiz and Annabelle Rama.
It wasn’t until the mid-’70s and early ’80s that he found his stride and established his voice as his films constantly explored increasingly controversial themes such as adultery with “Langis At Tubig”, “Gaano Kadalas Ang Minsan” and “May Lamok Sa Loob ng Kulambo”, and homosexuality with “Si Malakas, Si Maganda at Si Mahinhin”, “Lalakwe” and “Ang T-Bird at Ako”, the landmark team-up of Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos.
“His movies were famous for their kilometric titles—‘Nagalit Ang Buwan Sa Haba ng Gabi’ (or as a joke said, ‘Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Title”, “Gaano Kadalas Ang Minsan, Bakit Manipis ang Uiap?—and their dialogue: witty, poetic, delivered in rapid fire speed. His characters were always incredibly articulate, from the leads down to the yaya”, wrote Jerome Gomez in a profile of the filmmaker for Metro Him magazine in 2008.
Gomez added that Zialcita “doesn’t watch his actors do the scene but instead turns his back and listens to how his dialogue is delivered”.
The sharp and sometimes acerbic dialogue is one reason why his films, dubbed by many as “glossy”, remain delightfully watchable when they are still shown on cable channels from time to time.
His films also featured his favorite actors, both in lead and supporting roles. Among them were Vilma Santos, Dindo Fernando, Hilda Koronel, Ronaldo Valdez, Rio Locsin, Eddie Garcia, Gloria Diza, Mark Gil, Amy Austria, Tommy Abuel, Chanda Romero, Elizabeth Oropesa, Janice De Belen, Pinky De Leon, Dante Rivero, Lyka Ugarte, Liza Lorena, Dang Cecilio, Suzanne Gonzales, Johnny Vicar, Odette Khan, Mario Escudero, Boots Plata, Rodolfo “Boy” Garcia and Ramon D’ Salva, among many more.
“He is one hell of a person. A true genius. A great storyteller. When you’ve worked with him, you’re a made actor, that’s why he only works with a certain group of actors,” actor Mark Gil told Gomez in that same Metro Him article.
The filmmaker was also able to get the best out of actors he rarely works with or worked with for the first time, including Rudy Fernandez in “Pretty Boy Segovia” (arguably one the actor’s best), Beth Bautista (“Hindi Sa Yo Ang Mundo, Baby Porcuna”), Martin Nievera and Pops Fernandez (“Always and Forever”), Kuh Ledesma (“Tinimbang Ang Langit”) and of course, Sharon and Gabby (“Dear Heart”).
Zialcita would go on to direct Ate Shawie for the second and last time in “To Love Again”, which also marked the film debut of the late Miguel Rodriguez. He work a second time with Gabby in what would turn out to be his very last film, 1987’s “Bakit Iisa Ang Pag-Ibig”, which also starred Snooky Serna.
Zialcita was nominated for Best Director eight times in his career but never won. He won, however, a FAMAS award for Best Screenplay for “Gaano Kadalas Ang Minsan” in 1983 and a Metro Manila Film Festival trophy for Best Story for “Langis At Tubig” in 1980.
In 2009, he was also given a special honorary award by movie channel Cinema One during the Cinema One Originals Film Festival of that year.
In what was probably his last interview, the then-67-year-old Zialcita explained to Gomez why he had decided to call it a career even when he was still at the top of his game. “Once you retire you’re a dead duck. You’ll be spending your life on nothingness, you have so much time allowed to yourself, you start thinking of the past and the past is never that beautiful anymore, di ba? You remember the good things, the beautiful things. When you’ve had the best in life, there’s nothing more to come.”