Interview de Henry Strzalkowski
To start with, could you tell us about yourself and your background? How did you get into the film business?
I was born in 1954, here in the Philippines, to a Polish father and a Filipina mother. My father came to the Philippines in 1936 as a miner. At that time the Philippines was having a boom in mining, specifically gold, and a great number of foreign expatriates came and settled in what my father called "paradise." He had travelled all over the world, Europe, North Africa, Canada, South America and China and yet, decided to settle here. He spent the war years in a Japanese prison camp and since Poland had become a communist state, found it impossible to return.
My early education was predominantly American. I studied in what was called the American School, which has since been renamed the International School for, or course, political reasons. That was in 1971. So, I was raised in what you could call a very cosmopolitan background. Most of the media here in the Philippines is in English, so I grew up looking and sounding more like a foreigner than a Filipino. I do consider myself more Filipino in thought, character and in spirit. However, this has not kept me from using this duality to my advantage. I am bilingual, though I am more comfortable communicating in English.
My university education was here in the Philippines. I was interested in film from an early age, but found there were no film schools here, although there was a thriving cinema industry going on. I enrolled in the University of the Philippines, the state university, originally in Mass Communications. Their department had one film course. After realizing that I would have to struggle through years of broadcast journalism, I shifted courses to Theatre Arts, where I felt I could at least get some sort of dramatic background. I also took several courses in English literature, which I found to be very useful. My idea at the time was to eventually graduate and someday go to film school abroad.
Suddenly, it was 1975 and I was offered a job as an extra on Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". I took it and it changed my life. I realized this was the world I wanted. Other extra jobs followed and I took them, both for the money and for the experience. Sidney Fury's "Boys In Company C" followed and then a number of extra roles with Kinavesa films and Cinex films. Sidney Fury came back a few years later to do the movie "Purple Hearts," starring Ken Wahl and Cheryl Ladd, and I, again, worked as an extra on that film.