July 19, 1957 – April 27, 2021
Federico S. Natividad Jr., ‘Toto’ to friends and associates, was an editor, screenwriter, stunt coordinator, producer, and director of films who gave Philippine cinema some of its best-remembered action flicks, and was at the helm of Ang Probinsyano, one of the longest running series for Philippine television.
He was born in Libis Nadurata, Caloocan to Federico Natividad Sr. and Luz Servando Natividad.
As a child, Natividad grew up a devoted fan of Filipino action stars, especially Fernando Poe Jr. That formative fascination would carry over to a career that often resurrected the FPJ magic, and shaped the cinematic personas of an impressive roster of action kings and princes.
His father, a jeepney driver, would pick him up in the early afternoon to drop him off at the movie theaters. His brother worked as a film editor, and usually after classes at Torres High School in Tondo, the youngster often found himself at the FPJ Studios along Del Monte Avenue in Quezon City: “Doon na ako umiistambay. Nag-a-apprentice ako noon bilang editor,” he said.
Eager to jump fully into filmmaking, he dropped out of San Beda College in his freshman year to become an apprentice editor. At 18, he was already an assistant editor. He started in a Hollywood film, The Boys in Company C (1978) directed by Sidney J. Furie, which led to work in Lino Brocka’s Ina Ka ng Anak Mo (1979), Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), Joseph Zito’s Missing in Action (1984), Menahem Golan’s Delta Force (1986), and Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989).
When film editor Claire Simpson accepted her Oscar for Best Editing for Platoon in 1987, she made special mention of “Toto from the Philippines,” who was part of her editorial staff. He became a full-fledged editor starting with Nilo Saez’s Daang Hari and Lito Lapid’s Lukas, both in 1984—and continued doing so until the 1990s, mixing editing work with his directorial efforts.
Working with Hollywood directors encouraged Natividad to become a director himself, but no local producer would take on an untested talent, so he decided to bankroll his own film. With Durugin ng Bala si Peter Torres (1990), starring Jess Lapid Jr., he poured all his film knowledge to make an efficient actioner: “Maliit lang ang pera ko. Nag-ji-jeepney lang ako pag-pauwi ng bahay. Buti nailusot ko ‘yun… Ako nag-produce, nag-edit, nag-direk, naglagay ng music — parang thesis.” Nonetheless, the film opened doors for him. That same year, Regal Films hired him to direct Ibabaon Kita sa Lupa (1990).
He churned out action movies in the 1990s, headlined by many of the prominent action stars of the time, including Rudy Fernandez, Philip Salvador, Bong Revilla Jr., Lito Lapid, Ace Vergel, Cesar Montano, Edu Manzano, and Monsour Del Rosario. But he also directed films headlined by female stars including Kris Aquino, Rosanna Roces, Ruffa Gutierrez, and Sharon Cuneta.
Natividad won the 1997 Film Academy of the Philippines Award for Best Director for Hangga’t May Hininga (1996), and he was one of the 11 founding members of the Directors Guild of the Philippines, together with Ishmael Bernal and Marilou Diaz-Abaya.
In 2005, he began directing for television, starting with Panday starring Jericho Rosales for ABS-CBN. He also directed Palos (2008), Pieta (2008-2009), and at least eight other TV shows. But it was with Ang Probinsyano (2015-2020) that he stayed the longest as a helmer, directing 1,171 episodes for the longest-running show in Philippine television.
He considered it his most challenging project in his entire career: “Puso’t kaluluwa ang ibinigay ko diyan. Lahat ng alam ko, nilagay ko diyan.” He left the show in 2018 to do Cain at Abel, starring Dingdong Dantes and Dennis Trillo, for GMA. He also directed at least five action films in the 2010s.
At the time of his death from complications of COVID-19, Natividad was serving as barangay captain of North Bay Boulevard South Kaunlaran in Navotas City.
His longevity and professionalism were legendary, and he once cited his continuous and regular study and hunger for knowledge as the characteristics that a filmmaker needed to have staying power in the industry.
His son John Isaac Natividad once said: “He gave so much of himself to his projects while sharing his talents and knowledge to the people he worked with. He always wanted everyone around him to learn, get lifted up, and succeed with him. He was a trailblazer, undaunted to try new things and take risks.”