Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Into The Mind Of Brillante Mendoza

- Vanessa A. Balbuena -

CEBU, Philippines - Indie filmmaker Brillante “Dante” Mendoza once  shared in one of his interviews that when he saw Ishmael Bernal’s “Relasyon”, a film about a broken marriage, it struck him because there was some truthfulness in it.

The husband and wife in the film were fighting and shouting, literally in bed. “I remembered my neighbors and their behavior and knew there was some honesty in this film. Then I started watching Lino Brocka. If I was going to be a director, these were the kinds of stories I would be telling. I wouldn’t do popcorn movies, I told myself. I’m not saying I don’t like them, but they’re not films I could do.”

His pursuit of neorealism cinema has reaped for him prestigious international film fest accolades. But here in the homefront, Mendoza’s truthfulness has been criticized for sensationalizing the dark realities of the Philippines in his indie movies by portraying graphic violence and sex such as in “Masahista”, “Serbis”, and “Kinatay.” In this interview, he reminds critics of his other works, such as “Foster Child” and “Lola”. The first tackled foster care in the country, while the latter showed a grandmother’s love and sacrifice for a grandson. Both were without sex and violence.

This proud Cabalen from San Fernando, Pampanga never took a film course, finishing instead Fine Arts, major in Advertising, at the University of Santo Tomas. He is the first in the family to venture into film, but he recalls that the close-knit family he grew up with was so into movies that there would be lengthy discussions before the family decides on the film genre they would watch.

While he has only recently started directing, the 2009 Cannes Film Festival Best Director has done a lot of film work in advertising and other commercial areas, primarily as a production designer. He has also worked under several different directors in the film industry since the ‘80s.

In a recent visit to Cebu, he shared some of his thoughts to The FREEMAN.

On being considered in the forefront of the Filipino new wave

Maganda yung sinasabi nila pero hindi ko pinapasok yun sa ulo ko. It’s up to them if they get inspired with my work, ako naman, gawa lang ako ng gawa. If someone would ask for help or advice, I’m more than willing to share, wala akong sinisikreto. I do workshops, wala akong tinatago.

On why he competes at international film festivals

The kind of films I’m doing are not commercial films because they are not for entertainment. That makes it even harder because we’re not even sure where to show and sell our films. The only reason why we try to send them to these major film festivals is so that they could make an impact. Imagine ang isang walang pangalan na director, at gumawa ng mga ganitong klaseng pelikula, at hindi siya nakapasok kahit isang festival, would you think people would watch it? The more na hindi ito panonoorin, kasi wala siyang impact dahil hindi siya nagkaroon ng presence. Somehow, the festivals help us to be noticed and appreciated by the audience—by the very few audience that we get here.

On comments that filmmakers pander to the taste of international film juries

Whenever I make a film, foremost in my mind is am I telling a truthful, an honest story? Yun ang pinakadapat na isipin ko. I don’t know about other filmmakers but as far as I’m concerned, totoo ba ang pinapakita ko? I don’t care if ang iba or most Filipinos will get turned off with what I’m showing in my film. I don’t really care. I’m more concerned dun sa gusto kong sabihin doon sa pelikula ko. Personally, I don’t do a film for a festival, the European market, for the Filipino audience or for whatever audience. I make film and I believe that my film will find its audience, no matter how small it is. In my own little way, I’m trying to reach to a wider audience like going to different schools, and also the opportunity that PLDT MyDSL Watchpad gave us, talagang sobrang laking tulong, dahil somehow, nakaka-reach ako ng maraming audience.

On the kind of films he patronized

I enjoy mainstream and Hollywood films, like any regular moviegoer, but recently, I haven’t watched any. I watch a lot of comedy and commercial films. But the kind of films that for me, were the good ones, the near-perfect films was when I was exposed to the real cinema and yung mga alternative films.

On what would compel him to direct a commercial flick

I don’t know. I’m not closing the doors but it’s something that’s really far from my mind at this point. Parang I can’t imagine myself na gumagawa ng pelikula to enrich producers, to be commercialized and to be used by them. I don’t mind working with mainstream producers as long as I do it in my own terms. Even after my first feature film, I had several offers already. Hindi talaga sa ano...pero I’m not really interested or excited with commercial films. If probably someday, I will find excitement in doing a commercial film — yung talagang I will conform to what a major network or outfit would ask me to do – then, why not?

On critics who slam him for offering nothing else but shock cinema

You know what, for a lot of the Filipinos, Cannes is the biggest thing, right? They thought that was my first award but I won a major award in my first film. I’ve done other films before like, “Foster Child”, a very emotional film about a foster mom. I did a story on an Aeta teacher. I did “Kaleldo”, which is a family story. But it seems that because I won in Cannes, I’m only remembered for this dark film. Because I was criticized by some people, everybody thought all I was doing were bad films that showed the dark side of the Philippines. But they’re not thinking of my other films. They’re not even talking about “Lola”, which was talked about internationally also and got positive reviews. It was about unconditional love of two grandmothers. As Filipinos kasi, we love to dwell on and talk about the negative side.

On his filmmaking process

I have a lot of concepts in mind but I don’t have time to develop all of these because whenever I develop a concept, I should really be focused on that. I have to immerse. Kasi sa akin, yung shooting, madali lang eh. Yung conceptualization, immersion, and scripting—yun yung matagal and exhausting. And then kapag hindi na ako masaya, after gathering the facts and then I see na, ay ganoon naman pala, hindi pala totoo yung gusto kung mangyari, so I abandon the project. If I get inspired with something, but then when I research it, hindi naman pala siya ganoon, I move on to another concept.

On his fave indie actor, Coco Martin

Coco is a friend, kasi sabay kaming nag-umpisa noon eh, sa “Masahista”. First film niya, first film ko. He has talent talaga, hindi lang siya na-acknowledge, kasi tingin sa kanya, naghuhubad. When he was tried by ABS-CBN, pinakita niya yung natutunan niya sa indie and he became very effective. Actually, matagal naming pinag-usapan iyang pagpasok niya sa mainstream. Kasi after “Masahista”, he became really disappointed and discouraged so nagpunta siya sa Canada . After six months bumalik siya dito kasi hinahanap daw ng katawan niya yung pag-arte. Unang-una, sabi ko, hindi ka yayaman sa indie. You just have to create a name and an identity first. At one point, he became very very impatient. Sabi niya, kailangan din ko namang kumain at kumayod pero ayoko yung ginagawa nila sa mainstream. Sabi ko sa kanya, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Mainstream is for the pocket. Indie is for the soul. Pagdating mo sa mainstream, hindi mo pwedeng i-apply lahat ng ginagawa natin dito sa indie. You have to adjust, kasi ibang mundo yan eh. He was really struggling with his decision. I told him, you have to give yourself a chance, until one day, tinanggap niya.

On his strict division between advertising work and filmmaking

I was in advertising, I did production design for TV commercials and other filmmakers. I only started in 2005, I was 45 years old then. Somebody gave me an offer to do a film. So sige, pahinga muna ako sa advertising. After four years, I’ve done about eight films already. Dito sa indie films, nagkukwento ako. So alam ko ang mundo ko, magkaiba. When I was in advertising, I was very much aware of the fact that I am designing and art directing to get products to sell. With my films, I am telling a story. I don’t want to put up a facade or be pretentious. Here is a story. Here is selling. When telling a story, I want to be as truthful as possible. In advertising, I know this isn’t possible. What I am really after is to present the story I am telling as closely as possible to what is real. I don’t want to intervene. I just want people to see it and decide for themselves. I don’t want to push my view.

On what keeps him grounded

Ang nagbago lang after I won in Cannes , madali ng mag-approach ng mga tao ngayon if I have a project. But the awards, I don’t think of them so that they won’t get into my head.

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