âTo move people and open their heartsâ
Pres. DU30 (center) is guest of honor at the gala premiere of KontrAdiksyon, sandwiched by Bell Films executive producer Ramon Chuaying (left) and Bell Films president/CEO James Dy (right). Writer-director Njel de Mesa (front row, second from left) led the movie’s all-star cast that included Jake Cuenca, Kris Bernal, Lou Veloso, Jong Cuenco and Katrina Halili. Also a special guest was Sen. Bong Go (front row, third from left).
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‘To move people and open their hearts’

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - July 4, 2019 - 12:00am

Njel de Mesa on making KontrAdiksyon: I did it not because I needed the money but...

MANILA, Philippines — No less than President Duterte was the guest of honor at the recent gala premiere of Njel de Mesa’s political-action thriller KontrAdiksyon, the latest film inspired by the government’s controversial “war on drugs.”

According to the Palanca-winning playwright-director and singer-songwriter, his film starring Jake Cuenca, Kris Bernal, Katrina Halili, Arnold Reyes, among others, is no drug war propaganda, despite him being one of the staunch supporters of the President from the showbiz community.

“I don’t know if people will believe me when I say this, because the public knows I support the President, but the film is not a pro-Duterte nor is it an anti-Duterte film,” he told The STAR.

“The President is indeed a disruptor and has caused disruption in our society’s opinions. We are at a period where we have strong differing opinions, especially on social media… What enticed me to write the piece is the burning desire to encapsulate the strong dissenting opinions of the public on social media and the news — but making entertaining for the masses as well.”

Njel views the movie as somewhat of a Rorschach test. “You will see what you want to see with it. You will root for the characters you most relate to. Basically, the film is a gad fly that hopefully will make the audience think while enjoying its entertainment value. I don’t want to be highfalutin about it. No, I didn’t consult with the President. I didn’t have to. I just gathered all the opinions on the Internet and put them in the film. Thanks Internet!”

Asked how he made sure his support for Pres. Duterte would not in any way influence the narrative and storyline, Njel said, “It’s not a propaganda film, it actually tells people to stand united and understand each other’s point of view — and in a rather hard-handed, spoon-fed way (so people don’t get the wrong message). But of course, someone’s going to say it is a propaganda film and someone will believe it — because that will be far simpler to understand. Black and white is easier for us to understand. Gray… well, that’s life. And that’s what the movie is: a contradiction. It’s already in the title. But if they’re still viewing the world in black and white, there are plenty of viewing materials on free TV for them.”

Apart from co-writing the multi-awarded 2018 hip-hop-themed Respeto (which also touched on the drug war), Njel has done short films and an indie film but “not as commercial as this one with big stars attached to it.”

“I have done a lot of music videos for various artists since I graduated (from Ateneo De Manila University) and have established my own film production studios for corporate clients. My film influences are Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, D.W. Griffith, David Fincher but the director I really look up to, in terms of storytelling, is Steven Spielberg,” he said more of his filmmaking background.

So, what’s next after KontraAdiksyon? Njel admitted that he doesn’t really enjoy directing, explaining that “I hate telling people what to do or that they’re wrong, especially in terms of my vision and strategy. I follow what God tells me to do. If this is successful, I will go on directing despite the fact that I don’t like it — because I will take that as a cue that God wants me to continue. If it’s not, then I will look to my many skillsets and do something else.”

“I did this project not because I needed the money but because I wanted to move people and I want people to open their hearts and understand each other’s point of view...,” Njel further said. “Take every personal opinion with a grain of salt. And even if we end up disagreeing, we can all agree to disagree but not be disagreeable to each other.”

KontrAdiksyon also served as the comeback movie of Bell Films, the film production arm of Universal Records Philippines which re-launched operations last year after a more than two-decade hiatus. Bell Films became known as one of the earliest independent film outfits, producing the likes of Twin Fists for Justice starring Vilma Santos and Hong Kong martial arts star Meng Fei in 1974, and ‘90s dance films featuring the Universal Motion Dancers Sige… Ihataw Mo! (with Claudine Barretto) and Ibigay Mo Ng Todong-todo.

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