Young director’s critically-acclaimed film a labor of passion, dedication
While most young adults his age are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want, 25-year-old Mikhail Red is already out in the world to promote his movie masterpiece “Birdshot,” which Variety called “gripping” and “impressive“ among a long list of praises.
Even more admirably, Red was only 22 years old when he filmed his coming-of-age thriller and only 24 when the film made its world debut and bagged the Best Picture award in the Asian Future Film section of the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival.
Fifteen international film festivals later, Birdshot came home for its Philippine premier, and as the official opening film of the 2017 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. The movie-going public will have its chance to catch the masterpiece beginning tomorrow as it is one of the featured films of the first Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP).
The long route
Birdshot tells the story of Maya (Mary Joy Apostol), a young Filipino teenage girl who lives in an isolated countryside with his father Diego (Ku Aquino). Wanting her to be able to fend for herself, Diego teaches Maya how to hunt and shoot but consequently warns her never to cross the border. Unfortunately, Maya wanders into the boundaries of a Philippine reservation forest and mistakenly shoots and kills a critically endangered Philippine Eagle.
As local authorities, led by a new and idealistic policeman Domingo (Arnold Reyes) and his veteran superior Mendoza (John Arcilla), begin a manhunt to track down the poacher of the national bird, their investigation leads them to an even more horrific discovery.
Red’s inspiration was a news article that he had come across in 2013 about a farmer who mistakenly shot, cooked and ate an endangered Philippine Eagle. The farmer reasoned that he did not know the act he committed was illegal. For Red, uncertain situations like this and moral ambiguity are his fuel to go explore a story.
“I like morally ambiguous situations where there’s no real protagonist and antagonist, it’s just people in these complex situations where they are forced to make these very gray decisions just to survive. I like plots like that cause it’s more dramatic, more emotional—you don’t know who to root for, what’s going to happen next and who’s the victor in the end, cause there’s no real protagonist,” Red shared in an interview after his film’s exclusive preview.
Red had the concept and produced an “ambitious” script he co-wrote with his cousin Rae in 2014 with an acknowledgement that he would need a sizeable amount of resources to produce the film according to his standards.
With that, Red submitted his film to the Doha Film Institute which grants international film funding. Luckily, Birdshot got the seed money and opened the door for Red and his team to attract more investors for their film, including TBA Studio’s Fernando Ortigas and E.A. Rocha of “Heneral Luna” fame and CJ Entertainment of South Korea. In total, Birdshot was made out of a P14-million budget.
For 23 days, Red and his team of creatives and actors shot the film in Isabela—where the isolated cornfield and lone kubo were built from scratch—Rizal, Fairview and Davao.
Moreover, the young filmmaker knew from the onset that he wanted to showcase the Philippine countryside, where previous internationally-acclaimed movies were set.
“I wanted to show that we have a beautiful country, I wanted to take it out of the gritty city to show our beautiful landscape, the countryside. That’s one part of Birdshot, showing two sides of the coin: we have beautiful environment but there’s a sort of darkness within that society,” Red told The Manila Times on the sidelines of the movie preview.
As such, Red was also precise with his vision for the movie that besides the location, he was proud to reveal that every aspect of the movie—including color, tone and texture—was deliberate and calculated to complement the genre-bender film.
All these elements intact, Red—a second generation filmmaker, having award-winning Raymond Red for a father—proudly declared his masterpiece as a hybrid film.
“In Birdshot, I made sure that my philosophy as a filmmaker is present so there’s a multiple layer to it. On the surface layer it’s a genre movie, a mystery thriller with suspense, action, with people dying and people being chased. But as you go deeper, you’ll see the other subtexts and layers that have social relevance and are important especially in our society nowadays,” Red expounded.
“Sometimes you even earn that through multiple viewings where you will see things that you haven’t seen and paid attention to before,” the young filmmaker, who started making short films as a teenager, added.
With its multi-layered story, Red believes that Birdshot has something for every audience—even the general movie-going public who will flock PPP for the next seven days—and that it can “cover all bases.”
Finally, the director also admitted that it’s a very risky film to make, especially in the age where romantic comedy and horror genre rule the box office.
“It’s very rare to find a mystery-thriller film nowadays but I think we need to make films like this to diversify the cinema. If filmmakers like me who make risky films didn’t exist you only have one choice all the time, one genre to look at. I am the minority that’s why I hope people can watch and support films like this,” Red ended, almost hopefully.