Award-winning filmmaker Brillante Mendoza continues to reinvent Philippine cinema though often criticized for his choice of subject.
Nonetheless, this San Fernando, Pampanga native has carved a name for himself in the international film scene, having only made 13 movies since 2005.
Let’s run through them: Kinatay in 2009, which won him Best Director at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival; Lola in 2009, winner of Best Film at the 6th Dubai International Film Festival; Captive in February 2012, which competed in the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival; Thy Womb later that year, which competed for the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival; Taklub in 2015, which was selected for screening at the Un Certain Regard of the Cannes Film Festival; and most recently, Ma’ Rosa, which won Jaclyn Jose the Palme d’Or Best Actress Award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and is officially the Philippines’ entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards in 2017.
While a quick online search will give Mendoza’s impressive filmography, you will never hear him boasting about his accomplishments.
As he sat down with reporters at Johnnie Walker’s “Keep Walking Philippines” campaign at Green Sun, Makati, the formidable director said instead, “I’ve been doing independent films for the past 11 years already and it really hasn’t been easy. Despite the recognition, despite the awards, it’s been a difficult journey.”
Elaborating, he continued, “We are a developing country and art and alternative film is not our priority.”
He is very encouraged, however, that there exists today a greater appreciation and awareness of for alternative movies. Unfortunately, still, this enthusiasm is not enough to translate into box office returns.
“A lot of young people now know of alternative movies—of independent films—but they won’t really go out of their way to watch these films. We don’t have a concrete audience yet for these kinds of movies and that’s what I’m trying to develop.”
“My wish is to see this in my lifetime but I think it’s the new generation of filmmakers who will truly benefit from such a development.”
At 56, Mendoza is considered a late bloomer in his vocation. He cites Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal as his idols, who despite their success in mainstream moviemaking are essentially independent directors too by his definition.
“An independent filmmaker does not conform to any kind of formula or technology when making a movie. He thinks out of the box,” explained the Filipino director who has given his country much pride.
“Basically I’m a filmmaker who connects with reality. I’m not a filmmaker who just imagines or creates stories in my room. I don’t go on vacation to make my stories. I live and I feel for people around me because I know them and that’s why I can make real stories about them.”
His search for a good story—a real story—usually takes several months of research.
“I cannot just make a film if I don’t feel anything. There should be an issue first of all, from the problems of the society and the nation.”
Ultimately, what’s important for Mendoza is not about how many thousands of people will get to watch his film. Rather, it is perhaps one or two audience members whose lives will truly be touched by what they see and be moved to action.
“For the young filmmakers—tell Filipino stories; tell our stories. Do not be afraid to do that even if they turn out as films that feel difficult to watch. When you say it’s a good film, it’s not always the film that you like. You have to focus, and don’t do what you really want to do just because you want the recognition. Do it for yourself,” he ended.