Film and television director Mike Tuviera is an ardent fan of Filipino action films. To qualify, these are the action movies of circa 1960s to roughly the early 1990s, when the likes of Fernando Poe Jr., Joseph Estrada, George Estregan Jr., Ace Vergel, Rudy Fernandez, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Robin Padilla lorded the big screen with stunts, guns and unadulterated machismo.
As of late, the local movie industry has set aside producing action flicks, and have largely focused on the genres of comedy, fantasy, horror and romance. For whatever reason filmmakers may have for doing so, the dearth of such movies had a positive effect on Tuviera’s very first foray into the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. The Janitor not just won for him the Best Director Award in the Directors Showcase of Cinemalaya X, but also grossed the highest box office returns among the finalists.
“Yes, our movie was the box office hit at the CCP film screenings last July,” the young director confirmed in an interview this week. “And when we looked at the composition of the audience, we found it to be very young—from high school to college students who I think never saw the heyday of action films in the country. That’s why they found The Janitor to be something new, and both interesting and compelling for them.”
With Dennis Trillo, Derek Ramsay and Richard Gomez in the lead roles, The Janitor is a gripping, adrenaline-pumping action-thriller, centered on the disillusioning journey of former cop Cristanto Espina (Trillo) who is asked to clean up a botched bank robbery that turned into a horrifying massacre. His former boss and commanding officer of the police force gave Espina the orders, even as he had been dishonorably discharged from service for committing a fatal mistake.
Tasked to be a hit man, and eliminate the robbery suspects one by one, Espina discovers that the whole investigation is a mere circus, and that the quest for justice for the victims’ families is only a sham.
Even as the material for The Janitor seems to echo current events in the country, Tuviera told The Manila Times that he had been working out its plot for the last six years.
“Like I said, I’m an action movie fan, and at the same time, I had long wanted to join the Cinemalaya with an indie kind of material such as this,” he explained.
In fact, the young director who is noted as the very first Filipino citizen to have been accepted into the University of Southern California’s (UCC) School of Cinema and Television Production Program, tried to join the very first Cinemalaya festival a decade ago.
“But by then, I had already directed three mainstream movies [TXT, The Promise, and Shake Rattle & Roll 8], so I was disqualified from the festival. Thankfully, they came up with a Directors Showcase category, so I finally realized one of my biggest dreams.”
Besides crossing off an entry in his bucket list, Tuviera’s biggest bonus is to have won over the likes of Joel Lamangan (Hustisya), Carlos Sigueon-Reyna (Hari Ng Tondo), Louie Ignacio (Asintado), and Joselito Altajeros (Kasal) as Best Director.
Humbled by the award, especially since he is the youngest among the highly respected roster of filmmakers, Tuviera believes he “just got lucky.”
“I am an admirer of their works and reputation, but really, all I was after with The Janitor was to come up with a movie that I am 100 percent proud of,” he continued. “Everything else is just icing on the cake.”
He is however very excited with the commercial release of The Janitor on October 8, through APT Entertainment Inc.’s partnership with Star Cinema, as well as its upcoming participation at the Fantasporo International Film Festival in Portugal.
“I hope for the movie to follow in the steps of legendary Filipino filmmakers like Lino Brocka, Chris Bernal and many others who have gained the attention of the cinema world with their gritty and inspiring depiction of social realities and personal courage,” Tuviera enthused. “But I’ll also be very happy if The Janitor becomes the spark to bring back action movies to Philippine cinema.”