A THOMASIAN director’s film about small-time drug dealers exploited by corrupt cops made waves in the 69th Cannes Film Festival in France last May.

Though Brillante Mendoza did not capture the Best Director Award, Jaclyn Jose took home the Best Actress Award as the lead role in “Ma’ Rosa.”

“Thank you also to Brillante Mendoza. I was just following whatever he tells me to do. He is such a brilliant director—a genius in the Philippines, and now, here in your country,” Jose said in her acceptance speech.

Ma’ Rosa is his fourth film to compete and gain recognition in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

In 2009, Mendoza became the first and only Filipino to receive the Best Director Award for the film “Kinatay.”

Aside from Kinatay, his film “Serbis,” which shows a family’s struggle with vices and an underground business in a movie house, was nominated for the Golden Palm Award in 2008. “Taklub,” a film about Yolanda survivors, got the Ecumenical Jury-Prize Special Mention in 2015.

“I’m proud that others are recognizing our talent, not just here in the Philippines, but also globally. We are not only a country of domestic helpers and OFWs. We are a country of talented people and these awards validate our talent,” he said in an interview.


Mendoza said Ma’ Rosa was conceptualized four years ago, inspired by the lives of people he knew had been dealing with the drug problem.

“To set the production off, a filmmaker should be accustomed to the ‘dramaticals’ of the story to be able to input those details from the clothes to the materials and setting, to result in a seamless editing having velocity and connection,” he said.

Ma’ Rosa hit Philippine commercial theatres last July 6 and gained outstanding reviews from the country that made the film possible.

Bringing issues into focus

After earning his advertising degree in UST, he entered the entertainment scene as a production designer and art director in various advertisements and films such as “Virgin Forest” in 1985, “Salamangkero” in 1986, and “Valentina” in 1989.

After 12 years, he got the opportunity to write and direct his first film, “Masahista,” a story about a young masseur employed to give service to gay clients, in 2005.

“Since I was a kid, it was already my dream to make films. I wanted to make movies that were different from the mainstream and typical Hollywood films shown on the big screen,” he said.

Brillante showed no rookie jitters in his first film as it won as the Best Movie in the Young Critics Circle Philippines and was recognized globally with the Golden Leopard Award in the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.

“Independent films are different from those in the mainstream. It’s a different world we move in because of our limitations, so we focus more on the story rather than the technology,” he said.

For the multi-awarded director, not only was it risky to make a film without any credentials; it was also difficult to produce something with a limited budget. To make up for this, he made sure to formulate strategies that would help him and his team make movies by being resourceful and creating stories of great content and significance.

“People always refer to [the issues] as the bad side of the Philippines when in fact it’s not. It’s the Philippines, and unfortunately it’s bad. That’s reality, and you have to face it no matter how painful it is,” he said.


Mendoza was also tapped to direct President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address last July 25. He said he took the opportunity because he shared the new administration advocacy on social issues.

The televised speech consisted of close-ups, slow transitions, slow camera panning, dim lighting and double exposures which were all unusually done in such political events.

“That’s what I do. I get them to look at it in a different perspective. In a way, it also perked up their interest to its artistic treatment and my advice to them is that they should do their own share and make it worthy,” he said.