MendozaFor its third year, Cinevita, the Varsitarian’s festival of films that celebrate “meaningful expressions of life,” paid tribute to the cinema of Brillante Mendoza with a festival of his key oeuvre, including Serbis, the first Filipino film to break into the the Cannes Film Festival in more than a quarter of a century, last February 26 and 27 at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex Auditorium.

This year, the Varsitarian enhanced the educational aspect of the non-profit film festival (screenings were free) by publishing the Cinevita souvenir program that contained reviews and ratings of Mendoza’s controversial movies by the Catholic Initiative for Enlightened Movie Appreciation (Cinema) Board of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The booklet also contained synopses of the movies, a filmography of Mendoza, and other critical reviews of his movies.

The festival opened with Kaleldo (international title: Summer Heat), a full-length independent film about a patriarch and his three daughters living amid the lahar-covered geography of post-1991 Pinatubo-damaged Pampanga. Starring Johnny Delgado, Cherry Pie Picache, Angel Aquino and Juliana Palermo, the movie received the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema Award in the 2007 South Korea Film Festival.

Mendoza said Kaleldo was his “most commercial feature” so far.

The UST Fine Arts alumnus admitted that when he was shooting Kaleldo, he was thinking of “return of investment.” But despite mainstream actors leading the cast, the movie did not do well in the box office.

“Since then, I never thought of commercializing my films. I know my films will find its viewers,” Mendoza said.

Noticeable in the film is the use of the Kapampangan vernacular which, according to Mendoza, a Pampanga native, makes the story more truthful.

Another Mendoza masterpiece shown in the festival was the neo-realist movie Foster Child (international title: John-John), which was awarded best picture in the 2008 Durban International Film Festival. The film follows the story of a surrogate mother working in a foster care facility during the day when she has to give up her foster child to his adoptive American parents.

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Pagkatapos ng pagtatapos

In an open forum, lead actress Cherry Pie Picache said the movie’s neo-realist approach challenged her acting mettle.

“All the things I learned in mastering my craft, I had to throw aside when I was doing Foster Child because I had to be as raw as possible,” she said. “(During the first days of the shoot) I was disoriented, but I said to myself I should trust my director.”

Picache said she had to do “homework” by going to a community of foster parents so as to immerse herself in the character she was playing in the film.

The tedious work paid off for Picache, who won best actress award in the 2008 Durban International Film Festival and the 2007 Gawad Urian, the last given by Filipino film critics.

Mendoza said his style in Foster Child departed from Kaleldo in the use of long takes, tracking cameras, and shooting right where the action is.

“(As a director,) you have to make a strategy in order to achieve the setup that you want,” Mendoza said. “In shooting in these places, we had to blend with the people.”

He added he does not really have a script when he shoots, but he tries to focus on the objective, which is apparent. He also said he shoots the film chronologically so that the actors can keep track of the story and their characters can develop along with the twists and turns.

“The actors’ concern is to portray the character. They have to react based on the situation given to them,” Mendoza said.

Tirador, starring Coco Martin, Jiro Manio, and Jacklyn Jose, is a documentary-like movie on slum dwellers and petty thieves in Quiapo. The film won the Caligari Award in the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival for “its breathless handheld-camera, de-saturated colors and pulsating sounds of the city that equally create and catch an atmosphere of urban unrest, imparting a vivid cinema experience without exploiting the slum as exotic scenery.” It also won the 2007 Gawad Urian best picture.

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Voices

Among his films, Mendoza said Tirador is the most complex in terms of production. Intensive research was done in order to make every aspect of the film as realistic and faithful to the truth as possible, he added.

“Para sa akin, mas totoo, mas tama. Mas malapit ka sa katotohanan, mas malapit ka sa gusto mong sabihin (The truer, the better. The nearer it is to the truth, the nearer it is to what you want to express),” Mendoza said.

The festival’s closing film was the 2008 Cannes finalist Serbis, about a family living in a decrepit but vast cinema house that has seen better days; when the movies start to play, the place transforms into a nest for prostitution and illicit sex .

Gina Pareño, who plays the matriarch trying to maintain her Old-World dignity while the world around her crumbles, won best supporting actress in the recent Third Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong.

In the open forum, questions were raised about the scenes of explicit sex in Serbis.

“Why do we have to hide it when in fact it is part of life?” Mendoza said.

The film, as well as its poster and trailer, was initially rated X by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). “I am not afraid (of censorship); it won’t stop me from making films such as Serbis,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza was joined in the forum by actors Julio Diaz and Coco Martin.

Mendoza said Philippine cinema is not dying but is actually “thriving.” He added independent filmmakers now have “a lot of good venues” to express themselves through their films. But it is true that independent films get their first audience abroad, not in the Philippines.

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The air we breathe

“Para sa akin, mas nakikita (sa ibang bansa) iyong katotohanan na nangyayari dito (na hindi ikinakatakot ipakita ng independent films).” said Mendoza, who considers his films as an “alternative cinema.”

Despite not making enough money on the films he directed and produced, Mendoza said he is happy to see students watching his films. “It may not be today, but I believe that in time, people will get to value our cinema,” he said.

The event saw the awarding of the first-ever UST Cinevita Award to Mendoza, who according to Varsitarian publications adviser and Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino member Joselito Zulueta, “has almost single-handedly restored the Philippines in the world cinema map.”

Workshop

As part this year’s Cinevita, a filmmaking workshop to be facilitated by another Thomasian filmmaker, Jim Libiran, will be held on April 17 to 18 and 24 to 25.

A UST Sociology alumnus, Libiran directed Tribu, the 2007 Cinemalaya Best Picture and 2008 Youth Jury Prize winner at the Paris Cinematheque.

A maximum of 12 participants will be chosen and granted scholarships by the Varsitarian for the film workshop.

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