Brilliante Mendoza


By Jon Verzosa
This is for my sister Ma Lourdes Verzosa whose passion for the arts means blood begets love.
If you look closely, Brilliante Mendoza is seamless.  He is, also, a handsome man.  To the least that’s how I felt of him that day looking at one of the Philippines and one of Asia’s best directors.  His sporadic mouth can impale any kind of consciousness at any given time as it dictated my almost sonogram hub being in the middle of a very noisy room and jotting down fast details of a man who was said to be incredibly prolific.  And that for a guy [his age of 51], has the energy and sense of discovery of someone you might think is in his 20s, and with every film is trying to really tap into a larger cinematic vocabulary.  This was said by UCLA programmer Paul Malcolm who also restated, “Brillante is helping to bring attention to a whole new age of filmmaking in the Philippines”.
I must say, however, that Brillante does not only characterize brilliance as his name defines itself but also incorporates ground-breaking themes in his filmmaking, thus, making him the radical vicar of independent films and suffice to say, surprisingly brings a deeper worth to his baptized name ‘Brilliante’ which in Tagalog means, as seamless as it gets, a gem.
A graduate of Advertising in the University of Santo Tomas and known for being a proponent of pragmatism in Philippine movies, Brillante Mendoza is the first and so far the only Filipino director to win Best Director Award in an international film festival.  His awards are all prestigious and by far, unsurpassed;  Best Director for Kinatay (2009) at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival, Best Film for Lola (2009) at the 6th Dubai Film Festival, Second Best Picture for Lolaat the Venice Film Fest and Grand Knight Award for Lola at the 27th Miami International Film Festival.  His other films, Masahista (2005) and Serbis (2008) were screened in Europe and the United States.
Mendoza started his career in showbiz as a production designer for various mainstream films in the 80s and produced films in the 90s and segued into advertising when film work began to fester down.  Mendoza said independent cinema in his country has thrived for the last couple of years while mainstream cinema has struggled. “It’s dying,” he said. “We used to make, like 300 films a year, but now it’s down to about 25 films a year. But you have 50 indie films a year because of digital technology.”  True enough, indie (independent) films have long since been recognized even in celebrated local film awards and thereby became a source of artistic triumph to both filmmakers and actors who made movies not just to make an income but to make movies out of passion.
“Indie films and its sheer exposé of sending a message across moviegoers is a laborious process.  At times, you can’t do much pero hinay hinay lang.  Kumbaga, slowly by surely. Heavy films [if you can call it that] such as what I am doing can be measured as high art simply because it is not mainstream but I have to mention na madami pang kuwentong hindi pa naikukuwento kaya that is my advocacy at this point in filmmaking,” Brillante said.  “All these recognitions are simply bonuses of a job well done.  What’s important is the inspiration in the middle of all this work that it has to get better all the time at dapat gumagawa tayo ng tama at totoo.” he added.
In his craft, awareness is something that Brillante is fanatical about.  If art is a vehicle to be peppered around audiences worldwide, he believes that it is through awareness where everything stems out in retrospect which gyrates methodically from perception towards the process of building a masterpiece.  In Masahista, an adult, sexually explicit drama about a country boy torn between the family he left behind and his work as a prostitute at a gay massage parlour and Serbis, a drama that revolves around a fractured family, whose members live in and operate the mammoth old movie palace, a decaying porn theatre called the Family, and the gay hustlers and johns who frequent it, Brilliante was very much in the process of its deep research.  Both begrimed settings were visited and revisited as discomfited interviews were made before the exact storyline was constructed.  In the making of Serbis, it featured the stock company of actors Brilliante has created but the real star of Serbis is the theatre, with its maze of stairs and rooms. “It’s a real structure” he said. “It still does show films like that. The first time I said it was kind of dirty, and I said to the owner I might shoot the film there. After several months, I came back and they had painted it! I had to put back the kind of distressed look I saw before.”
 “The stress and pressure of having your film showcased abroad is only the worst possible scenario that I can think of because more than anything else, the pride of having a film not just being recognized but also watched in a foreign setting is enough realization that the Pinoy is OUT there,” Brillante narrates.  He continues, “Awareness in all possible sorts is the bridge towards making a craft, a good one, and there is a thin line between which kind of art that you want to get yourself indulged in, both of which are paradigms of expression: the one that gives the world meaning and the one that shares a different kind of world.
Like I said, iyang mga recognition at awards bonus lang ‘yan sa trabaho.  What is important is the making of a film, a film with meaning and enjoying making it all at the same time.  That is, in fact, my goal.  Not the trophies.  Ang importante, we like what we’re doing [and it is not easy to like what you are doing most of the time] because we never get exhausted when we take pleasure in what we do.  Secondly, we have to do something that is right.  Yung tama at may kabuluhan.  Of course, being a filmmaker means having a big responsibility, so, lastly, we need to take that conscientiousness of giving inspiration to our moviegoers especially to the youth.  We should never fail the kids because, cliché as it is, they’re our future.
Incidentally, I hold Sunday workshops to future filmmakers and actors because I’d like to share everything that I have learned in the recent years.  In this business, learning and sharing what you know is the most aristocratic thing that you can do for the industry.  Also being in this commerce of art means learning constantly and everyday should be a discovery day.  To slightly contradict mainstream movies, I like said, there are still a lot of stories out there that needs to be told.  Just recently, I was in Mindanao making a swot up of the Marawi which is a very powerful ethnic force.  Little do we know that apart from being 100% Muslim and very far from our so-called civilization, it is also a formidable culture that necessitates a story worth capturing.  I myself was culture shocked.  Again, it brings us to awareness and the principle of sharing something to the world that exists but regrettably ignored.”
Fresh from the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, Brillante Mendoza featured a 13-minute film called Purple ruggedly set in what he mentioned to be “the other side of Hong Kong” about two individuals clearly represented by urban and rural Hong Kong and the predicament that transpires between the two.  This brought to mind the amazing director’s adherence to the higher variety of art in film.  Even after he mentioned a new film that he is working on about a kidnapping that happened in 2001 and the current victory of his film Lola which will have its theatrical release in Brazil very soon, I was intrigued with his miscellany in adversative cinematic thoughts and attractively haphazard vernacular.
“There is nothing wrong with mainstream films,” he began, “but I chose to be where I am because that is where I can be bowled over particularly in doing things on my own; directing, writing, cinematography et cetera.  It will be a trip to direct great actors like Piolo Pascua and Jericho Rosales but let’s face it, they are superstars.  Even Vilma Santos is such a dream actor to direct but then again, she is a big major star and every big major star’s schedule will be a struggle to deal with.  As a director, I am selfish when it comes to schedules.  Gusto ko tutok sa project ang artista ko.  At saka kahit gaano kagaling ang artista kapag patong patong ang raket at pagdating sa set mo ay puyat at pagod, he or she will not be able to deliver.  Focus is very very important.
Actors in this generation should know the spot on formula to be regarded as actors.  Basically it is about having the talent, the flexibility and more than the popularity, he should have ‘the’ great attitude.  There is a shelf life to popularity but you will forever be remembered for your talent and attitude.  For me that’s being an actor of the highest quality.”
Brilliante has advocacies and dreams that have yet to be freed from his sumptuous head.  He is now embarking on films that would give denotation to the environment and stories that will lay a hand on demonstrative culturalism.  “It is miraculous that my films are being screened all over the nation now,” he said, “In schools both in the metro and the provinces.  Also I am given the opportunity to speak to students everywhere about the beauty of filmmaking and how to tell a particular story in the medium of film.  This is an all-year round event and I am excited.  Also, SM Malls have unlocked the yes vote on showing my film via PG 13 rating, so, perhaps, my films are climbing its way unhurriedly towards a certain collective consciousness which is good.  In a sense, I can say that it arouses my well-being to continue being responsible and to make films that has realism and societal significance.
My advice to young filmmakers out there, hinay hinay lang sa mga pangarap.  There are a lot of stories out there that needs retelling in film but always remember to do it correctly. Dapat tama at nararapat.  ‘Yun ang pinaka-importante sa lahat.  It is not easy to break out if you want to impart something innovative.  What’s vital of great magnitude in the process is how you can show the story by not merely telling it. Remember that other than the images, I think the sound and music play a vital role. Even if you don’t see it in the images, you can almost feel the character and what’s going on in the film just by hearing the sound and the voices of the character.”
That day, in union with a very noisy room and among other people who were also having a marathon glib of how to shape a legend of a man in Direk Brilliante Mendoza, I went afloat with the idea that this handsome and sharp man, a man who made all Pinoys proud, a man who will kill for his opus, a commandant of fervent filmmaking will be remembered for being a constant learner and someone who has shared his endowments for the survival of art in the Philippine cinema.
Other Sources:  The Indie Eye by Susan King 
Video footage photos by Doc Gamboa.
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