TOKYO — Brillante Mendoza will be the first to admit that his films, which have earned him acclaim internationally over the past decade, are not the most accessible to the Filipino audience.
On his 15th year in the industry, Mendoza is taking deliberate steps to cater more to the taste of local moviegoers — which he hopes would translate to box-office success — starting with the Judy Ann Santos-starrer “Mindanao.”
The film, about a mother caring for her 4-year-old daughter with terminal cancer, is being screened in the Japanese capital as part of the World Focus section of the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF).
“Alam mo, ang pelikulang ito, feeling ko mas bagay siya sa mga Pilipino, kasi emotional siya,” he said, after a screening here Wednesday attended by a mostly Japanese audience.
“Let’s face it, it’s a bit melodrama. Unlike my films before, masyado silang rhetorical. Dramatic ito, [and it stars] Judy Ann,” he said, referring to the superstar status of Philippine showbiz’s “Teleserye Queen.”
Aside from Santos’ tested talent, honed over a three-decade career, her celebrity and audience draw can boost the box-office chances of “Mindanao,” according to Mendoza.
“So kapag ‘yung mga fans niya at mainstream audience, nanood sila nito, sana may makita silang iba maliban kay Judy Ann,” the director said, in light of the film’s Christmas Day release in the Philippines under the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).
In fact, Mendoza once had a conversation with Santos about her portrayal of Saima, in relation to their shared goal of shedding light on the situation of some communities in Mindanao, he recalled.
“Sabi ko sa kaniya noon, ‘Sana hindi ko makita si Judy Ann dito sa pelikula, kundi si Saima. Sana ‘yung mga fans mo, hindi ka lang nila susuportahan, kundi makita rin nila ‘yung gusto nating sabihin,’” Mendoza narrated.
Santos did deliver, and more, with a portrayal which Mendoza described as “really coming from the heart.”
“Importante ‘yun sa artist, importante ‘yun sa character, kasi nakikita mo ‘yung tao, hindi mo nakikita ‘yung artista. That’s why I like her, kasi nabura ‘yung pagiging Judy Ann niya,” he said.
Also starring Allen Dizon as the soldier-husband of Saima, “Mindanao” touches on the armed conflict in parts of the island, intercut with an animated retelling of the Mindanao folklore of warrior brothers Rajah and Sulayman.
“There’s a bit of culture, a bit of history. Kahit paano, nag-i-inject pa rin ako ng kaunti… At least here, 'pag pumasok ang fans ni Judy Ann, ‘Ay, meron palang Rajah Sulayman, meron palang ganiyang legend sa Mindanao!’” Mendoza said.
Describing “Mindanao” as “my most accessible Filipino film for the Filipino audience,” Mendoza is aiming to court moviegoers with the familiar, so they could be introduced to something new.
“Of course, producer din ako. At the end of the day, MMFF ‘yan. Alam naman natin in the past, hindi maganda ang experience ko sa screenings ko sa Pilipinas. First day-last day,” he said, referring to the dreaded single-day screening of films with low audience turnout.
Mendoza’s last film that competed in the MMFF was “Thy Womb,” starring Nora Aunor and Lovi Poe, in 2012. At the time, the film about a Badjao midwife who ironically is unable to bear a child, was pulled out of cinemas early and had as little as nine theaters within its first week, Mendoza claimed then.
“Gusto ko naman maramdaman, as a filmmaker, for my 13th film and my 15th year in the industry, makaramdam ako ng, ‘Uy, pinananood ang pelikula, ha! Sarap ng pakiramdam may nanood ng pelikula ko!’” he said.
Asked whether this mindset is a conscious stirring of direction towards mainstream, Mendoza said: “Yes. I’ve been in the business for more than 10 years. Naikot ko na, nalaman ko na, naiintindihan ko na.”
“Somehow, modesty aside, I’d like to think I was able to establish my stature as a Filipino filmmaker globally. For me, gusto ko bumalik sa Pilipinas, at gusto ko magbigay ng ganito,” he said.