Cannes-winning Philippine director shuns mainstream

By AFP

June 18, 2010 Updated Jun 18, 2009 at 1:10 AM EDT

Philippine director Brillante Mendoza may have won international honours, including the best director award at the recent Cannes film festival, but in his own country his movies go largely unseen.

But Mendoza, 48, doesn't mind. He prefers to have his movies on the local art house and university circuit, leaving the larger cinemas to show the syrupy romances and wacky comedies that local movie studios churn out.

"I'm not ready to go mainstream. I am not comfortable in mainstream movies," he told AFP in an interview.

Winning the best director award at the Cannes international film festival in May for his dark, independent film, "Kinatay" has landed him on the front pages of newspapers and on TV talk shows.

Nevertheless, Mendoza said there are no plans to distribute his movie commercially in this country -- and he even doubts it would find much of an audience.

Foreign critics have assailed Mendoza's movies for their unrelenting focus on squalor and violence but he has also won praise for his unflinchingly realistic depictions of life on the margins of society.

"Kinatay"-- called "The Massacre" by the Cannes press -- tells the grim story of a rookie cop who witnesses the brutal dismemberment of a prostitute by a gang led by corrupt policemen.

Mendoza's films usually deal with people on the seamy side of Philippine life -- prostitutes, petty criminals, slum residents.

In a Manila shanty town where some scenes were filmed, not far from Mendoza's home, residents testify to the realism of "Kinatay".

"This is all true to life, this kind of thing really happens," said slum resident William Belleza as he scrounged for scrap to sell. He played a similar role in Mendoza's movie.

This is the reality of life in his impoverished homeland, Mendoza said, adding: "These slums -- this is what you see everyday."

"Kinatay" is based on the experiences of a criminology student he met while doing research on one of his earlier movies.

"This is based on a true story. It's not the kind of film where you will go out of the cinema saying, 'I enjoyed the film, I feel good about it.' It is a disturbing film," he said.

"The Filipino audience is not ready for this kind of material. I have to accept that most of my films are not being watched in the Philippines. They are used to Hollywood and the commercial movies," he said.

Mark Meily, chairman of the Directors' Guild of the Philippines, said Mendoza's success may not have an immediate effect on the country's wider movie industry but he feels it will eventually bring international attention to Philippine film makers.

"What he did is introduce a new form of Asian cinema," Meily said.

"There will be more people introduced to Filipino films," in the same way the world became aware of South Korean movies, he said.

Meily, who has done both art films and commercial movies, noted that global attention for South Korean art films eventually segued into more attention for the country's commercial movies.

"Mendoza is an inspiration but I don't think we will see more films like his in the near future. That is his own style," he said.

Mendoza said the Cannes award will make it easier to get financing from the foreign producers and film foundations that sponsor his work.

But for now, he said, "I am just trying to savour the moment.

"There is a lot of attention but in a week or two, everything will be back to normal".




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