SINGAPORE—Two months after his film became controversial in Manila, Brillante Mendoza's Alpha: The Right to Kill had a special screening in Singapore.
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) had an exclusive interview with the Filipino director who took part in the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).
Starring Allen Dizon and Baron Geisler, Alpha was screened at Filmgarde Bugis+ as part of the 29th edition of the SGIFF.
"Nandito ako kasi yung film ko na Alpha: The Right to Kill, may special screening sa midnight section.
"Nandito rin ako as a producer of Raymond's film, which is in competition."
The Raymond the Cannes award-winning director refers to is Raymond Ribay Gutierrez, the director of the short film Judgement, which tackles domestic violence in the Philippines.
Direk Brillante adds: "Third, I just gave a masterclass at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts for film students."
Last October 10, PEP Alerts reported that the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) executive committee had a lengthy discussion regarding Alpha and another entry titled Otlum.
Directed by Joven Tan, Otlum is a horror film starring basketball player Ricci Rivero and ABS-CBN actor Jerome Ponce.
In the end, Otlum became an official MMFF 2018 entry while Alpha was dropped from the list.
Direk Brillante said his film Alpha is a spin-off of Amo, his 12-episode miniseries that Netflix distributes.
"It was a small film taken from my series Amo. We made it into a full narrative.
"Ang maganda dito, the nice thing is may bago akong distributor, aside from my other distributor sa ibang films ko. Para sa akin, ito yung achievement ng Alpha.
"Kasi ang paggawa ng pelikula, hindi lang para sa film festival. Kasi alam natin na ang film festival, limited lang ang audience. Once the film is acquired, it gives the film a chance and pwede makita online."
What are his plans for Alpha in the future?
"Sa Philippines, magkakaroon kami ng theatrical run next year."
Is Direk Brillante angry about being removed from the MMFF 2018 Magic Eight?
"Yung controversy sa Alpha...Of course, alam ko naman from the very start na ang Metro Manila Film Festival is really meant for mainstream audiences.
"Alam naman natin na ang MMFF, ang intention niya talaga ay kumita at mag-entertain ng mga people from all walks of life—most especially, yung mga pamilya.
"Yung Alpha naman is tackling a different subject matter. Of course, ako bilang producer, nangangarap ako na kahit papaano, panoorin ng nakakarami ang pelikula ko."
Alpha is a crime thriller starring Allen Dizon as a police officer. He relies on information provided by his source who is known as an alpha (played by Elijah Filamor). An alpha is a small-time pusher providing information to a SWAT team. The team launches an operation to arrest Abel (played by Baron Geisler), one of the biggest drug lords in Manila.
Direk Brillante explains why many producers, just like him, want to join MMFF.
"Ang Metro Manila Film Festival is a venue na mapanood ng mas maraming tao. Kaya nga maraming producers na gustong sumali.
"Ano ba ang objective nila? Magkaalaman na tayo. Hindi naman para magpakita ng magandang pelikula kundi para kumita."
He says he was initially informed that Alpha would be one of the eight official entries, but after an hour, he was told that another entry made the cut.
"Ginawa siya nang maayos. Nakapagkuwento ako nang maayos na hindi ko naman masyadong binenta yung intention ko kung bakit ako gumagawa ng pelikula.
"Nag-try lang naman ako. Pero kung anong nangyari after that, that's beyond my control.
"Kasi nag-submit ko, tinanggap siya. Nung tinanggap siya at pinapapunta ako doon kasi internally, may nagsabing pasok ako. Sinabi na sa akin at pinapapunta ako doon. Nasa bahay nga lang ako, natutulog lang ako. Tapos pinapapunta ako...ayoko talagang magpunta.
"After 30 minutes, sinabi sa akin, mukhang may problema raw. Hindi ko alam kung anong problema. Then after an hour, sabi huwag na lang raw kasi may ibang pinili.
"Sabi ko, 'Ha? Talaga? E, di huwag.' Yun lang naman ang aking reaction."
Direk Brillante, who won the Best Director award at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival for his film Kinatay, said that the MMFF Selection Committee preferred his film Alpha over Otlum.
"Later on, I found out...nalaman ko na ang totoong kuwento.
"Based sa information na nalaman ko, sa totoo lang, nakuha talaga yung isang film: yung Otlum.
"Nakuha talaga siya pero as far as the insiders are concerned, yung Selection Committee, they preferred Alpha over the one that was voted. At pinaglaban nila at nakuha naman siya.
"They have their way of voting kasi. Yung creative side, they preferred my film. Then they explained why my film should be in the festival. Then they said, 'Yes, we'll take it.' Except that noong sinabi nila na 'we'll take it,' others have left already.
"And that process was not documented. Everyone was not informed about what happened. Ang feeling nila, sila-sila lang ang nagkaalaman. That's why they were surprised the following day at tinanong nila, 'Bakit hindi niyo kami sinabihan?'
"Then apparently, dumating yung taga MMDA at sinabi niya na kung ano ang desisyon kahapon, yun na ang decision, wala nang changes.
"That's why medyo nagkagulo kasi in terms of the trailer na ipe-present during the announcement, kailangan baguhin at tanggalin yung sa akin at ipasok yung pinili.
"Ganun ang nangyari. Natanggal ako."
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) is the organizer of the annual film festival that kicks off on Christmas Day, December 25.
According to PEP Alerts, a certain Jojo Garcia shouted at MMFF Selection Committee chairperson Bienvenido Lumbera during the deliberation.
(Read: Deliberation ng Final 4 ng MMFF 2018, umabot sa sigawan?)
Did this happen?
"Parang ganun nga yung nangyari," answers Direk Brillante.
"Siyempre, ang chairman ng Selection Committee na si National Artist Bien Lumbera, kahit papaano, na-disrespect rin siya. Bakit pa sila nandiyan kung hindi naman ire-respeto ang kanilang opinion?
"Sana wala na lang sila diyan. Or huwag na lang silang ilagay diyan kung hindi naman sila pinapakinggan. I think that's where the balance should come in."
Direk Brillante expresses excitement that theater owners were also in favor of Alpha being screened in the annual film festival, which prevents Hollywood films from being screened in practically all moviehouses across the Philippines.
"The nice thing about it is that theater owners agreed with the decision.
"Ang pangit kung sinabi ng theater owners na 'Huwag na 'yan. We are after money. Money, money tayo ngayon.'"
How did he react when Alpha was dropped from the list of official entries?
"Sabi ko, 'sayang naman yung P50,000 na binayad natin," he says with a laugh. "May participation fee kasi. Hindi na mababalik yun.
"Ang sa akin lang naman, nag-try lang naman. Kung hindi natanggap, okay lang."
Asked if he has a "tampo" with the MMFF, he says, "Wala."
Then he quips, "Noon pa."
It will be recalled that Direk Brillante's Thy Womb, starring Nora Aunor, initially failed to get a slot in MMFF 2012.
However, two months before the start of MMFF 2012, Thy Womb replaced Chris Martinez and Jerrold Tarog's Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang.
"Hindi naman first time ito. Every time na sumasali ako sa MMFF, lagi naman akong nalaglag.
"Mayroon akong nakapasok na entry, pero tinanggal naman after three days.
"Kumbaga, sanayan lang 'yan. Kapag sanay ka na, hindi ka na nahe-hurt. Way of life na yung ma-reject," he says with a laugh.
In the future, will he still submit entries to the next editions of MMFF?
"Oo naman. Walang suko 'yan. Hindi tayo susuko hangga't hindi tayo natatanggap."
Is he angry at the producers of Otlum, the movie chosen to replace Alpha?
Direk Brillante says, "Wala. Wala naman silang kinalaman dun. Parang katulad ko lang yun, nangangarap rin sila na 'Sana, kumita tayo dito. Panonoorin tayo dito, kahit na top nine tayo, kikita tayo dito.'
"For once, nagustuhan ng mga cinema owners ang pelikula ko. May possibility na kumita. Ibig sabihin, may promise siya."
The internationally renowned filmmaker says the next challenge is getting a playdate for his film in 2019.
"Makikipagbunuan naman ako ng playdate sa January. Hopefully, panoorin ng mga tao. Pero siyempre, kalaban ko na ang Hollywood films, Star Cinema.
"Siyempre, kung maliit lang ang pelikula mo, mahirap naman banggain ang mga malalaki.
"Alpha naman is touring around the world. Ang dami niyang film festivals until mid-next year. Meron na kaming distributor so, hopefully, mapalabas siya sa ibang mga bansa. May ongoing negotiations. Sa Southeast Asia, ang alam ko nakuha na rin siya."
He looks at the bright side of this controversy: "Ang alam ko yung mga taga industry, kampi sila lahat sa akin. Alam nila yung totoong nangyari. At the end of the day, may mga malalaking tao sa industry na hindi mo pwedeng banggain."
Does he harbor ill-feelings against the MMFF 2018 organizers?
"Ako, sa totoo lang, hindi ako affected. Ako kasi, I do things on my own.
"I've always been independent from the very start. First film ko pa lang, ininterview mo ako, independent na ako. Hanggang ngayon, independent pa rin ako.
"Kumbaga, tanggap ko na ang kalakaran.
"I'm not hurt because tanggap ko ang sitwasyon. You try, you fail. Then you try again. You keep on trying.
"It shouldn't affect us as filmmakers kasi pag naapektuhan ka, ikaw rin ang matatalo.
"In the first place, we are not dependent on anyone. For as long as klaro ang objective ko, gusto ko ang ginagawa ko, masaya ako sa ginagawa ko, at alam ko ang consequences ng ginagawa ko, then everything is acceptable."
PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) has reached out to the MMFF Executive Committee for a statement regarding this controversy.
Direk Brillante Mendoza (left) with Judgement director Raymond Ribay Gutierrez