What Brillante Mendoza does when he’s banned from making a movie on ‘sex, drugs and violence’
Creating the dramatic film “Apag” came with extremely challenging conditions, especially for its director Brillante Ma Mendoza. This was because those who bankrolled it forbade the filmmaker from making “a movie depicting violence, sex or drugs,” which are common themes in most of his projects.
“It doesn’t get more challenging than that! It’s as if they’re telling me I should stop making films already,” said Mendoza, laughing. “I still took on the task and what came out was a beautiful story about familial love and food.”
The organizers of the Hong Kong International Film Festival were the ones who awarded Mendoza a film grant that came with specific conditions.
Mendoza said the film became a platform for him to showcase the culture of Pampanga, his home province. “This became a tribute of some sort to Kapampangan food. This is me giving back to my community; although everyone knows that I shot ‘Masahista’ in Pampanga, as well as ‘Manoro,’ ‘Serbis’ and ‘Kaleldo.’ It’s just that for this particular film, we focused on cooking, the passion of the Kapampangan people.”
Mendoza said he thought he already overcame the biggest hurdle, so he proceeded to complete his all-Kapampangan cast. He got Jaclyn Jose, Gladys Reyes and Sen. Lito Lapid as part of the original cast. Aljur Abrenica agreed to play one of the leads, but backed out at the last minute. “I think Aljur got scared because he isn’t so fluent in Kapampangan. He could have just said so and we would have worked on the problem together. Anyway, what happened turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” Mendoza said.
Superstar Coco Martin willingly replaced Aljur. He also convinced Gina Pareño, Joseph Marco and Mercedes Cabral to join the cast.
The next hurdle was shooting “big scenes” with Coco. Mendoza explained that this required hiring a number of bit players and extras, as well as filming in public places. “We then had to deal with logistical problem. When Coco is around, nagkakagulo ang buong bayan,” the director quipped
Working with Lapid left the multiawarded indie filmmaker starstruck, Mendoza confessed. “I’ve known Coco for many years, but it was my first time to work with Lito Lapid, who is not only an icon in the film industry, but also a senator. I felt really nervous in the beginning. I later realized that he was the exact opposite of what I imagined him to be. He is super shy and down-to-earth.
He didn’t mind adjusting to our filming conditions. Sobrang makatao,” he said. Mendoza likewise got to observe how close Martin is to Lapid, who also worked on the defunct series “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano” from 2017 to 2019. “The senator is not only caring and thoughtful to Coco, but also to the other cast members. Generally, he is just the shy type. He prefers to stay in one corner to make sure he doesn’t catch too much attention. He would send food to the set, too. I think he enjoys watching everyone eat.”
In “Apag,” a hit-and-run accident transpires between two families. When her husband dies, Nita files a criminal case. Alfredo is sent to jail after pleading guilty in place of his son Rafael, who appears to be weighed down by guilt.
“Apag” is one of eight entries of the first edition of the Summer Metro Manila Film Festival, which runs from April 8 to April 18.
“This is really a festival film. We prayed hard to be included because being part of a festival gives you more control of the number of cinemas your film will be shown in,” Mendoza explained. “We already know that cinema operators often remove films that don’t perform well on the first day in terms of ticket sales. This is a big problem here in the country, especially for independent productions like ours.”
However, Mendoza still has to manage expectations. “This is a test. We’re all guinea pigs here. We still don’t know what the outcome of the summer festival would be. We welcome it, though. We want to be able to try everything just to encourage local audiences to go back to watching in the cinemas.”
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