Manila– When independent filmmaker Brillante Mendoza was growing up, people made fun of his name and called him Diamond.
Now, as the first Filipino to win director honors at Cannes in 2009, and with his “Captive” competing at Berlin in February while “Thy Womb” vies at Venice (the first Filipino films to compete in more than 20 years), the director is one of the brightest lights to come out of the country in decades.
Mendoza’s films place a raw focus on the often harsh realities of life in the Philippines, tackling socially conscious themes avoided by commercial filmmakers, according to Bien Lumbera, professor emeritus of Philippine studies at Philippines U.
Lumbera said, “His films are personal and insightful, with a boldness of vision that is new and refreshing. He gets deep into the problems of society.”
Mendoza spent 18 years as a production designer for films and theater and as an art director for commercials before directing his first film in 2005. He combines solid technical skills with the story telling focus of someone dedicated to being, what he calls, a “responsible filmmaker.”Mendoza believes in making films that affect people, not those they necessarily will like. He said, “I want to show truth and reality on screen — to touch people’s lives and maybe make a difference by involving them, having them feel your film … as a human being.”
Describing himself as a “guerrilla filmmaker,” Mendoza often shoots without a script and emphasizes the instinctive.
“Shooting people on the street, being spontaneous, it draws the best in us when we are put on the spot,” Mendoza said. “Once you know the story and feel for the character, you know what you are going to say because you are really committed. I try to make my actors and staff feel what I am feeling about it even before shooting.”
On Sept. 5, Mendoza’s career will break new ground back home. Due to a growing interest in independent films and partnerships with mainstream local distributors including Star Cinema and Solar Films, “Captive” will be his first film shown nationwide with “Thy Womb” following on Nov. 28.
“Captive” tells the true story of the ordeal faced by missionaries kidnapped from a resort island by a Muslim extremist group; “Thy Womb” follows a middle-age, childless Muslim couple looking for a surrogate mother, set on the southernmost island of the archipelago.
Mendoza said “The Womb” is “quiet, poetic and slow-moving. I talked about unconditional love, showing the gentle side of Muslims, because we have always known them as violent people.”
Although eager to introduce his films about the Philippines to a local audience, he is also nervous. “Each film I make shows a part of my soul.”