Mendoza denies indie films are 'poverty porn'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 12 2012 09:03 PM | Updated as of Jan 13 2012 05:03 AM

MANILA, Philippines -- Director Brillante Mendoza denied that the country's independent films glorify poverty.

The 2009 Cannes Film Festival best director was reacting to a viewer's comment on ANC's Headstart on Thursday saying that local indie films tend to focus only on poverty, sex and prostitution.

"Ang hirap sa atin ang nakikita natin yung kahirapan, ang nakikita natin yung basura, yung kapangitan. Pero hindi natin nakikita yung resilience natin. Hindi natin nakikita yung pagkatao natin as Filipinos," he told host Karen Davila.

Mendoza won in Cannes for his film, "Kinatay," about a prostitute whose body was chopped into pieces.

His other films include "Lola," set in a perenially flooded slum area in Malabon, and "Masahista," about a young masseur working in Manila's sex trade.

"In my films, poverty is just a background. It’s not what I highlight in my films," Mendoza said. "It so happens that the characters are poor. It’s how it is in the Philippines. For 80 percent of the Filipinos that’s how they live."

"I don’t show it for the sake of showing poverty. It so happens that the characters are within that community. And I’m not highlighting poverty per se," he added.

Indie films have been increasingly criticized for presenting "poverty porn" -- a subject that was tackled in the recent comedy, "Ang Babae sa Septic Tank," starring Eugene Domingo.

But Mendoza dared his critics to watch indie films first before making such comments, lamenting that most indie films are not even widely patronized by local filmgoers.

"We should also look at ourselves in the mirror [and] ask ourselves, 'Ito ba ay nangyayari, ito ba’y hindi nangyayari.' Baka ayaw lang nating harapin ang katotohanan?" he said. "Bakit tayo nahihiyang ipakita ang katotohanan, if this is really truthful, kung talagang nangyayari?

"Kasi ang take ko, kung hindi mo haharapin ang katotohanan at hindi mo haharapin ang mga issues, hindi 'yan maso-solve. Paulit-ulit lang 'yan na mangyayari habang panahon because we never really confront the issues. We are so afraid and so ashamed na tayo ay mahirap, na tayo ay corrupt ...but you see it in the news everyday. You just have to look around you. Go outside your house and look around you."

"The Philippines now is in the global film industry because of the independent films and we should be thankful about that," he added.

Mendoza's latest project, "Captive," about a foreign aid worker, played by French actress Isabelle Huppert, who was abducted by bandits in Mindanao, is competing at next month's Berlin International Film Festival in Germany.

The last Filipino film to compete in the prestigious festival was Ishmael Bernal's "Himala," starring Nora Aunor.

"Most of my projects now focus on regional stories. Without really dwelling on the tourism side of the Philippines, you are, in a way, showing our culture and showing parts of our country without really forcing the tourism aspect. But still you’re showing the beautiful scenes of the Philippines," he said, adding that he is planning to do movies about Ilocos and Pampanga.

Asked if he feels more pressured given his international success, he acknowledged that people would want him to do films on subjects that do not interest him.

"But at the end of the day these are the kind of films that I really want to do," he said.

On his chances of winning in Berlin, he said: "When I go to a competition, I really don’t go there for the awards but to showcase our films. That for me is enough."