Mike de Leon reveals he almost did ‘Citizen Jake, Redux’

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Apr 08 2022 06:24 AM

Teroy Guzman as Senator Jacobo Herrera Sr., father of Jake, in 'Citizen Jake.' Photo from Mike de Leon
Teroy Guzman as Senator Jacobo Herrera Sr., father of Jake, in 'Citizen Jake.' Photo from Mike de Leon

MANILA -- Here's one for film trivia addicts: Did you know that acclaimed auteur Mike De Leon almost did a “makeover” on his 2018 film “Citizen Jake”? 

“I had planned to do a major re-edit of ‘Citizen Jake’ had I recouped my investment. I would have removed the dead mother character entirely. I think that structurally, it messed up the film and Jake's obsession over a missing or dead mother was ludicrous, to say the least. Like the sequences of the female characters of ‘Batch 81’ which I removed, the mother's story in ‘Citizen Jake’ is an annoying subplot,” De Leon told ABS-CBN News in an email.

“Citizen Jake” is a story about disillusionment of the youth, the relentless fight against corruption in government. It is about a typical powerful political Filipino family and the titular character, the privileged Jake Herrera, who tries to break away from it all. 

“Citizen Jake” is also the feature film that De Leon made after almost two decades of semi-retirement and the last film which he and the late production designer-director Cesar Hernando collaborated on. 

De Leon continued: “Then I thought of doing an entirely new film out of the first. In other words, keep the first as ‘Citizen Jake’ and do a new film using footage from the original but change the focus of the story.”

“It would have been ‘Citizen Jake Redux’, this time focusing on Jacobo, who is after all Jake Sr. I would not have killed off Jacobo (Teroy Guzman) and Roxie (Gabby Eigenmann). And possibly even shoot new scenes exploring the radically altered relationship between a senator, Jacobo, and his newly elected congressman son, Roxie. It would have been a great opportunity to show the more interesting dysfunction of a thoroughly corrupt Filipino political family. I imagined Jake would have left them anyway,” De Leon said.

Then again, he thought making a new film was a better alternative.

“That was ‘Unfinished Business,’ then the pandemic happened and it became impossible to resume work on that film,” added De Leon, who is turning 75 soon.

“Unfinished Business” is a loose adaptation of the short story “How Love Came To Professor Guildea” by English novelist Robert Hichens.

“It was inspired by Hichens story, which is essentially a ghost story,” said De Leon. 

It starred Guzman as the lead character and had Epy Quizon in the cast. They had shot a few scenes in Manila and Baguio before COVID-19 stopped everything. The story itself had to be revised because it doesn’t fit the pandemic era.

De Leon then thought of doing instead “Sa Bisperas, another film he intended to do as early as 1971, three years before his first feature film “Itim.”

“’Sa Bisperas’ deals with more existential issues, like the end of life, or the question of an afterlife, as well as a real haunting. It is ‘Itim’ for those in the twilight of their years, like me. it has two major leads, a father and a son, a favorite theme of mine and their dysfunctional, sometimes loving relationship. I am very happy that Teroy Guzman is still with me, and Max Collins,” De Leon said.

Looking for best actors, not stars

“I offered the other major role of the son to John Lloyd Cruz. He seemed interested at first but after a couple of emails, I never heard from him again. So I guess he's not. Besides, I’m not looking for stars, not anymore, even if they're good actors, which I’m told he is. But I must confess that I’ve never seen any of his films. Showbiz stars, except Vilma Santos, have a lot of emotional baggage and that is difficult to bear. Also, in case I get to inject politics into this film, actors may get flak from their network bosses. I am only focused on pure cinema. My new and perhaps last film will be a chamber supernatural drama with the best actors I can find. of course, it will be filmed in Baguio. Where else?"

The more than two-year-old pandemic has brought people binge-watching on movies, TV series, stage plays and other videos in their homes. Even De Leon had special one-day free screenings of his earlier masterpieces like the newly restored “Kisapmata” on December 20, 2020, and 10 days later, on December 30, there was “Bayaning Third World” to commemorate Rizal Day.

They were streamed on Casa Grande Vintage Filipino Cinema Facebook page, where also more than 100 restored black-and-white LVN films from the late 1940s to the 1960s have been made available to cineastes, lovers of classic Filipino films and new audiences around the world.

In those two-year-long series of lockdowns, people can’t find “Citizen Jake.” It is as if it has gone into hiding, locked in some vaults or safe houses. 

Now, the good news is that the film will be shown for free via a new all Filipino-made streaming app called Cinema Mulat for two weekends this April and May. Though the streaming is free, viewers have to register on cinema.mulatmedia.com to access the film.

“Mike and I talked about the prospect of showing his film early on, but since both of us are busy, him on his book and myself with Mulat’s productions, it was only about three weeks ago when we finally decided on showing it on two important weekends in our country, Araw ng Kagitingan at Araw ng Manggagawa, where Araw ng Manggagawa or Araw ng Paggawa falls roughly a little over a week before we elect our new president,” Mel Bacani III, creative director of Mulat Media, told this writer in an email. The national elections happen on May 9.

The free streaming will be for two days, from April 9 to April 10, to coincide with Araw ng Kagitingan.

The next weekend of free streaming would be coinciding with Labor Day, May 1, although it would start on April 30, a Saturday. 

Cinema Mulat Media also targets overseas Filipino workers, migrants Filipinos and their families. 

“Our aim is to awaken consciousness, illuminate minds, inspire heart and fuel passion in the most creative ways possible with the help of our home-grown technology,” said Bacani. 

“I just have to say that we are not in any way competing with other streaming media services out there and big networks. As a matter of fact, we see Mulat as an additional venue to show their contents worldwide,” he added.

De Leon said if everything falls into place, all of his films will be streamed, this time via video-on-demand on Cinema Mulat, except for “Sister Stella L”. 

“It has remained unrestored but don’t get me started on that” he said.

With “Sa Bisperas” next in line, De Leon is again on a roll. “I will keep on doing creative work, till I croak.”