MANILA -- When director Jay Altarejos’ “Walang Kasarian ang Digmaang Bayan (The Revolution Knows No Gender)” was excluded from the Sinag Maynila Independent Film Festival in March last year, he became utterly disappointed and that inevitably elicited countless controversies for the film.
“At that time, I really felt bad,” Altarejos told ABS-CBN News. “That was really, really bad. Siyempre galit na galit ako. I didn’t release a statement on the day it was announced. But the next day, I was compelled to release the statement.”
It helped that a number of concerned artists, groups and communities supported Altarejos. Even actress Vivian Velez extended her concern and supported the director.
“Nasira ang working relationship with Solar [Films] and friendship with director Brilliante Mendoza,” Altarejos lamented.
Mendoza was the festival director of Sinag Maynila, while Wilson Tieng’s Solar Films gave Altarejos a grant for the project. Harlene Bautista’s Likhang Silangan came in as the executive producer.
“The last time I saw him [Mendoza] was at the press conference for the festival,” Altarejos said. “I even told him, ‘Ilaban natin ito.’ They will disqualify me, sana hindi na lang ako pina-attend ng press conference.”
The festival, with five other film entries, did not push through when the pandemic happened and a two-month lockdown followed, halting all activities in the entertainment scene.
“Walang Kasarian ang Digmaang Bayan” was stalled also due to lack of funds needed for the reshoot of some scenes.
“We were looking for funds because Solar didn’t give part of the funds that we were supposed to use for the post-prod,” Altarejos said. “We were looking for the right time. Ayoko ng maghintay ng festival outside.
“As of this point, I thought we were supposed to make a film for our fellow Filipinos. Bakit naging priority natin ang ibang bansa? Everyone wants a new film that we deem important, but they want to go outside the country first.
“Tatapusin muna namin ang festival sa Europe or sa America. Tama na. Mas importante ang araw ni Bonifacio para sa pelikula ko. That’s when we will finally show the film.”
The strong anti-government sentiment of “Walang Kasarian ang Digmaang Bayan” was what reportedly led to its exclusion from the Sinag Maynila festival.
But Altarejos is pleased that the film, which stars Oliver Aquino as the lead gay character, Paolo, with Rita Avila, Ruby Ruiz, Chai Fonacier, Iana Bernardez, Bunny Cadag, Archie Adamos, Arnold Reyes and Sandino Martin, will finally stream on KTX.ph starting November 30.
Most of the characters were inspired by real-life persons. “Oliver is a filmmaker friend,” Altarejos said. “Si Rita plays Oliver’s mother. The killing of Kian de los Santos and the abduction of journalists.
“Even the events that happened were based on real-life political accounts. The abduction was based on the abduction in Mindoro.”
Altarejos expressed his desire for the film to send its message across and be viewed by more people.
“Bawat pelikula na ginagawa natin para sa bayan, gusto natin siyang ma-screen at ipakita,” Altarejos maintained. “Kung pwede nga lang na mabigay ko ng libre, gagawin ko.
“Para saan ba natin ginagawa ang pelikulang ito? Siyempre para madaming tao ang makakita. Ang dami kasing issues sa pelikula. The ending remains hopeful for the country.”
Altarejos is ready for negative comments and controversies about his film. Apparently, he cannot be thwarted by issues.
“Dine-deadma ko ang mga ganu’n,” he insisted. “Sa page nga ng ‘Digmaang Bayan’ may mga nagko-comment, ‘Mga salot kayo, mga dilawan.’ I know how to handle any engagement. Sinasagot na lang namin.”
Altarejos became known for pioneering the digital age of New Queer Cinema in the Philippines, with his internationally awarded films such as “Memories of Forgetting” (2020), “Jino to Mari” (2019), “Tale of the Lost Boys” (2017), “Unfriend” (2014), “Kasal” (2014), “The Game of Juan’s Life” (2009), and “Antonio’s Secret” (2010).
In the years that he has focused his attention to indie films, Altarejos has proudly garnered quite a number of awards, both local and international, for his directorial work.
“The Game of Juan’s Life” won honorable mention in the Narrative Category in the Chicago Reeling in the US in 2010. The same year, “Antonio’s Secret” was proclaimed Best Feature Film in the Festival de la Luna Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Valencia, Spain and Festival del Mar in Ibiza, Spain.
Altarejos’ “Pink Halo-Halo,” about the effects of war on children and their families, was a finalist in the 2010 Cinemalaya Directors Showcase category and won Best Editing and Jury Prize Film for Children.
“Pink Halo-Halo” was proudly done in the language of the people of Ticao Island in Masbate, where Altarejos hails from. It is the first film that used Bicolano language.
In 2014, Altarejos’ film, “Kasal,” about a gay couple, won Best Feature Film, Best Music and Best Cinematography in the 10th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.
In 2016, Altarejos bagged the best screenplay and best sound awards from Sinag Maynila for his film, “T.P.O. (Temporary Protection Order),” about domestic violence.
In 2017, Altarejos released “Tale of the Lost Boys,” his first international feature shot and produced in Taiwan. The film is the story of the friendship between a straight Filipino and a gay Taiwanese, who have problems with their respective identities.
Doing gay films all these years, Altarejos has become fearless and brave.
“At the end of the day, nilawakan ko lang ang pagtingin ko sa karapatan ng LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender]” Altarejos admitted. “Ang pinaglalaban naman natin hindi lang gay rights, but human rights.
“Pag pinalawak mo ‘yun, that includes the killings, mga desaparecidos, mga manggagawa. The struggle has always been there. Now, they are saying we need to broaden our outlook. We have always been part of the struggle.”
Altarejos very recently turned his advocacies and creative pursuits in highlighting the national democratic ideals and struggles of the Filipino masses by infusing them to his upcoming films.
With his newly formed production, 2076Kolektib, Altarejos’ ultimate goal is to create and produce multimedia contents that will arouse, educate and inspire his audiences to become more vigilant and conscious about social issues and challenges.
“Walang Kasarian ang Digmaang Bayan” is Altarejos’ contribution to the continuing saga of his countrymen against tyranny and socio-political oppressions.
When he was working on the script of “Walang Kasarian ang Digmaang Bayan,” he was attending the scriptwriting workshop of award-winning screenwriter, Ricky Lee in 2018.
“I was reading a progressive magazine,” Altarejos recalled. “I remember, may sinabi sa article, ‘The revolution has no gender.’ That inspired me. Katulad din ng pag-ibig, walang kasarian ang pag-ibig. So the revolution has no gender.
“Walang kasarian ang baril. Naniniwala ako, may lugar ang bawat isa sa rebolusyon. Lalo na nga ang mga bakla.”
In January, Altarejos is shooting a film with award-winning, young indie actress Teri Malvar, who is noted for her performances in Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s “Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita” (2013) and Ralston Jover’s “Hamog” (2015).
More than his art through his films, Altarejos has started to be more pro-active in his stance.
“Film is not enough,” he stressed. “Art is not enough. We should do something more. If you need to join rallies or protest online, start it. We need that.”