Showing the shades of grey

BRILLANTE Mendoza is a prominent director in the Philippines' film industry.

His debut 2005 film, The Masseur, won the Golden Leopard Award at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. Then in 2009, he took the best director award for his film, Kinatay, at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival.

That same year, another of his films, Lola, won best picture at the 6th Dubai International Film Festival.

The 58-year-old director was in Kuala Lumpur recently where he served as jury president at the second Malaysian International Film Festival. theSun managed to catch him for a one-to-one interview about his films and inspirations.

What is the secret to your success?
"There are no secrets to my success. You just have to make your film truthfully, and universally. If you make films because you want to win awards, then you [start on the wrong foot].
"What pushes me is I want my voice to be heard. I can only work on stories I am passionate about."

How do you make your films universal?
"By touching on human qualities and values. My stories are set in the Philippines, but [they] can affect the lives of everyone. A story about humanity will appeal to everyone."

Some Malaysian films get international recognition but do not do well locally. What about your films?
"We have the same situation everywhere in the world. Even in a developed country like France, only a portion of the population [is interested in] this kind of cinema.
"We have to create an audience. It took [other] countries years to develop audiences [who could appreciate these movies].

How do you get motivated to complete your films?
"If you think of this challenge as a problem and a limitation, then it will stop you from doing what you want to do.
"You have to believe in what you are doing, then you will find the drive and the commitment to complete your film.
"I do not look down upon filmmakers who want to make commercial films. There is nothing wrong if you want to entertain your audience.
"But there are filmmakers who want to provoke critical thinking, and I am more comfortable doing that."

Your characters always have shades of grey. For example, your lead character in Ma Rosa is a drug pusher, yet she is a wonderful mother.
"I always humanise my characters. [There] is no such thing as black and white in [real] life.
"We all make mistakes and we all do something good, and we are [sometimes] put in a situation where it is questionable."

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
"My strength is I try to tell my stories as close to reality as I can. So there is a lot of truth and honesty in my films.
"But my strength is also my weakness. Sometimes, the truth is pessimistic. So people always tell me I am very pessimistic in my views.
"I am just being realistic about the situation that my characters are in."

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?
"I became a filmmaker by accident. I was in advertising.
"When I was 45, a friend asked if I was interested in directing a film that he was producing. I said: 'Why not?'
"But filmmaking can be addictive. After [that], I just can't stop making films."

What is your next project?
"I am doing a story about a [Filipino] Muslim woman who has cancer.
"People [may] think my film is political, but it is not. The political landscape is a secondary thing in my film.
"I am focusing on her relationship with her five-year-old daughter, and her husband who works as a soldier for the country.
"[When] doing research for the film, I talked to several Muslim women in Philippines. I found out that most of their husbands work as soldiers for the country."

Do you think you will face any backlash for focusing on a Muslim family in the Philippines?
"I do not think about that. I just need to be truthful to my story."