The horrors of media; acting possessed; and managing Pacquiao
The Philippine Reporter interviews award-winning director Brillante Mendoza, best-supporting actress Ruby Ruiz and producer Wilson Tieng
By Dyan Ruiz
TORONTO–Sapi (translates into Possession) is the first foray into horror for the much-celebrated Philippine director Brillante Mendoza and the film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sept. 6.
Sapi follows two competing TV stations in their race to film real-life demonic possessions to win TV ratings supremacy. The TIFF synopsis says that Sapi is a “media satire,” showing “the lengths news services will go to capture and capitalize on a story.”
Mendoza shied away from describing the film as a horror in an interview with The Philippine Reporter at a press conference in Scarborough on Sept. 7. “This is not like horror the way we would classify or identify horror,” he said. “It’s a horror movie yes, it’s a genre movie yes, but it has an issue, like most of my films where we tackle a lot of issues– this time, the network war,” Mendoza said, “this is a big thing in the Philippines.”
When asked whether it was based on the two biggest media networks in the Philippines, ABS-CBN and GMA, he replied, “Yes, but it’s more of the media (in general). When they get so engrossed in the subject matter that they are working on, sometimes they are crossing the line, so this is the story.”
This is the third time that Mendoza has had his film shown at TIFF since his first ever film, Masahista (Masseur) was shown in 2005. He said he enjoys the atmosphere, people and excitement when people go to the cinema at TIFF. “But more than that, to be in the Toronto Film Festival in itself is a huge prestige and honor for any filmmaker,” he said. “You can have your film seen by not only the public, but by distributors and producers. In fact this where I met my producer, and this is where my films were distributed in the United States.”
Mendoza has been widely recognized for his talents internationally, most notably winning the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 for his ultra-violent film Kinatay (Butchered). He said that after winning the award he tries to remain humble.
“An award is recognition of hard work and at the end of the day, you still have to do your films. It’s an inspiration for any filmmaker, but it shouldn’t go to your head and be affected by it. You just have to do the work– the kind of work where you were recognized for,” he said.
When asked what it was like to work with Mendoza when playing a woman possessed by demons, my aunt, Ruby Ruiz, said in an email interview, “There’s only one rule NO ACTING while in the scene.” She said that for Brillante, the best acting comes from no acting.
Getting into character as someone who appears to be taken over with demons for Ruiz is a slow gradual process, “I start with internalizing that I am a different person, obscure from the rest of all that am surrounded with,” she said. She starts to think that no one understands her and she feels “paranoid, extreme fear drumming in my head over and over until it seeps into my head and spreads into my entire being. Then I let it burst and explode like a tightly lid bottle cap,” she said. What explodes on the screen is fanatical scenes of anguish.
The head of the production company that partnered with Mendoza for the film, Wilson Y. Tieng, said in an interview he hoped that Sapi would become a breakthrough film after its world premiere at TIFF. Sapi has not been shown anywhere before Toronto, not even in the Philippines.
It remains to be seen if Mendoza’s experiment in horror will be a success, with the mixed reviews so far on Sapi. But, the film was sold-out for its second TIFF screening, the same day of the interviews.
It was chosen by TIFF to be in the Vanguard section of their lineup, which is supposed to take “audiences on a sensory roller coaster ride with boundary-pushing international works that are bold and bodacious.” The hand-held style of its camerawork, made famous in such horror films as The Blair Witch Project, may be too disconcerting for some viewers. But then again, a horror movie is not supposed to be a comfy ride.
The interview with Tieng took an interesting turn when he also began to talk about another major business venture of his, managing the distribution rights for boxing superstar and now Philippine Congressman Manny Pacquiao.
“We do the broadcast in the Philippines. We do all his fights. And there’s a management contract as well for his films. I’m his manager,” Tieng said. Tieng is the President and CEO of Solar Entertainment Corporation.
Tieng recalled that when he was negotiating his contract, Pacquiao told him that he wanted the contract to extend until 2021. “Why 2021?” he asked him, and Pacquiao’s response, according to Tieng was, “You know what? I’m running for the presidency come 2022.’”
Tieng went on to outline what he knew of Pacquiao’s long-term goals, “Now he’s a Congressman and he’s too young to be the President. In the meantime, he’ll run for Senate because that’s easy for him to do. It’s a national election unlike now he’s a Congressman (which is) a local election,” Tieng said.
The final showing for Sapi at TIFF is Sept. 15.