Brillante Mendoza shares his soul

Pia Ranada

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After a year of research and hard work, the brilliant director is unveiling his latest film to Filipino audiences

FOR BRILLANTE MENDOZA, FILMMAKERS should be biased only to the truth. Photo by Cholo dela Vega. Grooming by Georginna Desuasido.

MANILA, Philippines – “My film is like a sharing of my soul. I cannot separate my film from myself,” reveals multi-awarded independent film director Brillante Mendoza to RAPPLER on Saturday, August 18, less than an hour after the end of the screening of his latest film at The Podium in Ortigas.

This latest addition to his growing list of acclaimed and internationally-awarded films is Captive, a retelling of the kidnapping of foreign and local tourists from a resort in Palawan by members of the Abu Sayyaf in 2001 as seen in the eyes of one of the hostages, a French social worker named Therese Bourgoine. 

Departing from the real-time setting of most of his films (some of which happen in the span of 24 hours), Mendoza, as faithfully and factually-accurate as he could, chronicled the entire 18-month captivity of the hostages.

In that time, they travel from island to island by boat, traverse the verdant and dangerous jungles of Mindanao and pass through the most remote of villages, all the while besieged by hair-raising, heart-stopping crossfire between the rebels and military. 

It is his most ambitious project yet, having taken a year of research, including in-depth interviews with hostages, abductors and family members of both, and visiting the actual locations of the events in the film.

It is also his most expensive project, costing Php50-M in total. But perhaps that won’t come as a surprise after reading the names of the star-studded cast featuring not only such wanted local actors as Angel Aquino, Sid Lucero, Ronnie Lazaro and Raymond Bagatsing, but international stars as well.

Bringing to life the lead character, Therese Bourgoine, with both grace and intensity is Isabelle Huppert, one of Europe’s top-billed actresses and a mega-star in French cinema. 

Although the research took a year, the film was shot in only 23 days as necessitated by limits in Isabelle’s contract. In those 23 days, “the actors had an immersion,” says Mendoza. He did his best to simulate the experience of abduction for his actors.

Stopping short of actually kidnapping them into unknown mountain jungles, Mendoza arranged for the actors playing hostages and those playing the Abu Sayyaf members to meet for the first time on day one of the shoot. “We even checked them into separate hotels,” chuckles the director.

It proved to be not only a physical immersion but an emotional one as well, as the actors were given a chance to sit down with survivors and listen to first-hand accounts of their experiences. The act of remembering the terrifying events drove some to tears. 

AT THE AUGUST 18 bloggers' screening in The Podium, Ortigas that Rappler covered. Photo by Pia Ranada

But like any truly great film, Captive moves you to shed some tears for the other side as well. Therese’s seemingly all-seeing gaze allows us to see into the lives of the terrorists and ask, maybe, just maybe, could they be human as well?

But Mendoza maintains that the film does not take sides. In fact, he is adamant that, “Filmmakers should be like journalists” who stick to facts and are biased only to the truth. 

It was his search for truth that eventually led him to interview the Abu Sayyaf members who were involved in the kidnapping.

What he discovered from the interviews disturbed him in the best sense of the word. He discovered that these terrorists were in the same hole as their hostages. At a time when their families were being killed in military operations, poverty spread and kidnap-for-ransom became lucrative business, they were left with little choice.

In Mendoza’s own words, he realized that, “At the end of the day, everyone is a victim of their cause.” 

And so, in a big way, Captive is not only a peek into the ordeal of the hostages but into the lives of their abductors as well. Both are victims of a situation where “even choice is not an option.” 

Prospective viewers will also be pleased to know of some interesting casting calls made by Mendoza. The amusement of the special screening audience was palpable when suddenly, Tado Jimenez walked into the scene as a rowdy, shaggy, bespectacled Abu Sayyaf member.

Casting Tado was two hits with a stone for Direk Brillante. Tado provided comic relief for the heavy film and served as an accurate reflection of Abu Sayyaf members.

According to Mendoza, “Some of them are really like that. They’re kids!” 

Captive premieres in Pampanga and Makati on September 2 and 3, respectively. Nationwide screenings start on September 5. 

THE WRITER WITH DIREK Brillante, who arrived to the screening of his own film carrying the film posters to be given away to the attendees. Photo by Kai Magsanoc

All humans would do well in watching this film with so much heart and compassion. This film is not only alive.

It’s got a soul of its own. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.