[OPINION] Who’s afraid of Citizen Jake?

Mike de Leon’s much-awaited film, Citizen Jake, screens in cinemas nationwide beginning Tuesday, May 23. His comeback film after an 18-year hiatus sparked much excitement from cineastes to political activists.

In the present social context, who would not want to hear what this filmmaking genius who churned out classics like Batch ’81, Kisapmata and Sister Stella L has to say?

With the seeming return to power of the Marcoses and a looming authoritarian rule, a film like Citizen Jake is most welcome. However, my interest lies on how millennials who may not know much about Mike de Leon’s films and who have not lived during Martial Law would respond to the film. (READ: ‘Citizen Jake’ review: The many faces of Jake

Luckily, there is Atom Araullo to attract their attention. 

Movie's message 

After its premiere screening at the UP Cine Adarna last March and its first screening at a commercial cinema last May 21 to an audience of mostly educators and youth leaders, I pondered on all the reactions I have heard and had a very insightful discussion with my brother who’s based in the US and eager to see the film. A Mike de Leon fan himself, his points provoked essential insights.

Some fans of the filmmaker may be surprised to see how Citizen Jake differs from the film language he’s known for. My untrained film eye sees it as more similar to his Sister Stella L – a direct in your face slap of social realities. Nevertheless, as my brother pointed out, while Sister Stella L may differ from let’s say, Bayaning Third World, what remains the same is that the filmmaker never fails to directly dialogue with his audience. In Citizen Jake, Mike de Leon truly talked to his audience. His director’s statement has been crystal clear on what he wanted to say. 

The question now is “do we listen?” 

Citizen Jake makes us not only witnesses to these challenging times but confronts us with truths both forgotten and ignored. It shows us about the Marcoses and the strongman rule, which fascinates most of us.

It raises the issue of misogyny, the very sickness of our President that most of us chose to ignore. It questions our lifestyle – the realities we choose to see or not. It disturbs our own comforts – whether as a privileged social class or as an entitled Millennial devoid of the experience of Martial Law and at the same time burdened with concerns of a better future. The problem is we, as a nation, has become so afraid of the truth because it is a reflection of who we are and the society we have built.

Narrative as reality 

Amidst disinformation, historical revisionism and orchestrated fake news, the film challenges us to find truth both in the obvious and the obscure. The film may be fiction but the narrative remains the reality in our country.  

The beauty of Citizen Jake is that it flaunts the ugly – this disturbing need for all of us to question our own truths. As my brother pointed out, while art is supposed to “show, don’t tell”, Citizen Jake “shows us, tells us” not really discreetly but rather too bluntly, then “asks us”. Probably, the times require precisely that. (READ: In FB post, 'Citizen Jake' expresses support for Rappler, press freedom

Between our own musings, my brother sent me a message. “I reconsidered your description about Citizen Jake in the light of what happened in Cannes Film Festival 50 years ago, when directors pulled out their movies in solidarity with protesting French workers and students. Godard, Truffaut, Geraldine Chaplin led the protest and the festival was eventually cancelled. I forget who said it but an actor/director said, we should not be filmmakers during these times, we should all be factory workers. Perhaps Mike de Leon is right. Given Duterte's flagrant corruption and murderous rule and his gratuitous statements, perhaps a new narrative stripped of nuance and subtlety is needed.” 

The incident my brother was referring to was the 1968 Cannes Film Festival which was curtailed as film bigwigs such as Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Berri, Claude Lelouch, Louis Malle and others, insisted that in solidarity with the protests of 200,000 Sorbonne students and 2 million workers who went on strike and rallied against the policies of Charles de Gaulle’s conservative government.

The festival was stopped. Only 11 of the 28 scheduled films were screened. Several directors withdrew their films and jurors resigned.

Los Angeles Times article I came across when I was reading about the 1968 Cannes Film Festival said, “The shutdown of Cannes '68 sent a different though perhaps not contradictory message: Real life must, in the end, trump art.” The article mentioned Jean-Luc Godard’s famous spat with someone who opposed closing the festival, "I'm talking about solidarity with the students and workers, and you're talking about tracking shots and close-ups!" 

When Citizen Jake opens in cinemas today, I am curious to know if it will just fall in the ranks of many independent films who attempted to reach out to broader audiences despite the challenges of film distribution in the country.

More importantly, I want to lurk the Internet in the next couple of days, to see who went out to watch the film and who is afraid of Citizen Jake? Will it be this government, the loyalists and Duterte fanatics, the cineastes, the seasoned activists, or the millennials?

I will not be surprised if it is actually the people in my everyday life that fears most to ask the difficult questions. I am still finding the courage to ask that myself. Perhaps, because it is hardest to face our own truths, doing so leaves us with no choice but to awaken. – Rappler.com 

Leni Velasco is co-founder of the artist-activist collective, DAKILA and the Executive Director of its Active Vista learning center and Human Rights Film Festival.