Directors Chris Martinez, Mike de Leon trade barbs over MMFF selection system

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Mike de Leon and Chris Martinez.

Following his decision not to submit his upcoming film, “Citizen Jake” to this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival and calling its selection process “anomalous,” legendary filmmaker Mike de Leon continues to criticize the festival on the film’s Facebook page.

In a November 4 Facebook post called “Random Thoughts about the MMFF from Mike De Leon and the Citizen Jake Team,” De Leon assailed the selection of the first four films based on scripts alone and what he called the “nebulous criteria” of “commercial viability.”

“We have nothing against films whose sole purpose is to entertain. But why are we skewing the odds in favor of big producers who have continuously made the festival a virtual cartel. Are they the only ones who know how to entertain?,” the director wondered.

“We see the festival as a microcosm of what is wrong with this country – how unbridled consumerism has taken over our lives…Sure, you can laugh your head off for a couple of hours of slapstick or toilet humor and perhaps even feel good about it while roaming the mall afterwards. But if you think about what really happened in those couple of hours at the cinema, these so-called entertaining movies have just taken your money and not given you anything worthwhile in return.”

“The biggest problem facing the industry right now is its refusal to acknowledge the rise of independent cinema as a viable alternative to the mainstream films of the big studios. There are enough festivals for that, they claim, like Cinemalaya, Cinema One etc. But these “indie” festivals are designed to subsidize (even in part) the production of the films that they have chosen to participate in their events. The MMFF does not do that, which makes it, ironically, a film festival in the classic mode, one that should select its entries among finished films and finished films alone.”

“This festival is being subsidized by our taxes, so we have a right to ask questions about how these funds are used… In a developing country like ours, films or even television should play a more responsible role in enriching popular culture. This is our country, this is our cinema. Let us demand to be heard. It is not a privilege granted to us by the ruling elite, it is our right,” the post concluded.

Among those who took exception to De Leon’s statements was Chris Martinez, the director of the Vic Sotto-Dawn Zulueta reunion movie “Meant to Beh,” one of the first four films selected for this year’s MMFF.

“For someone who has been gone for 17 long years, all of a sudden, you have a lot to say about this industry and its problems. Why choose to speak only now and be suddenly concerned about this industry you left for almost two decades? Is it because you have this movie to promote? Wala kang pakialam kung sagasaan mo ang ihang direktor sa mga statements mo, What did you do when you were gone? What have you done besides resting on your laurels? Peque taught. Ricky Lee held workshops. Joey Reyes is a film professor. We remained in the industry and tried to solve the problems by continuing on and holding the line on all fronts – indie and mainstream. After your long hiatus, you come here armed with one film and you expect us to treat you like a Messiah? I find this promo slant of yours opportunistic and antagonistic. Promote your work based on its own merits. Stop picking fights,” went Martinez’s comment on the “Random Thoughts” post.

This prompted this reply from De Leon.

“Mr. Martinez, for your information, I did not just stop making films 17 years ago. I quit. I had been in the industry making films since 1975 and after Bayaning 3rd World in 1999, I decided I had had enough and so I quit,” the “Citizen Jake” director began.

“I’m not picking fights but how would you feel if you are practically offered a bribe to join the December festival which I had giving up joining after the first four entries were selected. The industry landscape has changed considerably, I admit that, but the corruption has not.”

“You judge me too harshly just because I have chosen to make another film at this advanced stage of my life. Does my age imply that I’m trying to be the industry’s messiah? Far from it. I am no leader, I am just one person who speaks my mind and happens to have made films that stand the test of time.

“Yes, right now, I am armed with only one film that I am hoping will be shown to a wide audience. So I have a right to promote it. Then after that, I will probably disappear again for the next 17 years but I know I will no longer be around to wait for that. In the meanwhile, whether it is 5, 10 17 or 20 years, I will always remain a film director. So I deserve to be heard.”

Taking on a more conciliatory tone, Martinez replied to defend his stand and expressed his exasperation

“Dear Direk Mike, Know that I always look up to you. Your films have inspired me to pursue filmmaking. I admire your body of work. Believe me when I say you are one my “lodis”. And nothing is so tragic to let your promo people [see] you unravel like this. Why can’t your people just focus on the return of a genius rather than sounding like it’s the second coming of the savior of Philippine cinema?…When you post in big bold letters: artistic duds – that’s offensive, malicious and totally uncalled for. You sounded like a judgemental bully out to bulldoze all four films.”

“My point is—promote your film based on its merits. Wag mo naman kaming awayin. Inaabangan nga namin pagbabalik mo tapos ganyan ka. I still wish your film and your return all the best. But, Direk, pls. relax. Marami kaming lumaking iniidolo ka.”

At that point, De Leon seems to understand where Martinez was coming from and was apologetic in his next reply.

“[O]k I’m sorry if you guys took it that way. believe me wala akong ganong intensyon. its just that i get so many conflicting comments and conflicting advice and we do have to use social media, something that is very new to me. peace. right now, it’s me, mike, answering, not anyody else.”

The exchange between the two directors ended at that point with Martinez making a promise to De Leon that he and his team will watch “Citizen Jake.”