Sona, the sequel: Brillante to tone down artsy approach

It had been a hectic week for filmmaker Brillante Ma Mendoza, as he counted the days leading up to President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday.

The day the Inquirer caught up with the Cannes-winning director, he was on his way to Batasang Pambansa to meet with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.


“Speaker Alvarez wanted to discuss President Duterte’s Sona with me,” said Mendoza, whom Malacañang had tapped once more to direct the momentous event.

The director had gone on his first ocular inspection at the Batasang Pambansa compound on July 17. A dress rehearsal had been scheduled yesterday, with final preparations set today.


A mini studio had been built at Batasang Pambansa, Mendoza volunteered, adding that he and his team will occupy one of several booths set up in the vicinity. “I only have two staffers with me, but last year, there were at least 30 people in the director’s booth alone.  There will be other booths for the lights and other technical staff.”

All in all, it will be a “mammoth” production, he said.

But so far, Mendoza added, he had yet to receive the advance copy of the President’s speech. “If ever, I’d get a copy on the day itself,” he said.


The director has learned to expect the unexpected from the President, who is known for springing not a few surprises in his speeches.

Last year, Mr. Duterte’s speech stretched from its intended length of 34 minutes to one hour and 30 minutes, thanks to his ad libs.

Last year’s Sona was also marked by a slew of stunners, not only from the Chief Executive, but from the director himself.


Viewers had criticized Mendoza’s use of unusual, high-art low-angle shots reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will” and Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” Serious film buffs may have understood the technique, but not everyone was impressed, the director conceded.

“I don’t really mind the critics that much,” he said.  “I’d rather pay attention to the people whose opinions I respect. Those who understand cinema and aesthetics liked my work, (while) some of the bashers were simply biased against the President.”

This year, however, Mendoza said he plans to tone down the innovative camera work, a lesson learned from last year’s baptism of fire.

“I will try to make (things) simpler this year,” he said.  “If ever I use those angles again, the shots won’t be that frequent or prolonged. At the end of the day, what the people should remember is the President’s message, not my direction.”

In fact, he added,  the most important critique should come from the President himself.  “I haven’t heard from him personally, but [Communications Secretary] Martin Andanar said the President wanted to thank me for last year’s coverage.”

Andanar, a student in one of Mendoza’s workshops, recruited his mentor to direct last year’s Sona. This year, the director said, Andanar was initially apprehensive to approach him for a return engagement.

“He thought I would charge a huge talent fee,” said Mendoza, who won best director at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009 for “Kinatay”—a film that ironically depicts the summary execution of a drug and flesh peddler. The issue of extrajudicial killings is a sore point in the Duterte administration.


But like last year, Mendoza is doing this latest assignment for free.

“I am doing it for the country,” he said. “(But) if they get another director, I’d be happy, too. I want more people to participate and share their talent with the country.”

For this year’s show, he will be using 16 to 18 cameras, Mendoza said. “Last year, we used robotic cameras for the President’s close-up shots,” he said.

Camera operators are not allowed on the floor of the Plenary Hall — not only for security reasons, but to maintain the occasion’s solemnity, he said.

He’d still be using a robotic camera, he said, “but I also requested for long-range, zoom cameras to be positioned in front of the podium.”

Like last year, his top priority is “not to distract viewers from the President’s main ideas,” Mendoza said, adding that he hopes the telecast would allow people to see President Duterte minus the sound and the fury, the fuss and the frenzy, and the hollow bravado of sound bites.

“I want to show him as a working President,” he explained. “(And) that he means business. In spite of all the criticisms he has been getting, he remains hands-on in his job.”

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TAGS: 2017 Sona, Brillante Ma. Mendoza, Pantaleon Alvarez, Rodrigo Duterte
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