Creating the dramatic film “Apag” came with very challenging conditions, especially for its director Brillante Ma Mendoza. This is because those who fund it forbid filmmakers from making “films that depict violence, sex or drugs,” a common theme in many of his projects.
“It doesn’t get more challenging than that! It’s like they told me I should stop making movies already,” Mendoza said with a laugh. “I still took on the task and what came out was a beautiful story about family love and food.”The organizers of the Hong Kong International Film Festival are the ones who awarded Mendoza a film grant that comes with certain conditions.
Mendoza said the film became a platform for him to showcase the culture of Pampanga, the province of his birth. “This is a tribute to Kapampangan food. This is me giving back to my community; although everyone knows that I shot ‘Masahista’ in Pampanga, as well as ‘Manoro,’ ‘Serbis’ and ‘Kaleldo.’ Only for this film, we focused on the cuisine, the passion of the Kapampangan people.”
Mendoza said he thought he had passed the biggest hurdle, so he continued to complete the Kapampangan line. He got Jaclyn Jose, Gladys Reyes and Senator Lito Lapid as part of the original cast. Aljur Abrenica agreed to play one of the leads, but backed out at the last minute. “I think Aljur is afraid because he is not very fluent in Kapampangan. He can just say that and we will solve the problem together. However, what happened turned out to be a hidden blessing,” said Mendoza.
Superstar Coco Martin willingly replaced Aljur. He also convinced Gina Pareño, Joseph Marco and Mercedes Cabral to join the cast.The next hurdle was filming the “big scene” with Coco. Mendoza explained that this required the recruitment of several actors and extras, as well as filming in public places. “We then had to deal with logistical problems. When Coco is around, there are a lot of people,” quips the director
Working with Lapid took the multi-award-winning indie filmmaker by surprise, Mendoza admits. “I have known Coco for many years, but this is the first time I have worked with Lito Lapid, who is not only an icon in the film industry, but also a senator. I was very nervous at first. I then realized that he was the opposite of what I imagined. He is very shy and humble.
He didn’t mind adjusting to our filming conditions. Sobrang makatao,” he said. Mendoza was also able to observe how close Martin is to Lapid, who also worked on the defunct series “FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano” from 2017 to 2019. “The senator not only cares and cares for Coco, but also for the other members of the cast. In general , he’s just kind of shy. He prefers to stay in a corner to make sure he doesn’t draw too much attention. He’ll deliver food to the set as well. I think he enjoys watching everyone eat.”
In “Apag,” a hit-and-run accident happened between two families. When her husband died, Nita filed a criminal case. Alfredo is sent to prison after pleading guilty in place of his son Rafael, who seems to be burdened with guilt.
“Apag” is one of the eight entries in the first edition of the Summer Metro Manila Film Festival, which runs from April 8 to April 18.
“This is really a festival film. We pray hard to be included because being part of a festival gives you more control over the number of cinemas your film will be screened in,” explained Mendoza. “We are aware that cinema operators often release films that do not perform well on the first day in terms of ticket sales. This is a big problem in this country, especially for independent productions like ours.”
However, Mendoza still has to manage expectations. “This is a test. We’re all guinea pigs here. We still don’t know what the end of the summer festival will be. We welcome it, though. We want to be able to try everything just to encourage local audiences to come back to the cinema.”