Jose Javier Reyes has been writing screenplays since 1980 and directing films since 1989 for established production outfits.
But while he has always been intrigued by the prospects of making an independent film, the closest thing Direk Joey has ever gotten to such a project came when he submitted an entry to the Cinemalaya Film Festival and Competition last year.
“My entry actually reached the semifinals but I backed out because my financier did not keep his word,” he told Interaksyon in an exclusive interview. “I decided not to submit a screenplay because I was not sure I could raise the necessary amount to sustain the film if it were chosen.”
Having always worked in the mainstream, Direk Joey who was a former screener of short films and juror at Cinemalaya, admits that funds have always been a stumbling block to his desire to make an indie film.
“I do not have the talent of Joel Lamangan or Gil Portes or Adolf Alix to be able to raise P2 to P4M for films,” he pointed out.
That changed this year as, having found what the former literature professor calls a “solid financier”, Direk Joey submitted two entries and hit paydirt when one of them, “Mga Mumunting Lihim (Those Little Secrets),” made it as one of the five finalists in the festival’s Directors Showcase category.
And notwithstanding the financial constraints that indie productions are known for, the director said the experience of making “Mga Mumunting Lihim,” about four friends who have kept secrets from one another in the name of their friendship, has been a fulfilling one for him.
“This film was literally done out of love and friendship. Cinemalaya provided half a million of seed money and I had to raise the balance of P2.5M,” he revealed. “But despite the limited budget, all worked well because my people know exactly how I work. I have a machinery working for me because of my staff. Plus, we used our goodwill for ex-deals and the likes.”
The best part about “Mga Mumunting Lihim” is its powerhouse cast that Direk Joey was able to get for a song. Well, for less than a song, actually.
“For the record, the four lead actresses Agot Isidro, Iza Calzado, Janice De Belen and Judy Ann Santos did not charge a single centavo for their work in the movie. They did it out of their love for the craft, belief in the project and, I guess, love for me,” he proudly stated.
In describing his personal relationship with his top actresses, Direk Joey said that Agot Isidro has been “a friend for decades” although this is the first time for them to work together.
“I have worked with Iza before, and I have always believed she is one of the most underrated actresses in films and television, not to mention, one of the most beautiful,” he added.
“Janice is an old friend from the late ’80s and before this, we were on the set of a soap opera for GMA-7, and our movie prior to this was ‘Ikaw Ang Lahat Sa Akin’ in the 1990s. This is our big reunion movie.”
In the case of Janice, Direk Joey admitted that her role was originally offered and accepted by Eugene Domingo, but her participation fell through due to scheduling issues.
“So I looked for the most unlikely person to replace Eugene. Then a ray of light fell from the skies: Janice De Belen. I was not only pleasantly surprised by her performance. I was floored,” the director confessed.
And of course, there’s Judy Ann Santos, the star of some of Direk Joey’s biggest box-office hits, “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo,” its sequel, “Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo” and most recently, “My Househusband: Ikaw Na!” which all consistently held their own against the established franchises of “Panday”, “Enteng Kabisote”, “Ina Mo” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” in the Metro Manila Film Festival.
“There is only one word to describe her: more than an actress, she is a friend— a real, honest-to-goodness friend who is best as a human being before being an acclaimed actress. I have never met anybody as down-to-earth and as real as her in the industry. There are very few of her kind because she knows when to keep that dividing line between the private and the public persona,” Direk Joey said in praise of Judy Ann.
He dedicates “Mga Mumunting Lihim” to his close friend and fellow director Don Escudero, who succumbed to colon cancer last year. Direk Joey said his film raises the question, “Can you really know somebody completely even after so many years of being best of friends?”
Even while the initial buzz on “Mga Mumunting Lihim” has been very positive even if no one has seen it yet, the director said he does not have any expectations in terms of how it will fare in the Cinemalaya and beyond.
“I do not expect anything. The fact that I was able to make this film with the love and trust of the people in front and behind the camera is already the biggest award I could ever get,” he concluded.
The 2012 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival will take place at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Greenbelt and Trinoma Cinemas from July 20 to 29, 2012. For details and screening schedules, visit www.cinemalaya.org. Also visit the Facebook page of “Mga Mumunting Lihim” at www.facebook.com/MgaMumuntingLihimThoseLittleSecrets.