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‘Hermano Puli’ helped pave way for MMFF reforms, says director Gil Portes

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Majority in the film industry are excited about the reforms that will be implemented in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival.

Backed by a revamped executive committee, festival chair Emerson Carlos announced a new set of rules last week that should guarantee the return of quality films to the annual yuletide event, which had been hijacked by commercial interests in the past decade or so.

Most observers would credit the makers of “Honor Thy Father” – director-producer Erik Matti, producer Dondon Monteverde, and actor-producer John Lloyd Cruz – for boldly speaking out and calling shenanigans after their film was mysteriously disqualified from competing in the Best Picture category. And they’d be right.

But from where director Gil Portes is sitting, the promise of a new and improved MMFF would not be possible at all had he not pulled out his film “Ang Hapis at Himagsik ni Hermano Puli” from the festival last year.

The veteran indie filmmaker, who is just as outspoken as the younger Matti if not more so, says he texted his sentiment as a joke to his colleague, who responded with gratitude and good humor.

People close to Portes know that many of his jokes are half-meant, and this one is no exception.

“Come to think of it, nobody would be talking about a brand-new MMFF if I did not withdraw ‘Hermano Puli’, right?

Hindi sana nagkagulo ang festival. Imagine, the status quo would still prevail this year,” he says.

Direk Gil was devastated when he announced in October his film’s withdrawal due to lack of financing. The historical drama about an early 19th century revolt led by Apolinario de la Cruz, a religious leader from Lucban, Quezon, had been initially funded by a politician but the latter bailed out shortly before production could begin.

Portes gave it up for dead, but to his pleasant surprise the project written by Eric Ramos and starring Aljur Abrenica was resurrected soon after.

Rex Tiri, a restaurateur and businessman who had produced Elwood Perez’s trippy masterpiece “Esoterika: Maynila”, stepped in and agreed to bankroll the movie under his new company, T-Rex Entertainment.

By then, the MMFF had already announced that “Honor Thy Father” was taking “Hermano Puli’s” slot among the eight official entries. This triggered a series of events that would eventually lead to a congressional investigation in January led by Laguna Rep. and “Honor Thy Father” cast member Dan Fernandez.

The House inquiry exposed anomalous vested interests among certain MMFF officials, setting the stage for the sweeping reforms unveiled last week.

Meanwhile, “Hermano Puli” started filming early December and finished principal photography in early February.

Post-production is expected to conclude in May.

“It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for everybody,” Direk Gil says. “Kasi kung natuloy ang ‘HermanoPuli’ I don’t believe I would have had enough time and resources to tell the story the way it deserves to be told. And, of course, there would have been no scandal involving ‘Honor Thy Father’ and therefore no reforms for the MMFF. All in all, this is a win-win for the industry.”

So is Portes angling to field ‘Ang Hapis at Himagsik ni Hermano Puli’ in this year’s MMFF?

“We are looking at a September playdate for this movie, so the answer is no. But with the blessings of my new producer, T-Rex Entertainment, I can make another one soon with enough time to meet the September 28 deadline and hopefully qualify for the new and improved festival,” he says.