By Rica Arevalo
Next month, from Aug. 16 to 22, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP) will showcase Mikhail Red’s Birdshot, winner of the Tokyo International Film Festival 2016 Asian Future Best Film Award.
Mikhail whom we met when he was still a kid is the eldest son of Cannes Palme d’Or winner Raymond Red. “My father exposed me to cinema at an early age. I got to watch a lot of classics growing up,” says Mikhail, Best New Director at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival. “But he never forced me into the craft and he never meddles in my process. It was my own passion that made me want to pursue filmmaking. I’m making a new film this year and he doesn’t even know what it’s about. We try to stay away from each other’s creative process. I try not to stand under the shadow that he casts.”
We are happy to note that Mikhail showed great maturity as a filmmaker in his second feature as Birdshot engages and provokes, masterly merging suspense and innocence.
Birdshot, a Philippines and Qatar co-production, tells the story of Maya (Mary Joy Apostol) who was taught by his father to hunt and shoot a gun to survive. When an endangered Philippine Eagle disappeared, the police were tasked to investigate the case. The suspect was Maya’s father, Diego (Ku Aquino), a caretaker of a farmland near a protected area.
Idealistic policeman Domingo (Arnold Reyes) is more concerned with the missing bus and disappearing farmers than the ire of an environmental group. His superior Mendoza (John Arcilla) gets mad at Domingo for pursuing a case that is not worth their time. In the end, Maya takes matters into her own hands to avenge the death of her father and her beloved dog, Bala. She then finds her own sanctuary.
The coming-of-age film is loosely based on a news article of a farmer and his son who shot, killed, cooked, and ate a Philippine Eagle. “The perpetrator was eventually jailed even though he claimed he was unaware that it was a crime,” the Rekorder director recollects. “It’s a tragic outcome for both the protected eagles and the uneducated communities living in the fringes of the wilderness.”
Mikhail was very deliberate on how to move his film forward. “I like morally complex stories, where the lines between protagonists and antagonists are blurred as they navigate a mind field of decisions that propel the plot,” he says.
A new discovery in this film is the lead actress, Mary Joy Apostol. “The combination of her grace and ferocity landed her the role. It paid off since almost all our international reviews have commended her debut performance. I can’t wait for local audiences to see her at the peak of her powers.”
He was 23 years old when he started shooting Birdshot. Now 25, how does he sustain his creativity? “I don’t think I will ever run out of stories to tell,” he says. “There’s always another script waiting on the shelf. The challenge is not sustaining creativity but finding support and financing so that these stories can materialize.”
Produced by Pelikula RED and TBA Studios, the production outfit behind award-winning films such as Heneral Luna and the documentary Sunday Beauty Queen, Birdshot is supported by the Doha Film Institute, CJ Entertainment, Asian Project Market, and Produire au Sud.
The acclaimed director is open and on a lookout for collaborations. “I am also always open to exploring new genres and techniques, whether it’s art house, or genre, or a hybrid of both as long as I’m making films, telling new stories, entertaining, engaging, inspiring, and doing what I love—I will never lose that creative energy!” he says.
At the moment, Mikhail is in New York City as Birdshot is competing at the New York Asian Film Festival until July 16. Next stop is the Taiwan Film Festival until July 13, and FACINE Film Festival (Oct. 20 to 22).
Local audiences will now get the chance to catch the Philippine premiere of Birdshot starting on Aug. 16 at cinemas nationwide.