Erik Matti doesn’t buy the reasons FAP president gave about why “Transit” should represent Philippines as entry to Best Foreign Language Film

"On The Job" trailer (Cannes Filmfest version):

by Oliver Carnay

(Los Angeles, California - September 21, 2013) - Erik Matti’s “On The Job” will start its U.S. regular showing in selected theaters on Friday, September 27 with a gala Opening Night at Cerritos Mall’s AMC Theater. It is currently running on its fourth week in Manila, distributed locally by Star Cinema which is also the financier of the film. The film found its international distributor through Well Go USA Entertainment and it is promoting the film in the U.S. with the opportunity doing the rounds of film festivals across the globe. Erik Matti’s next stop will be at the ongoing Fantastic Film Festival in Austin, U.S.A. (September 19-26) where it is one of the most anticipated movie screenings because of excellent reviews from film critics.

The film “On the Job” is a suspense crime-thriller inspired by a real-life scandal where prison inmates are temporarily released from prison to work as contract killers on behalf of politician and high-ranking military officials. It stars Joel Torre, Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Vivian Velez, Shaina Magdayao, Angel Aquino, Joey Marquez, JM de Guzman, Rosanna Roces Michael de Mesa, and William Martinez. (The film was selected as Jury's Choice Prize at the Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea as well as a Best Actor Award for Joel Torre).

In a private media press conference conducted by Well Go USA Entertainment held at Max’s Restaurant in Glendale, California on Friday (September 20), this writer asked Director Eric Matti on controversial issues about the selection of “Transit” as Philippines’ Oscar entry to 2014 Best Foreign Language Film.

"On The Job" was one of the top final three films being selected by the Film Academy of the Philippines (Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Ekstra” and Brillante Mendoza’s “Thy Womb” were the other two) and based on sheer numbers, it has the best odds of being the selected entry. Until two days before this press conference, he was shocked to know that “Transit,” a Cinemalaya 2013 winner was picked to represent the Philippines’ Oscar entry.

According to FAP, “Transit” was a last-minute entry in the committee’s shortlist of film candidates, since its commercial exhibition which only started on September 11, which still made it eligible for inclusion. The period required by Oscar regulations for a movie to compete for 2013 is October 2012 to September 2013.

"Transit," which was shot in Israel, tells the story of Moises (Ping Medina) and Janet (Irma Adlawan), two overseas Filipinos who are forced to hide their respective children (Marc Justine Alvarez and Jasmine Curtis-Smith) upon learning of the government's plan to deport children of foreign workers under 5 years old. The movie bagged several major awards at the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and was produced by film director Paul Soriano ("Thelma" 2011) and directed by first-time feature film director Hannah Espia.

Although FAP President Peque Gallaga praised both OTJ and Thy Womb as excellent films -- “Their styles were stylistically good for their respective movies .. but “Transit” had a better chance of winning .. in the history of the Oscars, they don’t usually give it to ethnic movies or action movies .. they preferred melodramas,” but Matti doesn’t buy it.

I asked Matti what was his initial reaction when the announcement was made, he grasped -- “I know the director and the people behind the movie “Transit” -- I’ve seen it and I have nothing against them or the movie, but we (OTJ) were also dumbfounded when we receive the news. “Thy Womb” and “On The Job” had more international showings publicity wise. Not because I represent “On The Job,” but OTJ has an edge because it has now on its regular U.S. screening at the same time the news of all the entries from foreign countries are starting to come in,” he started.

"Having already a U.S. distributor and a marketing arm to fully publicized OTJ to voting Academy members than choosing over a film who still has to find an international distributor makes it a lot of difference. .. and I think more movies like this should come out to show what we are really about and what's really happening in the Philippines," one journalist commented.

Matti continued, “I don’t accept of the reasoning that OTJ shows the bad light of our country that is why they (FAP) chose “Transit,” which they think a much politically correct film to represent a film from the Philippines. Look, Mexico’s entry “Heli” has also a very political subject which deals reality in Mexico’s drug cartel -- it shows how the police system, what drugs and violence that came out of it (“Heli” won the award for best film at the Munich International Filmfest and director Amat Escalante nabbed the director prize at the Cannes Filmfest this year). “Metro Manila” (U.K.‘s best foreign language film submission about an impoverished couple living in the northern province of the Philippines moved to the city, only to be manipulated by hardened locals of the mega-city), is also not an inspirational film. You see, everyone has been picking films that at least have joined or made a mark in major festivals like Venice or Cannes. OTJ was screened at Directors Fortnight at Cannes together with all these films -- including “Ilo-Ilo,” which is Singapore’s entry to Oscars. (The only festival ‘Transit‘ has joined so far was Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, an indie Filipino film festival where it bagged many awards, though it will be in Tokyo and Busan next month in October.)

“Yes, it’s hard enough to be noted in the Academy and you need all the press focus that is given to the film to help boost whatever charm hold for the movie audience. I think “Thy Womb” and “On The Job” already had its shares of publicity in the international market or at least outside the Philippines. Eventually, of course, it’s a matter of which film is better than the rest,” he added (Hollywood Reporter ran an article at the shortlist and you can read it here ..

“Transit” was not even on the list among the shortlist films selected-- so yes, we were surprised. We were waiting for the Academy of the Philippines of their decision among the final films selected and we asked them if they were waiting from the films coming from the Masters of Films Series are finished so they can choose the second batch, but they said, “No” and added that they will choose from the top three films noted -- and then “ping -- Transit!”

Do you think it is political? “I think so .. number one there’s a lot of pressure from politicians not to choose OTJ. I’ve heard that there were several letters from several politicians were sent to the Academy not to choose OTJ because of its political nature .. or maybe at the height of the pork barrel scam ... that’s part of it. But the fact that the FAP professes to choose a film based on its own merit and not be pressured by anybody r anything.. so let’s set it aside. So I don’t know where the consideration suddenly set for “Transit” what’s already been over the others,” Matti stated.

Trailer of "Transit":

(a scene from the film "Transit")