I KNOW everyone will be talking about President Rodrigo Duterte's first State of the Nation Address (Sona), so I might as well.
But I won't talk about what he said. Instead, I'll dwell on the fact that yesterday's Sona had a director. Yup, and not just any director. No less than the king of poverty porn, Cannes Film Festival best director winner Brillante Mendoza, was handpicked by Malacañang to orchestrate the whole thing. (Or did he volunteer?)
The President may have wanted to do away with the showbiz feel of past Sonas where officials and their spouses strutted around the red carpet like peacocks--someone did point out that a fashion show or a gala event the Sona is not, hence the dress code of simple “business attire” imposed by the Palace this time around—but by God, Duterte never said anything about not wanting drama.
And who better to deliver drama than Mendoza? Right?
The director told CNN Philippines that they would be using “flat, plain light” that would focus on the President. The result would be dramatic, he said.
He envisioned the Sona to be dramatic and at the same time simplistic. Apparently, the President wanted the same thing. Simplicity that was straightforward.
“I want him to connect with the people with his speech,” the director said.
Hmm. I know what Mendoza wanted to do, but I think he overthought the whole thing.
You can only do so much when filming a stationary figure in front of a big room. So he ran the gamut of camera angles and shots—wide, mid shot, medium close up, close up, cutaways, low angles—but his direction felt too heavy-handed.
Aside from disorienting camera angles, there were too many dissolves. At one point, you could only see the President's hand. And what was that voice without a face all about?
And what was with the glasses? I heard Mendoza asked the President to put them on. Was it because wearing glasses is associated with such traits, such as honesty and intelligence? Did the director really think the President needed help in that respect?
I know I'm full of questions, but I thought Duterte wanted something straightforward for his first Sona because it surely didn't look like it.
It was a good thing the President, who is known to be blunt, to the point, funny and unpredictable, didn't disappoint the public who voted for him in the last elections.
Sure, he had a script, which he read on the teleprompter. But he didn't stick to it completely. When he thought it too long, he told the teleprompter to scroll down. And when there was a topic he felt he had to expound on, expound he did.
Duterte ended up entertaining, placating, cajoling, warning in a mixture of Bisaya, Tagalog and English.
Seriously, anyone with experience directing live TV could have captured all that without the fuss and the high public expectation from an internationally-renowned filmmaker.
In the end, “flat, plain light” was not needed to make Duterte's Sona look dramatic. The President did that all by himself.