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As Mike de Leon's horror film 'Itim' screens at Cannes, director says he feels 'utterly humiliated to be a Filipino today'

By AYIE LICSI Published May 20, 2022 8:53 pm

Veteran director Mike de Leon looked back to his young days as a filmmaker amid the Martial Law regime as his 1979 horror film Itim screens at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

De Leon was unable to attend the acclaimed film festival and instead shared a strongly worded statement about the honor through French distributor Carlotta Films. In this, he recalled his experience making his "ghost story" film amid the martial law era.

"I was asked if the government was doing anything to support films like Itim. I was young and had an attitude. I said the government's sole commitment to filmmaking was documenting the daily existence of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos," he wrote.

Itim was released internationally in 1979, during the regime of the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr., who was ousted in 1986. De Leon said he had his passport pulled, leaving him unable to attend international film festivals under the Marcos Sr. dictatorship. He also shared an anecdote about being detained in 1972.

36 years after Marcos Sr. was deposed, his son and namesake Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. is set to sit as the country's 17th president. Partial election results show Marcos Jr. receiving over 31 million votes.

De Leon commented on the current state of politics in the country 43 years after his horror film's first release. 

"Horror has now acquired a more sinister meaning. It is no longer about a ghost but about the monsters of Philippine politics, monsters that, after a long wait in the subterranean caverns of hell, have returned to ravish and rape my country all over again. The crazy thing is that we invited them back," he continued.

"I am happy that my film is participating in this great festival, but I feel utterly humiliated to be a Filipino today," he ended.

Itim follows the story of a young photographer living in Manila who decides to return to his hometown to visit his paralyzed father. During his visit, he documents the local Holy Week rites, meeting the mysterious Teresa who opens up about being haunted by the presence of her late sister.