Mike de Leon’s 1st feature film “Itim” made during Martial Law screens at Cannes

Mike de Leon Martial Law  Cannes
Acclaimed Filipino filmmaker Mike de Leon releases an excerpt from his upcoming book as his newly-restored film “Itim” starring Charo Santos screens at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. Photos from Carlotta Films FB.

Filipino veteran director Mike de Leon shared a powerful statement about being a young filmmaker during the Martial Law years in the Philippines as his first feature film, Itim, was screened at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in France.

The Cannes Restoration World Premiere screening serves as a preview of the French release of the acclaimed director’s entire restored body of work which includes iconic Filipino films Sister Stella L (1984), Batch 81 (1982), and Kisapmata (1981).

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The 75-year-old filmmaker who most recently directed the 2018 noir crime film Citizen Jake revealed sections from his upcoming book on his life in cinema as his newly-restored film was selected to participate in the Cannes Classics section of the ongoing prestigious invitational festival which gathers the world’s best film industry members.

“Itim (Darkness)” screened to a full theater and was noted to have received strong feedback from the audience, according to Vincent Paul-Boncourt of French film distributor Carlotta Films.

The psychological drama film stars Tommy Abuel, Mario Montenegro, Susan Valdez, Charo Santos, and Mona Lisa. It follows Jun, a young photographer in Manila, who decides to return to his hometown to visit his family. He decides to do a photo documentary on the local Holy Week rites there and meets Teresa, a mysterious woman who is haunted by her sister’s death.

Representatives of the Paris-based Carlotta Films delivered a statement from de Leon at the film screening on his behalf as he could not attend the festival this year.

“It’s an honor that my first feature film, ITIM, produced 46 years ago and whose restoration has just been completed, has been selected to participate in Cannes Classics,” the Filipino director’s statement shared on May 20, 2022, began.

In his statement, de Leon shared an excerpt from his upcoming book which details his experience during the country’s Martial Law regime under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. De Leon said he was not allowed to leave the country and was made to apologize to the Board of Censors after a “flippant remark” that he made about the Philippine government during his film “Itim’s” international screening in Los Angeles in 1979.

“43 years later, the film is being shown again in an international film festival, this time in the Cannes Film Festival, no less. The title of the section that I read is Surreal Mix of Horror and Politics. It is still appropriate, but Horror has now acquired a more sinister meaning,” Mike de Leon continued.

“It is no longer about a ghost but about the monsters of Philippine politics…The crazy thing is that we invited them back,” de Leon adds.

“Itim” is part of this year’s Restoration World Premieres offerings at the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival taking place in Cannes, France from May 17 to 28, 2022, where Cavite-based contemporary filmmaker Arvin Belarmino is also participating as part of its Residence Program to help complete his first feature film.

Mike de Leon’s documentary film on Martial Law, Signos (Omens), earlier screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Tanghalang Manuel Conde, also known as Dream Theater.

Filipino film classics by Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Manuel Conde, Gerardo de Leon, Eddie Romero, Fernando Poe, Jr., and Kidlat Tahimik are screening for free in cinemas nationwide in celebration of National Heritage Month in the Philippines this May 2022.

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Margo is a voracious reader - some might even say she reads too much for her own good. She majored in BS Psychology and hopes to become a forensic psychologist one day. She’s also an aspiring writer, mental health advocate, and a staunch believer of equality.