We knew Citizen Jake would be a movie event, considering it is Mike de Leon’s first movie in almost two decades. But we didn’t expect his comeback to be both a cinematic event and a social media war.
Here’s a look at Citizen Jake’s journey from one of the year’s most anticipated films to one of the biggest movie controversies in recent years.
May 2016: De Leon’s colorful relationship with social media actually began a couple of years before the director even revealed he is coming out of retirement.
On May 4, 2016, De Leon released a statement via a Facebook video against Bong Bong Marcos, who was then running as Vice President in the May 9, 2016 national elections. “Iniisip ng maraming Pilipino, ang anak ay ‘di tulad ng ama. Pero isipin natin ito: Kung ano ang puno, siya ang bunga. Bakit natin itatanim uli?” he said. The post has since been deleted.
June 2016: De Leon revealed he is working on a new movie, 16 years after the release of his last full-length feature film, Bayaning Third World.
The film, with a script to be written in collaboration with writer Sarge Lacuesta, is "a political melodrama set during the Japanese occupation in the 1940" that is loosely based on his family, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
November 2016: The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that De Leon is indeed making a comeback movie. But instead of the previously announced political drama, the director revealed he is working on a movie titled Citizen Jake. The report said the movie is about "the world of citizen journalists, social media and politics."
But the real surprise was De Leon's decision to cast Atom Araullo. The announcement came after Araullo resigned as a reporter for ABS-CBN, sparking rumors that maybe the TV journalist—once declared by the local media as the cutest TV newsman and one of the country’s most eligible bachelors—is interested in a career as an actor. (In a recent interview, Atom said he is not closing doors on showbiz, but only if he works behind the camera and not in front of it.)
July 2017: Before Atom, it was the Metro Manila Film Festival that received De Leon’s sharp words.
The reason for his online outburst? The MMFF’s decision to choose four of the eight festival entries based on scripts instead of finished films.
In a post on the official Citizen Jake Facebook page, the director denied rumors that he submitted the script of Citizen Jake to be considered for the annual film festival.
“One, a film festival entry should always be a film, not a script. This is just common sense. Two, aside from a handful of names, the identities of the…members of the selection committee were never revealed to the public. Why? Who are they? What are their credentials?” De Leon wrote.
He also threw shade at Metro Manila Development Authority for good measure: “They (MMDA) may be qualified (or not) to solve Manila’s traffic nightmare, but does this qualify them to pass judgment on film scripts and finished films? Did all these members read all the scripts? Apparently not. ’Yun lang muna.” The post has since been deleted.
October 2017: Of course, De Leon was not done with the MMFF. Not by a long shot.
In a now-deleted post Facebook page, the director said Citizen Jake will not join the 2017 edition of the MMFF, saying it is “doomed to failure.”
"Ever since the anomalous selection process that occurred months ago that resulted in 4 films being selected based on scripts, I realized that any reforms well-intentioned filmmakers may clamor for are only doomed to failure," he said.
He added: “Corruption has returned in full force to this festival that purports to make children happy during the holiday season, a euphemism for profit and greed. My film may be fiction but it is based on truths we ignore at our own risk. It should be seen by its audience in its original version, without cuts and without compromise.”
November 4, 2017: It was expected that De Leon’s barbs against the MMFF, an institution in the local movie industry, will ruffle a few feathers.
In a post titled “Random Thoughts about the MMFF from Mike De Leon and the Citizen Jake Team,” De Leon criticized the selection process of the film festival anew.
“What would happen if any of the first four entries selected on the basis of their scripts alone turns out to be an artistic dud? Or just plain bad,” he said.
De Leon added: “The biggest problem facing the industry right now is its refusal to acknowledge the rise of independent cinema as a viable alternative to the mainstream films of the big studios.”
Chris Martinez—the director of Meant to Beh, an MMFF 2017 entry that was chosen to be part of the festival during the script selection process—took De Leon to task.
“Why choose to speak only now and be suddenly concerned about this industry you left for almost two decades? Is it because you have this movie to promote? Wala kang pakialam kung sagasaan mo ang ibang direktor sa mga statements mo? What did you do while you were gone? What have you done besides resting on your laurels?” Martinez said in a reply to De Leon’s Facebook post.
He also urged the veteran director to stop picking fights. “I find this promo slant of yours opportunistic and antagonistic. Promote your work based on its own merits.”
In response, De Leon said it was not his intention to pick a fight. “But how would you feel if you are practically offered a bribe to join the December festival which I had giving up joining after the first four entries were selected. The industry landscape has changed considerably, I admit that, but the corruption has not,” he added.
The two directors eventually settled their differences, with De Leon apologizing and Martinez promising to watch Citizen Jake.
November 17, 2017: In yet another (now deleted) Facebook post, De Leon said “all post-production work on Citizen Jake has been stopped” and that “there will be no further posts on this page until further notice.” No explanation was given, prompting followers to speculate if the director had already given up on releasing the movie.
He said the post was dedicated to the staff of a local men’s magazine. “They are not the reason for the work stoppage of course, they’re not important enough. But they’re a_holes nonetheless.”
January 2018: Is it a sign that not all is well between Atom and the Citizen Jake director? A screenshot of Facebook comments made by the Citizen Jake page emerged online. One comment read: “Bravo for you, Teroy! At least you are making an open statement. Unlike our very own Citizen Jake, Atom Araullo, who has chosen celebrity, fame and money over principle which he has always claimed to have championed. He doesn’t deserve the film.”
Another comment read: “I should have made Citizen Teroy instead. But then I would not have had the unenviable privilege of working with this generation’s greatest storyteller.”
The comment about being this generation’s greatest storyteller seems to be reference to an FHM Philippines feature on Atom Araullo that was published on January 12, 2018. De Leon made a reference to this in his Facebook post during his online feud in April.
April 2018: After a premiere at the University of the Philippines-Diliman’s Cine Adarna and a number of public screenings, Citizen Jake was ready for a theatrical release.
In what could be considered as the calm before the storm, De leon issued a statement on the Citizen Jake Facebook page thanking the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board for rating the film “with open minds and open hearts.” Citizen Jake received an R-13 rating.
May 2018: Everyone is waiting for Atom to respond to De Leon’s latest tirade against him. And while the GMA-7 journalist has remained quiet (so far), the veteran director continues to respond to the followers of the Citizen Jake Facebook page (something he has been doing even before his word war with Atom erupted).
To a netizen who criticized him for airing his grievances against Atom on social media, De Leon said: “Don't you dare take the moral high ground. you all wallow in social media and are actually enjoying this. so don't lecture me. why don't you focus on more pressing matters than this rift with him.”
Asked why he got Atom to star in his movie, he said: “He had the potential to play jake. but he needed training and immersion so i asked him to be a co-writer. The film was metacinema, merging fact and fiction. I could have asked John Lloyd Cruz perhaps. But a journalist by profession jived with my idea of metacinema. Yun ang dahilan. Atsaka, malay ko bang hindi kami magkakasundo. But I told him that if he was not available, I would scrap the project and work on something else. Siya lang ang isang pinili ko. kaya sinabi niyang adamant ako. but adamant applies to him too. Sabi niya, hindi niya palalampasin ito. that’s all supported by interviews, but in print and on video. And I have the videos.”