It’s rare that a sequel competes in the International Oscar category, especially when the first part didn’t get selected. It’s a measure of Erik Matti’s latest film that, though it follows on from 2013’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight title On the Job—or rather, starts in the aftermath—this second instalment stands alone. “The big difference between the two,” said Matti, “is that the first one was set in urban Manila, and the second one is set in the countryside of the Philippines, just to show two contrasts that exist within both worlds.”
Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders Film: International award-season event,Matti pared down his sprawling, 208-minute epic On the Job: The Missing 8 to a simple logline. “It’s the story of eight missing people,” he said, “and how a paid hack of a journalist tries to uncover the truth, eventually rediscovering himself [in the process].”
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Matti said he looked at several topics before settling on the world of journalism as the milieu for his film. “The first one was just a straight-on cops-versus-robbers story,” he said. “For this one, we were thinking of three sectors in society to choose from. I started thinking about medical malfeasance, then gambling and then journalism.”
The director explained he settled on journalism after reading an article about Cambridge Analytica, which revealed that the strategy used in the 2016 campaign to elect Donald Trump was beta-tested in the Philippines for the win of their controversial former president Rodrigo Duterte.
Said Matti, “Rather than talk about mainstream media in the Philippines, we did a lot of research and found that the local media in small towns and small provinces are a lot more interesting. Because they’re not paid well, they’re beholden to whoever is in power, and so they become like PR people for the politicians. So that became interesting, and that’s what we pursued.”
Check back on Monday for the panel video.