Set in the suburbs of 90s Manila, just before the catastrophic Mount Pinatubo eruption, Death of Nintendo follows the misadventures of four video game-crazed 13-year old friends as they navigate the challenges of adolescence including first love and circumcision. This month, the movie is set to debut at Berlinale 2020, one of the world’s top three most prestigious film festivals along with Venice Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival.
Death of Nintendo is a collaboration between two reconnected childhood friends that encapsulates their shared suburban childhood experience in the 90s. Valerie Castillo – Martinez, a Filipino-American writer and producer wrote the screenplay for this coming-of-age story loosely based on her own experiences growing up in the Philippines before moving to the United States. The earliest version was written while Martinez was completing a Master of Fine Arts program at Columbia University where it was awarded Faculty Honors in the university’s Screenwriting Competition in 2016.
She shares, “I was at a midpoint in my life. I’ve spent almost an equal amount of years living in the US and the Philippines and I started fearing losing my childhood memories. It made me think of the simplest times I had growing up and summers in the Philippines. The 90s, in particular, were special.”
The film comes at a time when the Philippines on the watch for threats of another potentially catastrophic volcanic eruption with Taal Volcano remaining at alert Level 3. “I chose the year of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo because I remember the morning I woke up to seeing the ashfall – it’s a vivid image seared into my memory, and so visually that inspired the events around the story. Aside from peppering pieces of myself in each of the kids, the juxtaposition of videogaming with playing in nature is also what I think defines my generation. The nation itself was having an identity crisis as it was dealing with catastrophic events while the American military forces were departing the country,” Martinez says.
Not a stranger to film festivals, Martinez has had her other works screened in Venice, Toronto, Busan, and won multiple awards around the globe. That she gets to collaborate with childhood friend, schoolmate and acclaimed filmmaker Raya Martin, whose works include Independencia (2009), and Smaller and Smaller Circles (2017), is a noteworthy element in the process.
She explains, “Working with Raya has excited me in two different ways. The most important reason is our connection to the story, and how he deeply understood the nuances of all the cultural specificities of that place and time. Raya and I grew up in the same middle-class neighborhood and attended the same elementary school for 12 years. What’s more is that we wanted the Philippines to be depicted specifically to our experience and not be exoticized or serve certain cultural stereotypes involving extreme poverty or crime.”
For his part, Martin, who deviates from his usual filmmaking genre on Death of Nintendo, felt this was an important story to tell having grown up queer in the 90s. “Val and I had the exact same Catholic suburban-bred world being schoolmates. I also remember it was the beginning of the Internet aside from the console wars, so we were really fascinated between this virtual new world and touching ground that I felt was unmistakable in her story,” Martin shares.
While the first versions of the story focused on the boys, Martin and Martinez worked on developing an equally significant female character as a protagonist. “This feeling of inequality was essential to me. In fact, this time period had a lot of reckoning with the “boys club” mentality, just before our small suburban mindsets were forced to open up to a much bigger world,” he explains.
It was in 2018 when the film was undergoing script development and fundraising that Martinez was introduced to Black Sheep Film Productions, a production company under ABS-CBN, who agreed to co-produce and co-finance the film.
Death of Nintendo will premiere in Berlinale 2020, an international film festival held in Berlin which is slated to open on February 20 of this year. Under the Generation Kplus category, the film specifically targets younger audiences as the category includes films that showcase the lives and worlds of children and teenagers to encourage the appreciation of films in young moviegoers. According to Berlinale, the selection for this category focuses on films that, in their narratives and cinematic languages, take young people seriously. Stories that are told through the eyes of their young protagonists and which make their worlds tangible.
“Playing our film at Berlinale Generation Kplus is totally perfect. Young minds are the most impressionable, most vulnerable and most honest. It’s a lot of fun and just really a story that comes from the heart. Anyone can relate to the simplest need of our characters to be loved, and to figure themselves out. It’s also so magical that a film set on our side of the world, taking place decades ago, can make an impact and a real connection to today’s audiences, young and old,” said Martinez.
Death of Nintendo stars Noel Comia, Jr., Kim Chloie Oquendo, Jiggerfelip Sementilla, John Vincent Servilla, Moi Bien, Nikki Valdez, Angelina Kanapi, Jude Matthew Servilla, Elijah Alejo, Cayden Williams, and Agot Isidro. The film will be shown in the Philippines after it finishes its festival tour, but for now, its proponents are excited to once again showcase world-class Filipino talent on the global stage.