Brillante Mendoza.–Photo by AFP

VENICE: Filipino director Brillante Mendoza told AFP at the Venice film festival on Thursday that he wanted to show a different side of the Muslim communities in a conflict-wracked part of the Philippines.

His new film “Sinapupunan” (“Thy Womb”), premiering in Venice and one of the 18 movies vying for the prestigious Golden Lion award at the world's oldest film festival, is set on the islands of Tawi-Tawi in the Mindanao region.

It tells the story of a wife who cannot conceive and sets out with her husband to find a surrogate mother.

“The misinterpretation is that it's a very violent place, very aggressive and very dangerous but it's not,” Mendoza, whose last film “Captive” starring Isabelle Huppert premiered in the Philippines this week, said in an interview.

The Muslim insurgency in the Mindanao region began in the early 1970s and the fighting has killed some 150,000 people, miring large parts of the south in deep poverty.

Peace talks have been going on for about a decade, but have been frequently bogged down by deadly clashes with both sides accusing each other of violating a ceasefire.

“I was surprised when I arrived. It's really different from what we thought. The people there are not aggressive, they're very calm, they're not confrontational and they have an amazing culture,” he said.

“It was a discovery for me and I thought I should share this,” he added.

Mendoza, who won an award for best director at the Cannes film festival in 2009 with Kinatay (“The Execution of P”), is known for choosing controversial topics for his films, including prostitution, homosexuality and corruption.

“I realise that film is such a very powerful medium,” Mendoza said.

“For me this is a very rare opportunity to change the mindset of people, to change society,” said the 52-year-old director, a former production designer in the advertising business who only began making films in his mid-40s.

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