Filipino-American writer and producer Valerie Castillo-Martinez teams up with acclaimed filmmaker Raya Martin for “Death of Nintendo,” a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of ‘90s pop culture, premiering at Berlinale this month.
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.
“Death of Nintendo” is a story based loosely on Valerie’s experiences growing up in the Philippines before moving to the United States. The earliest version was written while she 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.
“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,” she said.
The film comes at a time when the Philippines is on the watch for threats of a catastrophic volcanic eruption with Taal Volcano remaining at Alert Level 2.
“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,” Valerie said.
Valerie 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 explained, “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 shared.
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 explained.
“Death of Nintendo” will premiere in Berlinale 2020 under the Generation Kplus category.
“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 Valerie.
Death of Nintendo stars Noel Comia, Jr., Kim Chloie Oquendo, Jiggerfelip Se1mentilla, John Vincent Servilla, Moi Bien, Nikki Valdez, Angelina Kanapi, Jude Matthew Servilla, Elijah Alejo, Cayden Williams, and Agot Isidro.