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89th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   6 comments

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It’s the time of the year! By September, the Film Academy of the Philippines will submit one movie to the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts, and Sciences (AMPAS) that will be our bid to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 89th Academy Awards. This will be our 28th participating year and we are yet to receive a nomination.

To qualify as an eligible submission, the Academy’s rule states that “The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2015, and no later than September 30, 2016, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.

Currently nine countries have already announced their submissions with our likely winner, Germany’s Toni Erdmann, in the longlist already. So which film will be our best bet to advance forward? I’ve divided them in three different categories.

DISCLAIMER: It has to be cleared that this ISN’T the final shortlist from the Film Academy of the Philippines yet, and are just mere speculations and recommendations.

FRONTRUNNERS:

anino sa likod ng kahapon

ANINO SA LIKOD NG BUWAN
Director: Jun Lana
Screenplay: Jun Lana
Cast: LJ Reyes, Luis Alandy, Anthony Falcon
Philippine Release Date: July 20, 2016

Amidst conflict between the military and communists, three people are confronted with a difficult dilemma.

Jun Lana, no stranger from Oscar representative (he directed our 2012 submission Bwakaw), is in contention yet again for his latest effort which is a one-long two-hour take staged just like a play with only three characters interacting all throughout the movie. The film also has participated alongside many different international festivals both in Asia and Europe (though none in the Big 4 major film festivals). That said, the film is unanimously considered as one of the best from 2015 among local critics.

felix manalo

FELIX MANALO
Director: Joel Lamangan
Screenplay: Bienvenido Santiago
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Bela Padilla, Gabby Concepcion
Philippine Release Date: October 7, 2015

Felix Ysagun Manalo is a sprawling historical epic that traces the origin of Iglesia Ni Cristo (The Church of Christ) which is established in the Philippines from its humble beginnings in 1914 through the present day.

Definitely one of the most divisive films of last year, Felix Manalo is epic in its landscape detailing one of the most important personalities among Iglesia ni Cristo’s history. This almost three-hour movie boasts so much of its lavish production design and staging, that it would tick all boxes in an “baity Oscar film” checklist. But beyond the grandeur is a straightforward storytelling, and one that was considered as “weak” and “safe” by most critics. That said, never underestimate the taste of the FAP to include this in the shortlist, as they’re one easily swayed by buzz regardless if those were organic or fabricated.

hele sa hiwagang hapis

HELE SA HIWAGANG HAPIS
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, Susan Africa
Philippine Release Date: March 26, 2016

In the midst of revolution, a young poet and the man that ruined his life travel through the jungle in search of safety. At the same time, a grieving widow encounters mystical beings on a mountain while searching for the body of her beloved revolutionary.

Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year (with jury president Meryl Streep awarding them), there’s no doubt that this is one of the two most-buzzed films we have in world cinema for this year. Imagine if we submitted this and have Oscar winner Meryl Streep and Oscar nominee Clive Owen campaign this right? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves as that’s a bit of a reaching. The thing with Hele is that we have already attempted to submit a Diaz film back in 2014 via Norte which is half the running time of this one and arguably his most universal effort thus far, and yet the Academy didn’t give in to it.

honor thy father

HONOR THY FATHER
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Michiko Yamamoto
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Meryll Soriano, Tirso Cruz III
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

A family is caught in a financial ruin after being involved in a ponzi scheme.

With an Erik Matti film in contention yet again, it reminds me of probably the biggest miss we had not submitting On the Job back in 2013. What made that more infuriating was the committee’s response that they don’t want to submit a film that shows a negative image of the Philippines. Yeah, right. Anyway, Matti is back again this time with the MMFF entry Honor Thy Father which made its premiere a year ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. Honor‘s best shot is that I can see the film appealing to the Western crowd with its theme and execution. That said, the film feels bit of an after thought by now, but with every controversy that the film has encountered, it just ended up soaring higher. Maybe, FAP atones to Erik Matti this time around?

ignacio de loyola

IGNACIO DE LOYOLA
Director: Paolo Dy, Cathy Azanza
Screenplay: Paolo Dy
Cast: Andreas Munoz, Javier Godino, Julio Perillan
Philippine Release Date: July 27, 2016

In 16th Century Spain, a soldier born of nobility gives his life of luxury to become a pilgrim devoted to God and his people.

Watch out Felix Manalo, there’s another religious biography in contention. Kidding aside, I can already imagine the FAP members creaming themselves over this one. For one, the casting of a foreign star in lead role will make them think it can add extra buzz to our own entry (this isn’t an Oscar rule after all. Lots of foreign actors starred in films from other countries which ended up as submissions. Case in point: French star Emmanuelle Riva in Austria’s Amour, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal in Chilean film No, and even our own Angeli Bayani in Sinagpore’s Ilo-ilo). Plus, the religious theme somehow gives it more importance and a “good image” per se in representing the country (which apparently is an unwritten rule; see: On the Job again in 2013).

ma'rosa

MA’ROSA
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Troy Espiritu
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Andi Eigenmann, Julio Diaz, Felix Roco, Jomari Angeles
Philippine Release Date: July 6, 2016

A poor family scrambles to find the money to pay off the corrupt policemen that have arrested the parents for dealing drugs.

Sure it was one of the least buzzed entries at Cannes main competition this year, until the great Jaclyn Jose earned the coveted Best Actress win and the rest, as they say, is history. Ma’Rosa is currently participating now at Toronto International Film Festival and I think it has the most buzz for any Filipino film competing for this year when it comes to foreign exposure. And at this stage, after all his trips to Cannes and Berlin and Venice and TIFF, isn’t Brillante Mendoza overdue for a Filipino Oscar submission? I lobbied that Taklub was our best shot last year, but they can make up for it with Ma’Rosa this year.

pamilya ordinario

PAMILYA ORDINARYO
Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Screenplay: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Cast: Ronwaldo Martin, Hasmine Killip, Sue Prado, Moira Lang
Philippine Release Date: August 31, 2016

Jane and Aries are teenage parents. They make a living out of stealing on the streets… until fate hits back at them.

After sweeping major awards at the recently concluded Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival including wins for Best Picture, Best Director for Eduardo Roy Jr., and Best Actress for newcomer Hasmine Killip, this runaway favorite is getting an instant cinema release in time for the Oscar cutoff. Add the fact that it’s also heading to Venice under the “Venice Days” sidebar (think of it as their answer to Cannes’ Directors Fortnight section), and it’s on the right track. This also has the makings to appeal to an international audience,

POTENTIAL SHORTLIST MENTIONS:

tier 2

Don’t be surprised to see any of these films in this group make it in the final shortlist.

DUKOT
Director: Paul Soriano
Screenplay: Froilan Medina
Cast: Enrique Gil, Ricky Davao, Christopher de Leon, Shaina Magdayao
Philippine Release Date: July 13, 2016

With Paul Soriano helming it (one of the producers of our 2013 Oscar submission “Transit“), this suspense drama about an abducted son also brags of an ensemble composed of some of the biggest names in the country both newbies and veterans.

ANG HAPIS AT HIMAGSIK NI HERMANO PULI
Director: Gil Portes
Screenplay: Enrique Ramos
Cast: Aljur Abrenica, Louise delos Reyes, Enzo Pineda, Menggie Cobarrubias
Philippine Release Date: September 21, 2016

In the tradition of our love for hero films — some of which are deserved (last year’s Heneral Luna), some of which are good (Supremo), and some which are just flat out terrible (El Presidente), let’s say hello to Hermano Puli.

MAGTANGGOL
Director: Sigfreid Barros-Sanchez
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigfreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Dina Bonnevie, Ejay Falcon, Joonee Gamboa, Tom Rodriguez
Philippine Release Date: June 8, 2016

Only because of its serious topical theme (with them even doing special screening this National Heroes Day), I can see this political themed film making a (not so) surprise appearance in the shortlist. Think of how Kamkam by Joel Lamangan made it to the Top 4 in 2014.

A SECOND CHANCE
Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina
Screenplay: Henrie Enaje, Henry dela Cruz, Sigreid Barros Sanchez
Cast: Carmi Raymundo, Vanesssa Valdez, Cathy Garcia-Molina
Philippine Release Date: November 25, 2015

We have that one slot, almost always reserved to those box office hits that tackle more serious topics than the usual. Not to say that they aren’t deserving since most of them actually are, but they  happen to end up in the shortlist. Examples include 2008’s Caregiver, or 2010’s Sa’yo Lamang, maybe even last year’s That Thing Called Tadhana can somewhat be considered.

TANDEM
Director: King Palisoc
Screenplay: Zig Marasigan
Cast: JM de Guzman, Nico Antonio, Rochelle Pangilinan
Philippine Release Date: February 17, 2016

As for starters, the producers of this film were also the producers of our previous submission Heneral Luna, so if anything, they;d sure be willing to campaign. This film got good to great reviews with solid performances from the leads, but if you compare it to other entries, it’s a tad low-key (in terms of buzz and not of film quality). And if it’s already low-key here, can you imagine how it would fare to the foreign market?

WALANG FOREVER
Director: Dan Villegas
Screenplay: Paul Sta. Ana
Cast: Jennylyn Mercado, Jericho Rosales, Lorna Tolentino
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2015

For an MMFF film, this one got solid reviews and even swept the Gabi ng Parangal of last year. This is also from the Dan Villegas and Jennylyn Mercado team-up, which reminds us that English Only Please, was part of the short-list that year.

ELIGIBILITY ISSUES:

tier 3

So these movies have appeared in different indie film festivals but haven’t fulfilled the seven-day commercial distribution yet. This does not mean that these movies are bad obviously they’re not because there have been buzz for some of them to be submitted. Well, they still have the whole month of September to book a screening if they plan to be considered eligible. Or they can wait for next year instead. For what it’s worth, some films who made it in the shortlist the previous years aren’t from the same year where they participated in festivals. As for examples, the 2008 Cinemalaya film Boses only got a commercial screening in 2012, and thus was included in the shortlist for the 2012 Oscars. Same goes for Ian Lorenos’ Alagwa which gave Jericho Rosales his Urian in 2012 but was in the 2014 shortlist.

FINAL VERDICT:

For this year, I think we can trim it down to three films which would all be decent submissions by any means. For starters, there’s the John Lloyd starrer Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis with its Berlin victory, but is simply hindered by the 8-hr running time. Not that Lav Diaz needs Oscars anyway to validate his impressive work; it’s just that sometimes the Academy just doesn’t fit into a certain director’s style. Then there’s the other John Lloyd starrer Honor Thy Father, which I can see a scenario with it connecting to a foreign audience, if they’re gonna push it hard and run aggressive with it. That’s a big if, by the way. In the end, maybe Jaclyn Jose’s Cannes win can also be Brillante Mendoza’s first RP submission to the Academy. It’s doing its assignment by participating in TIFF and its Cannes win, but us submitting a Mendoza film for once won’t do us any harm, regardless of the end result if it gets in or not.

Share your thoughts with me! You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

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88th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   4 comments

frontrunners

It’s that time of the year again when we try to clinch that historic first Oscar nomination for the Philippines in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards. Back in 1953 when we first submitted Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan up until to Lav Diaz’ Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan last year, the Philippines has yet to be nominated for an Oscar. Will the 27th time be the charm for us?

As per the Academy rulebook, to be qualified as an eligible submission, “The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2014, and no later than September 30, 2015, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.

It has to be cleared that this ISN’T the final shortlist from the Film Academy of the Philippines yet, and are just mere speculations. These are the potential contenders for 2014, divided into three different groups.

FRONTRUNNERS:

Kid Kulafu

KID KULAFU
Director: Paul Soriano
Screenplay: Froilan Medina
Cast: Robert Villar, Alessandra de Rossi, Cesar Montano, Alex Medina
Philippine Release Date: April 15, 2015

Before he became one of the world’s greatest boxers, Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao was a young boy living a hand-to-mouth existence, trying to survive from one day to the next.

This one hits so many boxes in the Academy already: Biopic? Yes. Success story? Yes. A known personality? Yes, I’m certain a lot of Americans do know his name. It received great to favorable reviews, and while this isn’t a huge box office hit (releasing a week before The Avengers isn’t really the most inspired playdate), it has enough reasons to be submitted by the country. As we all know, Oscars isn’t solely about being the greatest film out there and most of the time, it’s more about the politics. I can see the movie benefiting from a push from Star Cinema and/or Manny Pacquiao himself. While I don’t see a clear path for it giving us our first nomination, it will be a decent enough submission from the country.

Magkakabaung

MAGKAKABAUNG (The Coffin Maker)
Director: Jason Paul Laxamana
Screenplay: Jason Paul Laxamana
Cast: Allen Dizon, Gladys Reyes, Emilio Garcia, Chanel Latorre
Philippine Release Date: December 17, 2014

This Metro Manila Film Festival New Wave entry picked up Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for lead star Allen Dizon back in December. It has also toured a lot of foreign film festivals from Harlem (where Dizon, once again, won Best Actor) to Hanoi (winning NETPAC’s Best Asian Film and another plum for Dizon) and even had a screening in San Francisco already. So quality isn’t definitely its problem. That said, its weak aspect is how its campaign will be handled once submitted. It will need a lot of money for screenings, and that’ll hurt its chances. If submitted, it’ll be one of the better films we’ve submitted quality-wise, but one which we’ll also know won’t advance much in the competition.

Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon

MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON (From What is Before)
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: Hazel Orencio, Karenina Haniel, Mailes Kanapi, Noel Sto. Domingo, Roeder,
Philippine Release Date: August 12, 2015

The Philippines, 1972. Mysterious things are happening in a remote barrio. Wails are heard from the forest, cows are hacked to death, a man is found bleeding to death at the crossroad and houses are burned. Ferdinand E. Marcos announces Proclamation No. 1081 putting the entire country under Martial Law.

I’ve also written about this in my piece last year, thinking it will qualify then. That said, Mula still holds the title of winning the single highest honor for the country in a foreign filmfest with its Locarno victory last year. Black and white isn’t even a problem since the current champion in this category (Poland’s Ida) is also black and white. However, its long screentime (running time of 338 minutes) will hurt it. Sure the longest running film to win an Oscar (running for 431 minutes) is in this category with the Russian film “War and Peace” in 1968, but that was more than 40 years ago, and recently, films running for three hours plus have already suffered even in the Top 9 voting.  If the Academy failed to go for a more accessible and more buzzed Norte, I think the reception will be more lukewarm to this.

Taklub

TAKLUB (Trap)
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Honeylyn Joy Alipio
Cast: Nora Aunor, Julio Diaz, Lou Veloso, Aaron Rivera, Ruby Ruiz, Soliman Cruz
Philippine Release Date: September 16, 2015

After the Supertyphoon Haiyan, which changed the city of Tacloban in the Philippines into its horrendous state, the lives of Bebeth, Larry and Erwin intertwine. The survivors are left to search for the dead, while keeping their sanity intact, and protecting what little faith there may be left. A series of events continue to test their endurance.

It’s a bit surprising when you think about it that a Brillante Mendoza film hasn’t been entered yet for a submission despite his Cannes win and his stature now as one of the two (the other being Lav Diaz) who has mostly represented Philippines in world cinema. But then again, he hasn’t had many commercial releases for his film. His first miss was in 2012 when Venice entry Thy Womb was passed over for eventual submission, Hannah Espia’s Transit. This year can change though with his Un Certain Regard entry Taklub. Taklub has the early buzz already receiving good word of mouth from Cannes back in May and has been his best-reviewed film yet among his Cannes entries. It also touches a Filipino topic (survivors of the typhoon Haiyan which devastated the country in 2013), and has screen legend Nora Aunor in the forefront. This has almost all the elements…except for the commercial screening release. It was supposed to be release last August 19, but it did not materialize. Other websites report that it’s moving to September 16 (which will make it qualified), so unless it won’t make the screening schedule, we have a formidable contender with this.

POTENTIAL SHORTLIST MENTIONS:

Batch 2

Don’t be surprised to see any of these films in this group make it in the final shortlist.

BONIFACIO: ANG UNANG PANGULO
Director: Enzo Williams
Screenplay: Keiko Aquino, Carlo Obispo, Enzo WIlliams
Cast: Robin Padilla, Vina Morales, Daniel Padilla, Eddie Garcia, Jasmine Curtis
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2014

It seems like every time we have a historical movie that tackles about our heroes, they instantly get a pass or an easy route to a shortlist mention (Supremo and El Presidente in 2012, Baler in 2008). Sure, “war” is a baity topic to the Academy as one can get, but we don’t have to be as predictable as that one.

EDNA
Director: Ronnie Lazaro
Screenplay: Lally Bucoy
Cast: Irma Adlawan, Ronnie Lazaro, Sue Prado, Kiko Matos, Nicco Manalo, Mara Marasigan
Philippine Release Date: May 20, 2015

We’ve already tried to submit two OFW (overseas Filipino workers) in the past: Rory Quintos’ Anak starring Vilma Santos in 2000 and Hannah Espia’s Transit in 2012 but to no avail. Heck, even countries submitting their own films with Filipino househelpers (Anthony Chen’s Iloilo) didn’t even work for them. So I doubt this one which got weaker reviews and poor box office would seal the deal.

HARI NG TONDO (WHERE I AM KING)
Director: Carlos Siguion-Reyna
Screenplay: Bibeth Orteza
Cast: Robert Arevalo, Cris Villonco, Rafa Siguion-Reyna, Rez Cortez, Liza Lorena, Aiza Seguerra
Philippine Release Date: October 1, 2014

The country has a tendency to submit lightweight entries (Crying Ladies in 2003, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros in 2006, Ded na si Lolo in 2009, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank in 2011, and Bwakaw in 2012), so I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up in the shortlist. That and the fact that it got a Toronto run at TIFF last year, and that we’ve submitted a Carlos Siguion-Reyna movie already in the past (1995’s Inagaw mo Ang Lahat Sa Akin), so it makes sense to see in the lineup.

HENERAL LUNA
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Screenplay: Henry Francia, E.A. Rocha, Jerrold Tarog
Cast: John Arcilla, Mon Confiado, Epi Quizon, Joem Bascon, Art Acuna, Arron Villaflor
Philippine Release Date: September 9, 2015

Directed by Jerrold Tarog, this huge epic film chronicles the life of one of the more prominent heroes in Filipino history — General Antonio Luna in his quest to achieve the promise of the Philippine Revolution. While there’s no mistaking that this will be met with good reviews, my only reservation with this is that it will cancel out with the other “hero” movie Bonifacio, in the same vein that both Supremo and El Presidente probably targeted the same demographics two years ago.

THE JANITOR
Director: Michael Tuviera
Screenplay: Aloy Adlawan
Cast: Dennis Trillo, Richard Gomez, Ricky Davao, Derek Ramsay, Nicco Manalo, Sunshine Garcia
Philippine Release Date: October 8, 2014

Picking up five wins at Cinemalaya last year and mostly praised for its superb technical achievements (and an Urian-nominated performance from lead actor Dennis Trillo), what hinders The Janitor is a bit similar to what the FAP used as its excuse reason for not picking Erik Matti’s On the Job in 2012: it portrays the country in a negative light.

KASAL (THE COMMITMENT)
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Screenplay: Joselito Altarejos, Zig Dulay
Cast: Arnold Reyes, Oliver Aquino, Rita Avila, Maureen Mauricio
Philippine Release Date: February 8, 2015

Joselito Altarejos’ drama about a gay couple whose relationship was put to test won the Best Picture award in the Directors’ Showcase from Cinemalaya last year, but pink film submissions (Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros fresh from Brokeback Mountain‘s loss in 2005) or with gay characters (Ded na si Lolo in 2008 and Bwakaw in 2012) both haven’t materialized us with nominations.

MORE CONTENDERS:

Batch 3

ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE
Director: Dan Villegas
Screenplay: Antoinette Jadaone, Dan Villegas
Cast: Jennylyn Mercado, Derek Ramsay, Kean Cipriano, Cai Cortez, Jerald Napoles
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2014

While the country hasn’t shied away from submitting comedies and/or romantic films in the previous years, we haven’t really submitted a rom-com yet. I don’t think this story of a Filipino-American who hired an English translator to convert a letter would be the first one to break that trend, regardless if the film was well received and performed well at the box office.

M: MOTHER’S MAIDEN NAME
Director: Zig Dulay
Screenplay: Zig Dulay
Cast: Zsazsa Padilla, Nicco Manalo, Gloria Sevilla, Dennis Padilla, Marx Topacio
Philippine Release Date: January 21, 2015

Zig Dulay’s MMFF New Wave entry from 2014 about a woman who learned of her final days is just too low-key in terms of buzz to compete with the heavyweight submissions of other countries.

THAT THING CALLED TADHANA
Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Screenplay: Antoinette Jadaone
Cast: Angelica Panganiban, JM de Guzman
Philippine Release Date: February 4, 2015

Now holding the record as the highest grossing independent film in Philippine history, there’s a reason why Tadhana generated goodwill both from critics and the public audience. But just like English Only Please, this might be seen as too lightweight compared to other possible contenders.

THE TRIAL
Director: Chito Rono
Screenplay: Ricky Lee
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Richard Gomez, Gretchen Barretto, Sylvia Sanchez, Enrique Gil, Jessy Mendiola
Philippine Release Date: October 15, 2014

A Chito Rono film has already been submitted once back in 2002 (Dekada 70), and like DekadaThe Trial boasts of a huge ensemble with some of the reputable names in acting leading the pack. What separates the former from this one though is the historical coverage of Dekada dealing with one of the most controversial times in history. The same can’t be said for this melodramatic family film about a mentally-challenged guy who was put into trial after being accused of raping his teacher.

FINAL VERDICT:

Like what I mentioned last year, it was a trial to see if a Lav Diaz film would work for the Academy, and sadly it didn’t. If the shorter and more “commercial” Norte didn’t manage to make the shortlist after all its Cannes buzz and even a US distributor, this might be telling of what the Philippines must submit. To “Mula’s” credit though, it’s not its fault that its longer and its in black white. Besides, it still holds the record for the single highest honor received by a local film in international festival history, so that might work in its favor. Magkakabaung, despite its wonderful international run, is still low-key to compete for the Oscars, and sponsorship and funding would be an issue. The same can’t be said for Kid Kulafu, and like what I mentioned, I can see Star Cinema and Manny Pacquiao giving it some sort of a push. Add the fact that it’s about the most prominent Filipino boxer in history (and one Americans are familiar with), and it will be a wise move on the FAP’s part. In the end, it depends whether Taklub manages to fulfill its commercial run requirement. It got great reviews in Cannes (even winning a special mention from the Ecumenical Jury), and a Brillante Mendoza film hasn’t been selected to compete yet, so he’s an overdue name to represent the country at the Oscars of some sort. I think the wise choice to submit this year is Mendoza’s “Taklub” or Soriano’s “Kid Kulafu” if the former won’t have a commercial run in before the deadline.

Let’s hope after the great submission last year, that the FAP won’t screw up this year.

You can follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

87th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   8 comments

Within the next few days, the Film Academy of the Philippines will release the shortlist for the country’s Oscar submission in the Foreign Language Film category, and it has been a tradition over here at Tit for Tat to dissect and analyze the shortlist of what the Philippines will submit as its entry. As you may know, the country still hasn’t been nominated for the said award despite submitting 25 times in the award’s 57-year history. Before we go straight to the discussion, let’s specify the necessary requirements to be eligible for this award:

As per the Academy of Motion Arts and Pictures Science’s official rule book, any country’s submission must be:

The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2013,
and no later than September 30, 2014, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive
days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.

As a reminder, these are my predictions and opinions on what I think will make the shortlist and NOT THE OFFICIAL SHORTLIST YET. In order to determine which will make the shortlist, I have divided the list into three groups:

FRONTRUNNERS:

Alagwa

ALAGWA (Breakaway)
Director: Ian Loreños
Screenplay: Ian Loreños
Cast: Jericho Rosales, Bugoy Cariño, Leo Martinez, Carmen Soo, Smokey Manaloto
Philippine Release Date: October 2, 2013

This local thriller which was inspired by an urban legend about the disappearance of a young Chinese-boy and the lengths his single father did in order to find him back.

Despite the film being produced and finished as early as 2012, Alagwa was able to land its local commercial screening October of last year. The film garnered good reviews with mentions about its balance of intense thriller with the emotional punches in between. It has also made its way to some international festivals, albeit the smaller ones, such as the Tallin Black Film Festival, Newport Beach Film Festival, Guam International Film Festival, and ASEAN International Film Festival to name a few. Not to be outdone, it was also recognized locally sweeping at the PMPC Star Awards for Movies including Indie Movie of the Year and a Gawad Urian Best Actor for lead star Jericho Rosales. While I think the film can be a good submission, it needs a bigger push than our last two entries to maintain buzz once the bigger heavyweight countries announced theirs.

Barber's Tales

MGA KUWENTONG BARBERO (Barber’s Tales)
Director: Jun Lana
Screenplay: Jun Lana
Cast: Eugene Domingo, Shamaine Buencamino, Gladys Reyes, Iza Calzado, Nicco Manalo
Philippine Release Date: August 13, 2014

Set in 1975, widow Marilou (Domingo) continues the business of her late husband as the female barber in their town. This opened to her being involved with the different issues in her town including that of the mayor’s wife.

The film, which premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival late last year, gave Eugene Domingo a Best Actress victory over there which followed nominations from the Asian Film Awards and participation at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Udine Far East Film Festival. It also has some sort of good will since this team already has some sort of Oscar submission experience since Domingo was the star of the county’s 2011 submission Ang Babae sa Septic Tank while director Jun Lana is the director of the 2012 submission Bwakaw. The film also boasts of great technical achievement and a story that is universally appealing but still has distinct Filipino touches. I won’t be surprised if this ends up as the country’s submission in the end.

Mula sa Kung Ano Ang Noon

MULA SA KUNG ANO ANG NOON (From What is Before)
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz
Cast: Perry Dizon, Roeder, Hazel Orencio, Karenina Haniel, Mailes Kanapi
Philippine Release Date: September 24, 2014

Running for 338 minute, this black and white film leads to the two years before Martial Law was proclaimed in the Philippines.

If anything, the film is earning so much good will after that sweep at the Locarno International Film Festival winning four awards(!) and the Boccalino de Oro Independent Critics Award Best Actress win for its star Hazel Orencio. Prior to that, the film was also the pioneer champ of the newly established World Premieres Film Festival taking both the Best Ensemble and the Grand Festival Prize. Ir has to be said though that the length of the film plus its black and white feature might be too alienating to sit through for this small Foreign Language Film committee. This isn’t a knock on the film’s accomplishment but more on the category we’re sending it to. The Oscar is as “mainstream” and “accessible”  as one can get in terms of recognizing films, so that might give the FAP some second thoughts if they’re gonna go with this.

Norte

NORTE, HANGGANAN NG KASAYSAYAN (Norte, The End of History)
Director: Lav Diaz
Screenplay: Lav Diaz, Rody Vera
Cast: Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania,
Philippine Release Date: September 10, 2014

A take on the Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”, the film showed the story of  three people: an innocent man being put to jail of a crime he did not commit, the real perpetrator guilty of the crime is very much free and continuously frustrated of his country’s political system, and the wife of the wrongly accused man dealing with everything that has happened to her family.

The shorter of the two Lav Diaz films, Norte runs at a measly 250 minutes. While it’s still relatively long, comments about this as being Diaz’ most accessible film is definitely encouraging. It also has the festival experience as well competing as part of the Un Certain Regard section of last year’s Cannes Film Fest and getting raves after raves as well. It also helps that the film has been released, despite via limited format, in the United States and getting great mentions there as well. Locally, the film has garnered many acclaims here as well even sweeping at this year’s Gawad Urian awards. I think this is the type of film that can benefit from the short committee’s three picks outside of the top vote getters.

POTENTIAL SHORT LIST MENTIONS:

Shortlist mentions

Of course the shortlist can go as many as 12 like that from 2009 or as few as 2 like that in 2006. Since the past few years’ shortlist have given us WTF mentions (remember Baler in 2009? How about The Witness three years ago? Or Dance of the Steelbars last year?), so I guess these films can find their way in the shortlist this year.

10,000 HOURS
Director: Joyce Bernal
Screenplay: Ryllah Epifania Berico, Keiko Aquino
Cast: Robin Padilla, Pen Medina, Bela Padilla, Michael de Mesa, Mylene Dizon
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2013

Sweeping last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, this action thriller which was very loosely based on a Philippine senator’s fugitive story. While the possibility of this being chosen is slim to none, I wouldn’t underestimate this being a part of the short list.

BANG BANG ALLEY
Director: Ely Buendia, Yan Yuzon, King Palisoc
Screenplay: Ely Buendia, Yan Yuzon, Zig Marasigan
Cast: Art Acuña, Perla Bautista, Gabe Mercado, Bela Padilla, Jimmy Santos, Joel Torre, Althea Vega, Megan Young
Philippine Release Date: April 9, 2014

Last year, the trilogy Tuhog also made the shortlist, so I don’t see why they’ll skip this a mention since this is one of the better reviewed films of the first quarter of 2014. The film featured three different stories all relating to violence.

BOY GOLDEN
Director: Chito Roño
Screenplay: Catherine Camarillo, Guelan Luarca, E.R. Ejercito
Cast: ER Ejercito, KC Concepcion, Eddie Garcia, John Estrada, Gloria Sevilla
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2013

To be honest, this is the best of the three ER Ejercito MMFF films, but then again, that doesn’t mean it needs to be submitted. This is more of a guilty pleasure action flick than an Oscar contender, but hey! If those two films were shortlisted, then this better be mentioned as well.

KAMKAM (GREED)
Director: Joel Lamangan
Screenplay: Jerry Gracio
Cast: Allen Dizon, Jean Garcia, Sunshine Dizon, Jackie Rice
Philippine Release Date: July 9, 2014

Lamangan has been shortlisted many times before (Dukot, Sagrada Familia) so he’s a familiar name from the FAP. That said, this is another of the socio-political statements that he has been doing lately about a powerful man in the slums balancing his power and dealing with his three wives.

PEDRO CALUNGSOD: BATANG MARTIR
Director: Francis Villacorta
Screenplay: Francis Villacorta
Cast: Rocco Nacino, Christian Vazquez, Jestoni Alarcon, Marc Justin Alvarez, Ryan Eigenmann
Philippine Release Date: December 25, 2013

Really though. As if the flop box office nor bad reviews would stop them from considering this, but it’s the story of the Filipino saint, so I’m expecting the worst and see this in the shortlist even if it doesn’t really merit a mention at all.

UNFRIEND
Director: Joselito Altarejos
Screenplay: Zig Dulay
Cast: Allen Sandino Martin, Angelo Ilagan, Boots Anson-Roa
Philippine Release Date: February 26, 2014

An ordinary day in the life of a 15 year old teen upon learning that the love of his life loves someone else and his intense reaction to profess his love.

Pink films haven’t done so well the past few years (even Blue is the Warmest Color did not make a splash), and I don’t even remember the last one to get nominated (at the top of my head, All About My Mother? Unsure though), and this is too low key to seriously be considered.

ELIGIBILITY ISSUES

Ineligible

While these films least worry is their quality, it seems like eligibility would prevent them from being shortlisted. Chito Rono’s Badil among the other Sineng Pambansa entries were released September of last year so they’re not eligible. The same can be said for Ang Huling Chacha ni Anita and the Cinefilipino entries as well. Borgy Torres’ Kabisera got an extended day of release after the Cinema One Originals last year, but that doesn’t fit the seven day commercial screening. And among the MMFF New Wave entries last year (including Armando Lao’s Dukit, only Gino Santos & Aloy Adlawan’s Island Dreams managed to follow it up with a commercial release. Jerrold Tarog’s Sana Dati‘s commercial release was September 25, 2013 so six out of its seven commercial release dates were ineligible as well. Perci Intalan’s Dementia starring the Superstar Nora Aunor is a tricky case. It premieres last week of September which means it qualifies for this year, but the FAP usually announces its pick by mid-September, so unless they got a special screening to see it, then I think it’s still possible to make it to the list. Otherwise, by the time we see Dementia in theaters, there’s a large chance there’s an announcement made already.

FINAL VERDICT

I think it boils down to two films: Jun Lana’s Barber’s Tales and Lav Diaz’ Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan. And both films I see can possibly make a splash. Diaz has the good will and the name recognition plus Norte’s reviews will surely make it in the conversation against other countries’ entries. Barber’s Tales, on the other hand, seems like the more traditional entry, and Bwakaw managed to gain steam during its year (and I think the closest we ever was mentioned since Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros in 2005) so it would be a fit as well. Anything between the two would be fine by me, so I do hope we end up with one of those. Come on FAP, make it happen.

Either way, I’ll keep you updated once the official shortlist and the official submission is revealed.

You can also follow me on Twitter: @nikowl

86th Oscar Foreign Language Film: What Should the Philippines Submit?   9 comments

Yesterday, the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) has already released the shortlist on what the country’s likely submission for next year’s Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. As of press time, nine films are included in the list which will be decided by the eight-person committee. While these films are already assured as a part of the shortlist, September released films can still be late additions to it, as the AMPAS eligibility extends up to September 30 of this year.

Last year, I decided to put my two cents on what the country will submit as an entry which you can read here. I suggested Alvin Yapan’s Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa from the field of seven that was announced earlier. The country ended up with Bwakaw, which wasn’t part of the initial list, but nevertheless, a competent and most inspired submission we had in years. This year, I’ll be doing the same based on the initial shortlist of nine films included and suggest what I think should be our country’s entry. One thing you have to remember though is that it’s not solely about the film’s quality, as politics and buzz also play a big part when it comes to choosing our Foreign Language Film submission. Anyway, here’s how I see each of the nine contenders:

boses

BOSES (The Voice)
Director: Ellen Ongkeko-Marfil
Screenplay: Froilan Medina, Rody Vera
Cast: Julian Duque, Coke Bolipata, Cherry Pie Picache, Ricky Davao

Boses tells the story of Onyok, an abused son, who was brought to a children’s shelter to be protected from his abusive father. In there, he develops an unlikely mentor with Ariel, the brother of the shelter director, who saw his potential to play the violin.  Through these lessons, both Onyok and Ariel managed to find an escape from their individual traumatic experiences.

Films with child/ren as the main character work well within the Academy, especially in the Foreign Language Film category. Think of France’s The Chorus or Brazil’s The Central Station. Add the music factor, and I can see this inspirational drama working well to the voters of this category. The production values, while not the top notch in this field are still commendable (I remember in 2005 when reception re: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros was that the production values, particularly the sound, was poor). The downside of this film though is that if chosen, if they’re willing to do a campaign because otherwise; it will just get lost in the shuffle.

dance of the steel bars

DANCE OF THE STEEL BARS
Director: Cesar Apolinario, Marnie Manicad
Screenplay: Cris Lim, Michael Villar
Cast: Dingdong Dantes, Joey Paras, Ricky Davao, Patrick Bergin

While the story of the friendship among the three inmates (two Filipinos, one American) is fictional, one central part of the movie incorporates the dancing inmates based from that viral video of the real dancing inmates (jiving to Michael Jackson’s Thriller) from one of the provinces here in the Philippines.

I don’t see this making much of a fuzz, as its reviews here locally are mixed to negative. It’s a very divisive film that also did not make waves commercial wise. When most of reviews range from “thin plot” to “melodramatic”, it probably fits more for a Lifetime TV of the week spot than an entry at the Best Foreign Language Film. I suspect that the friendship angle between a Filipino and an American is what paved its way in the shortlist.

ekstra

EKSTRA (The Bit Player)
Director: Jeffrey Jeturian
Screenplay: Jeffrey Jeturian, Zig Dulay, Antoinette Jadaone
Cast: Vilma Santos, Ruby Ruiz, Tart Carlos, Marlon Rivera

The movie follows a day in the life of Loida Malabanan, who works as a bit player in films and television show. For this particular instance, she works in a soap opera while still dreaming to have that one big break she has long been waiting for.

Definitely the most buzzed about entry at this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, Ekstra is a critical and crowd favorite with its humorous take not only on the roles of bit players, but with its satirical portrayal of a television production as well. The good thing about it is that it’s one of the more recent entries this year and is already starting its run at different international film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival. It also stars one of the country’s most important stars, Vilma Santos, in the main role. However, with this being a major comedy, I wonder if the FAP is adamant to submit a comedy once again, especially one that pokes fun at the entertainment scene, too soon (after 2011’s Ang Babae sa Septic Tank). It can go either the way of 2003’s Crying Ladies which gained serious buzz or 2009’s Ded na si Lolo which gained none at all.

el presidente

EL PRESIDENTE (The President)*
Director: Mark Meily
Screenplay: Mark Meily
Cast: ER Ejercito, Nora Aunor, Cesar Montano, Christopher de Leon

A historical epic about the life of one of the Philippines’ most prominent heroes, Emilio Aguinaldo. It does a full circle depiction from his early childhood days up to his last few days highlighting some of the most important days in Philippine history.

Every now and then, the Foreign Language Film recognizes entries which are of significant and cultural impact to its country. Thus, the committee can’t help but bite into the bait by inserting not only one, but two films into the mix. The first one being El Presidente. While winning Best Picture in a lot of local award giving bodies earlier this year helps it chances, critical response wasn’t as kind as the others. However, I’d say that with ER Ejercito behind it, once chosen, they’ll probably try to pull off an aggressive campaign for it. I don’t think it’ll be enough though.

on the job

ON THE JOB
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Michiko Yamamoto, Erik Matti
Cast: Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson, Joel Torre, Joey Marquez

Inspired by true events, the movie shows the struggle of good vs. evil from different perspectives: jailed hitman Tatang and his protege Daniel, police officer Acosta, and NBI agent Francis. How all their paths crossed and the circumstances that bind them together is the main core of this action thriller.

After participating in the Directors’ Fortnight section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, On the Job is already the best local reviewd film from this bunch. It also has the most buzz being the latest to be shown in this group. Local critics are rallying behind it and the word of mouth is really good.  Commercial wise, it might end up as the second biggest hit in the shortlist, and I think that makes it the most viable contender. The film’s appeal is also universal, as proven by a confirmed Hollywood remake. Since it’s produced by the country’s biggest film production, a campaign is definitely feasible for it. Needless to say, it should be the most viable option from the bunch.

supremoSUPREMO
Director: Richard Somes
Screenplay: Jimmy Flores
Cast: Alfred Vargas, Mon Confiado, Nicco Manalo Alex Medina

The movie gives a historical depiction of another Filipino hero, Andres Bonifacio, as he leads the Katipunan into a struggle for independence.

As for the other “hero” movie, while it’s the lesser buzzed movie between the two, it’s the one that got better reviews. With that said, it also suffered from lack of overall impact, as only a handful of people saw it during its run. Part of me thinks that with these two heroes in the mix, if they’ll cancel each other’s chances in order to avoid controversies about the chosen film in case one of them gets to be the top pick? I know that sounds ridiculous, but you’ll never know. Not that I think either of the film will actually end up as our submission, but one can’t  help but think it can affect such.

thy womb

THY WOMB
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Screenplay: Henry Burgos
Cast: Nora Aunor, Bembol Roco, Lovi Poe, Mercedes Cabral

Set in the beautiful village of Tawi-Tawi in the farthest island of Mindanao, the wife of a childless couple , Shaleha, suffered her third miscarriage. Out of frustration, it gave her an idea to find another wife for her husband Bangas-an. As she finally saw the perfect wife, conflict ensues when young lady Mersila gives her condition in exchange of this agreement.

Thy Womb was part of the official competition of last year’s Venice Film Festival. Aside from that, it also participated as part of Toronto International Film Festival as well. While this gives it a great advantage among other competitors, the fact that it already had its festival run last year gives it less buzz as compared to the newer ones. Sure, it i still under the same eligibility period, but it leaves a “been there done that” feel already. And while the raves for Nora Aunor’s performance is unanimously positive, there is a discrepancy with its reviews locally and internationally. It got great reviews here while it’s more mixed abroad, so that speaks volumes about its universal appeal. It’s also noteworthy to mention that Brillante Mendoza isn’t an FAP favorite with no previous entries submitted, despite getting worldwide accalim for some of his previous films.

tiktik aswang chronicles

TIKTIK: ASWANG CHRONICLES
Director: Erik Matti
Screenplay: Erik Matti, Ronald Monteverde
Cast: Dingdong Dantes, Lovi Poe, Janice de Belen, Joey Marquez

Shot in the fictional town of Pulupandan, an overconfident Makoy hopes to win back the heart of his pregnant girlfriend.  But when his arrogance irked some people of the said town who happened to be a group of aswang (Filipino term for “monster like ghost creatures”), Makoy and his girlfriend’s family fight for survival.

This one is probably the easiest to eliminate here. The movie showed a great stylistic approach (and an effective one at that), but other than that, there’s nothing that’s gonna make sense to put this as the country’s submission. There will be a huge barrier to even explain the concept of aswang to a foreign crowd, and this one suits for an enjoyable popcorn flick than an Oscar submission. Besides, Erik Matti has another submission here which has the better odds of getting chosen.

tuhog
TUHOG
Director: Veronica Velasco
Screenplay: Veronica Velasco, Jinky Laurel
Cast: Eugene Domingo, Leo Martinez, Enchong Dee, Jake Cuenca

A bus accident left three strangers literally connected to a pole, and as they are waiting for their fate in the hospital, we get a glimpse of their individual lives prior to the said incident.

Tuhog‘s chances can actually go either way. On one hand, it’s the quirky film that can inspire a lot of passion among voters with its multiple storytelling. On the other, it might be seen as too light to stand out in a field of 70+ films worldwide. While the FAP hasn’t shied away from lighter films before (Ang Babae sa Septic TankDed na si Lolo), but end results did not bode well for the country’s chances.

All in all, I’d say On the Job is far and away the best option to be submitted this year. It has the buzz, the great push, the reviews, and the festival experience to make a mark in this category. A runner up position goes to Ekstra since it can follow Bwakaw‘s footsteps last year starting with its TIFF inclusion already. I think Boses can be a good submission as well, as I think it will work well among AMPAS voters. Tuhog and Thy Womb will also be decent picks, though not necessarily the strongest we can offer. With that said, there will probably be two to three more additions to this given that the Sineng Pambansa will be held mid-September.

*unofficial English titles

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