By Susan Claire Agbayani

ERIK MATTI’S BUY BUST, a “zombie-like action” film about the current administration’s war on drugs, won Best Picture and three technical awards (Cinematography, Production Design, and Music) at the 42nd Gawad Urian awards night on Tuesday at UP’s Cine Adarna.

The Gawad Urian are annual film awards given by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (the Filipino Film Critics).

In his opening remarks, Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino Chair Dr. Rolando Tolentino noted that with the exception of Mamang, the nominees this year all experimented with the elements of film, such as the “anti-musical musical Ang Panahon ng Halimaw; ML, the thriller horror for millenials; Never Tear Us Apart, shot using an iPhone; full-length adult animation Paglisan; Binisaya thriller A Short History of a Few Bad Things; the OFW story from the point of view of a family in a community in Signal Rock; and deconstruction of seasons/time in anti-romance films Meet Me in St. Gallen and The Eternity Between Seconds.”

Never Not Love You, ML, Citizen Jake, and School Service all garnered one acting award each for the exceptional performances of Nadine Lustre, Best Actress; Eddie Garcia, Best Actor; Cherie Gil, Best Supporting Actress; and Joel Lamangan, Best Supporting Actor, respectively.

Ms. Lustre had recently been named Best Actress at the FAMAS Awards and Best Performer at the Young Critics’ Circle awards for her work in Never Not Love You, as a woman who initially sacrifices her own aspirations for the man she loves, and who eventually finds herself. At the Gawad Urian, she bested some of the country’s more senior actresses such as Perla Bautista, Ai-Ai de las Alas, Marietta “Pokwang” Subong, and singer/actress Celeste Legaspi.

ML director Benedict Mique received the Best Actor award on behalf of cinema veteran Mr. Garcia. Mr. Mique brought the trophy to the hospital where the actor had been confined for over a week after being seriously injured on the set of a teleserye. In the movie, Mr. Garcia played a demented retired colonel who tortures young people in his basement, thinking the country is still under Martial Law. Mr. Mique enjoined the audience at the Gawad Urian to work towards making Mr. Garcia, who has had a 57-year career in the movies, a “National Artist” for film.

Ms. Gil earned her first every Urian award for her portrayal of a starlet turned socialite turned high society pimp in Citizen Jake. Director Joel Lamangan also received his first acting award for his portrayal of a man who kills his gold digging lover to protect his family of kidnappers in School Service.

Ms. Gil has been cited by other award-giving bodies for her performances in City After Dark and Sonata.

Of her brief but memorable appearance in Citizen Jake, Ms. Gil quipped, “All I had to do was one sequence lang pala!” She dedicated her trophy to “Filipino women” who find decent work to provide for their families, whether they remain in the Philippines or work overseas.

The Best Director award for Mamang was a surprise win for Denise O’Hara, who belongs to the O’Hara clan of theater actors and directors. The film was inspired by her brave and feisty grandmother.

Rody Vera took home an award for his screenplay for Signal Rock which is about a small seaside town where all the women leave to work abroad and get married to foreigners. It was the Philippines’ entry to the Oscars last year.

A screen adaptation of Sinai Hamada’s short story “Tanabata’s Wife” won May-I Guia Padilla a trophy for Best Editing; while the team of Jonathan Hee, Steff Dereja, and Miguel Hernandez took home the trophy for Best Sound for Never Tear Us Apart.

Best Documentary awardee Jewel Maranan (for Sa Palad ng Dantaong Kulang) said that, “It is difficult to receive an award for a film whose topic (the urban poor) is not worth celebrating.” She however said that “I hope the awards, the recognitions that we receive, will motivate us to continue to look for the role of our films, and imagine what future we wish to face, outside of what we’ve experienced.”

Shaira Advincula, winner of the Best Documentary for Tembong (Connecting) thanked her father who opened her eyes to the “social inequalities among the indigenous peoples of Mindanao.” She thanked the T’boli tribe of South Cotabato “for allowing me to weave your stories into our short film.”

The “Queen of Visayan Movies” Gloria Sevilla was conferred the Natatanging Gawad Urian Award, a lifetime achievement award, for her unique portrayals in films like Madugong Paghihiganti (1963) and Badlis sa Kinabuhi (1969), and her consistent support of Cebuano cinema.

“I am a movie worker.” Ms. Sevilla said in her acceptance speech. “I am a Cebuana, a Sugbuanon; a pure-blooded Cebuana,” she said proudly as she recounted how she was discovered by a talent scout in her hometown and quickly snagged the lead role in Prinsesa Tirana (where she met her future husband, Mat Ranillo, Jr., who was her leading man).

“(Cebu) was the first to have a movie studio… the first to make a silent movie… the first to do an indie film,” she said, mentioning the P80,000-budget film Gimingaw Ako, which was shot in “two days and two nights” and which “represented the Philippines in the Berlin Filmfest in 1970, and which was also shown in the Kremlin at the Moscow Filmfest.”

Addressing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (who wasn’t in the audience), she said, “Mr. President, please help the dying movie industry, especially Visayan (cinema). Please do not allow it to vanish and be forgotten,” she said in Filipino.

Manunuri chairman Mr. Tolentino said in Filipino, “If we wish the renaissance of indie cinema to continue, we have to go beyond the dictates of grant-giving agencies and festivals that are like short orders of films, with movies delivered within three to eight months in time for festival exhibitions.” He said that they need to gravitate towards bigger funding and substantial preparation, like “a year each for pre-production, production and post-production.”

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Lamangan said in Filipino: “We need to sit down, and study the real state of the industry — which is not so good. We need to find solutions to the problems we face, and learn lessons for the next 100 years.”

The film industry celebrates its centennial this September.

Gawad Urian 2019 winners

• Best Picture: Buy Bust

• Best Director: Denise O’Hara, Mamang

• Best Actress: Nadine Lustre, Never Not Love You

• Best Actor: Eddie Garcia, ML

• Best Supporting Actress: Cherie Gil, Citizen Jake

• Best Supporting Actor: Joel Lamangan, School Service

• Best Screenplay: Rody Vera, Signal Rock

• Best Cinematography: Neil Bion, Buy Bust

• Production Design: Michael Espanol and Roma Regala, Buy Bust

• Best Editing: May-I Guia Padilla, Tanabata’s Wife

• Best Music: Malek Lopez and Erwin Romulo, Buy Bust

• Best Sound: Jonathan Hee, Steff Dereja and Miguel Hernandez, Never Tear Us Apart

• Best Documentary: Jewel Maranan, Sa Palad ng Dantaong Kulang

• Best Short Film: Shaira Advincula, Tembong (Connecting)

• Natatanging Gawad Urian: Gloria Sevilla