Rain haunts Tofarm film festival

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By Susan Claire Agbayani

IN KEEPING with the advocacy of the Tofarm Film Festival — “bring the stories of farmers to Filipino as well as foreign audiences,” according to the fest’s managing director Joey Romero — the cast and crew of the six finalists shot their films in the countryside and experienced first-hand what it was like to be a farmer and be at the mercy of the weather. It rained for most of the shooting days, and this proved to be a challenge to the film crews. The film productions continued to be haunted by rain during the gala screenings at the Trinoma Cinema; and Typhoon Ompong (international name: Mangkhut) exited the country on the day of the awarding ceremonies at the Shangri-La Manila.

A screen adaptation of a short story, Tanabata’s Wife by Japanese-Igorot newspaper publisher Sinai Hamada took home nine of the 14 awards up for grabs. The short story that the film was based on was once described by National Artist for Literature Francisco Arcellana as “the finest Filipino love story ever written.”

Tanabata’s Wife was adjudged Best Picture. The film’s screenwriting team — Charlson Ong, Choy Pangilinan, Mao Talas and Juan Carlo Tarobal — won Best Screenplay. Mr. Ong and Mr. Pangilinan shared the Best Director award with Lito Casaje.

Mr. Ong thanked Hamada “who started it all,” and who “published his story in 1932, almost a hundred years ago. I always thought it was a movie that had to be made,” and added how he looks forward to doing adaptations of more literary works into film in the future.

Japanese actor Miyuki Kamimura won the Best Actor Award for his role as cabbage farmer Tanabata. He was chosen for the role while conducting acting workshops in Bohol. Until he read the script, he had not known about how the Japanese figured in the construction of Kennon Road and their role in pioneering vegetable farms in the Cordilleras. “I’m very proud to work with Filipino filmmakers. It’s a great opportunity,” he said after the gala screening of the film. He thanked the Tanabata team when he received his award, adding “Pray for Baguio” which had been badly battered by the typhoon.

Twenty two-year-old St. Louis University Baguio alumna Mai Fanglayan won Best Actress for her portrayal of Tanabata’s 15-year-old Bontoc wife Fas-ang. She bested more established and seasoned actresses — this was her film debut — Ina Feleo (Alimuom), Katrina Halili (Mga Anak ng Kamote), and Pokwang (Sol Searching). She dedicated her award to the farmers of Benguet, and the Cordilleras. She hails from Baguio, and her parents, from Mountain Province.

The film also garnered awards for editing (May-i Padilla), production design (Martin Masadao), cinematography (Nap Jamir), and music (Kurt Alalag, May-i Padilla, and Marc Tan). Mr. Alalag also portrayed the role of Okdo, Fas-ang’s childhood friend and lover in the film.

“It’s a very quiet movie; a very quiet story. We wanted to capture that,” Mr. Ong told BusinessWorld after the gala screening at Trinoma Cinema 2.

The Hubert Tibi-helmed film on agrarian unrest, 1957, won 2nd Best Picture and Best Story. Mr. Tibi dedicated his award to the farmers of Bicol. Keith Sicat’s science-fiction flick Alimuom took home the 3rd Best Picture Award.

“There’s a little bit of something for everyone, depending on your taste. To my surprise, I found out there’s really a niche audience pala for Science Fiction,” said Festival Director Bibeth Orteza just right before the awarding ceremonies.

“I like the film. I like the subversive layer of the material. What you see is not what you get, because there’s something more, and there’s something deeper. I like the performances of actors. There’s suddenly a new approach to telling a story: Filipino story, with still Filipino elements: family, relationships, commitment to a cause. Did you ever think it possible?” Ms. Orteza asked regarding Sicat’s sci-fi outing after its gala screening.

The Best Supporting Actress prize was a tie, with both Bayang Barrios and Gilleth Sandico winning for their roles in Kauyagan and Sol Searching, respectively. The People’s Choice Award went to Sol Searching, which was received by its director Roman Perez, Jr.

The top grossers of the festival as of the evening of Sept. 18 were Sol Searching and Alimuom.

The recipients of the Direk Mario Awards — named after the late Tofarm Festival Director Maryo J. de los Reyes — were Al-Jhun Romel Virgo’s Panginoong May Lupa, Best Short Film; Kelvin Aguilar’s Kaluguran Daka, Ma, 2nd Best Short Film; and Moises Soriano’s Tahanan ng Isang Magsasaka, 3rd Best Short Film. A special award, the Aning Ginto, was given to Sikap, which was written and directed by Julian Jay Narag, Gracia Mae Aggabao, and Ronalyn Ariniego.

The festival also honored actor Robert Arevalo. “What better way to honor the Filipino farmer than by recognizing the talent of the man who was not a farmer — but was in fact an advertising man — but (who gave) excellent performances as a farmer in Gerry de Leon’s Daigdig ng mga Api and Behn Cervantes’ Sakada?” said Ms. Orteza during the awards night. Mr. Arevalo dedicated his award to the memory of his directors Mr. Cervantes and Mr. De Leon (who was also his uncle).

The Tofarm Film Festival’s selection committee chose 25 films from an initial 118, then cut this down further to the final eight, explained the film festival’s Executive Producer Dr. Milagros How.

“We originally had eight entries, and made one on standby. Some entries had to back out. They knew the areas where they were going to shoot very well. The enemy this year was really the weather,” Ms. Orteza said while explaining why there were fewer than eight films in the final lineup.

“It’s getting better and better,” Dr. How told BusinessWorld. “This year is one of the best. More than before, the finalists (have been very varied): Sci-Fi, black comedy, historical drama, tribal drama.”

Asked about the possibility of distribution so more people could watch the festival films beyond the one-week Tofarm festival, Ms. How promised, “We are going to work on that. We look forward to better distribution.”

This early, Ms. Orteza said that they have had inquiries from students who want to show the films in their schools. “Purposely, we made sure that the longest film is 1 hour 40 minutes. We need to fit into the length of the classes,” and be able to discuss the film in the next class meeting, she said.

Among the films students were interested in is Tanabata’s Wife whose source material is required reading in high school and the university level, and Kauyagan, a tribal drama.

“What we need to plan now and devise is a system where the (finalists) are able to finish their trailers first so we can show them already even before the films (are ready to be screened)… [as] part of the marketing strategy,” she said.

At the beginning of her speech, Ms. How asked everyone to stand up and offer a minute of prayer “for the well being of our brothers and sisters in areas affected by typhoon Ompong.”

In the end, she said, “You are so much like our farmers: You plant the seed. You nurture it. You water it. Umulan at bumagyo, hindi kayo umatras. Mabuhay ang aking mga magsasaka. Mabuhay ang mga manggagawa ng pelikulang Pilipino!” (Rain or storm, you did not back down. Long live the farmers! Long live the workers of the Filipino film industry!)