Pinoy film about Spratlys wins award in Poland

Posted at 10/25/2012 9:16 AM | Updated as of 10/25/2012 9:19 AM

Warsaw Film Festival trophy

AMSTERDAM - Filipino film Kalayaan or Wildlife directed by Adolfo Alix Jr. won the NETPAC Best Asian Film award in the 2012 Warsaw Film Festival in Poland.

The film was shot in the disputed Spratly Islands and tells the story of the soldiers who are stationed there for an extended period of time and their fight against isolation, loneliness and insanity.

NETPAC, considered a leading authority in Asian Cinema, stands for Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, an organization of 29 countries which is involved in the promotion and distribution of Asian films all over the world.

“Kalayaan is about the stories of soldiers who were trained to fight in wars but are staying alone in the islands for a long time. During their time there, they are faced with a war which is more psychological than physical, a war inside their heads,” Arleen Cuevas, producer of Kalayaan, said.

Usually only one or two, or a maximum of three soldiers are stationed in the islands in the duration of between three to six months. According to Cuevas, they interviewed soldiers who were once posted in the Spratly Islands. The soldiers said being alone there can drive one into madness. Some were even seeing mythological characters and ghosts.

6 years in the making

Kalayaan was conceptualized in 2006 when controversy sparked between countries claiming sovereignty in Spratly Islands when China sent patrol boats in the islands. It was first awarded a funding by the Hubert Bals Foundation of the Rotterdam Film Festival but because of heightened security measures and unavailability of some actors, filming was halted for a time.

When Kalayaan was chosen for the 2012 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, it received additional funding to finish the film and was released internationally in the Warsaw Film Festival.

Popular Thai actor Ananda Everingham played the leading role with Filipino actors including Star Magic hunk Zanjoe Marudo, Luis Alandy and Rocky Salumbides.

“The choice of Anwar Everingham as the lead character emphasized the concept of the film which is, it does not matter whether you are Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Chinese or Filipino. The emotions that a soldier feels in the islands are all the same, longing for human connection, going crazy with boredom and questioning the reasons why you are alone in an island,” said Cuevas on the choice of the Thai actor as lead character.

Everingham, Cuevas and Alix Jr. first met during the Bangkok Film Festival and the Thai actor expressed willingness to do a film together.

Kalayaan was fully supported by the Filipino community in Poland who flocked to the cinemas to watch the film and helped in promoting it to Polish audience.

Meanwhile Dutch film Lilet Never Happened, a film based on the life of a Filipino child prostitute, was also well received during the Warsaw Film Festival. All the screenings were sold out and the film even landed on the number 4 position in the must-watch films during the festival rated by www.regionfun.pl.

“It was like a dream come true. When Director Jacco was telling me that a lot of people liked the film, I couldn’t help but cry, tears of joy because they admired my acting skills. But of course it is more joyful when I have met them in Warsaw,” said lead character, young actress Sandy Talag.

Talag visited the Netherlands to promote Lilet Never Happened in the country. The film is scheduled to be screened in selected cinemas in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, Groningen and Utrecht starting January 10, 2013.

A story of a child prostitute

Lilet Never Happened tells the story of Lilet, an 11-year old girl who was forced into prostitution at such a young age. Director Jacco Groen originally wanted to make a documentary about Lilet but made it into a full-length film when, during his return to the Philippines, he could not find the girl anymore.

Groen hopes to raise awareness about the sad reality of child prostitutes not only in the Philippines but all over the world.

“Immediately after the film people were saying, we also have this kind of problem in Poland. I’m very happy to see that there are a lot of young people watching the film. My film is really made for the younger audience, you need to reach the new generation who will say enough is enough, we cannot accept this anymore in a society that we call civilized,” said Groen.

Dutch actress Johanna Ter Steege played the role of Claire, a foreign social worker who was trying to help Lilet out of prostitution.

“I think everybody who has a chance in life to do something against child abuse should do it. When I was offered the role, I immediately said yes because it came to my life and it means it is a chance to help and do a good thing for these abused children,” said Ter Steege.

Steege also praised the Filipino actors she worked with including seasoned performer John Arcilla and child actor Tim Mabalot.

Lilet Never Happened was also recently selected for the main competition at the 2013 Indian Film Festival.