Critically acclaimed Cinemalaya favorite ‘Edward’ gets nationwide release Oct 2

An overcrowded, hot and stifling hospital is no place for a teenage boy, but Edward has long been stuck in this miserable setting as he is the designated companion of his ailing father.  hat transpires in this boy’s daily life in the public hospital is a story that captured Cinemalaya Film Festival aficionados last August. This October 2, Viva Films gives all moviegoers the chance to get to know “Edward” as well — Graded A by the Cinema Evaluation Board.

Directed and co-written by Young Critics Circle awardee Thop Nazareno (for 2016 Best Feature Film “Kiko Boksingero”), “Edward” stars Louise Abuel in the title role and Ella Cruz as Agnes, also a hospital patient. Cruz showcased a powerful performance, thus earning her this year’s Cinemalaya Best Supporting Actress Award.

Edward treats the hospital premises as his playground. While gallivanting with his friend Renz (played by Elijah Canlas), he sees Agnes in the Emergency Room. In her terrible state, she becomes part of the harmless but naughty game Edward and Renz play — betting on whether a patient will live or die.  

When Agnes moves to the female ward, Edward is drawn to this mysterious beauty who is a bit older than him, so he starts hanging out with her.  Unlike Renz who exposed him to random vices, such as drinking and smoking, Agnes opens his mind to her interesting views in life. Because of her, Edward’s days brighten up. But at night there’s nothing cheerful about sleeping under his father’s hospital bed. And it doesn’t seem like his father is being nursed back to health.  

 “Edward” is a coming-of-age movie which serves as a mirror image of the healthcare system and the government-funded hospitals in the Philippines. Instead of a place where the sick are supposed to feel comfortable, the movie shows how the lack of both medical staff and effective equipment actually adds burden to them and the individuals who watch over them.  

Direk Thop says in an interview that he “makes films that (he himself) would like to watch.” He injects humor in his storytelling because he “doesn’t like melodramatic films that much”  and that he “(aims) for realism, the truth”. According to him, “In reality, even when you’re sad, you don’t spend every minute sulking. Here, I try to see the humor in the character of a teenager—how does a child see the world as a playground?”

*When Louise Abuel came to audition, Direk Thop saw him in the waiting area and knew instantly that he looked perfect for the role. “I was praying during his entire audition that he’d deliver what we were looking for”, he said. True enough, the 15-year-old boy proved that he is meant to play Edward.  Louise was part of the 2011 ABS-CBN TV series 100 Days to Heaven.  

Viva artist Ella Cruz admits that she was hesitant to accept the role of Agnes because the character is *feisty, blunt, and uses cuss words, which is so different from her usual sweet roles. She expressed her gratitude to Boss Vic and Boss Vincent del Rosario for their encouragement, and to Direk Thop and Bb. Joyce Bernal for their trust in her ability to play Agnes.  

With its meaningful narrative and wonderful actors, “Edward” deserves to be seen in the cinemas. Opens on October 2, 2019.

sources of interviews: article by Vince Lamorena
Pep Alerts article by Jojo Gabinete

Sunshine Cruz enjoys first Cinemalaya movie, CEB’s Grade B rating of ‘Malamaya’

“Malamaya,” the sexy romantic film starring Sunshine Cruz as a strong-willed visual artist and Enzo Pineda as an aspiring photographer, received a grade of “B” from the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB). “Malamaya” is currently showing in theaters nationwide.

The film depicts the challenges of an artist as told through the complicated relationship of Sunshine and Enzo’s characters. Produced by Spears Films and ALV Films with Cine Likha Productions, it was one of the entries at the recently concluded 15th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.

In CEB summation, the CEB reviewers complimented the film for being aesthetically pleasing just like the many art works that are featured in scenes. The CEB said, “(It) is a visual artist’s film in more ways than one; its strongest points are the production design and cinematography…”

Lead actress Sunshine Cruz was very pleased when she heard about this news.

In between taping for her regular TV shows and movie promotional guestings, Sunshine found time to pose for a souvenir photo at the lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ main theater, holding Cinemalaya’s iconic “balloons with eyes.”

Sunshine’s beautiful smile and lovely aura in that picture captured what she felt about her Cinemalaya film debut. “Salamat sa napakagandang experience #cinemalaya2019,” she posted on her Facebook account. “Thank you Malamaya team, my directors, Direk Leilani (Chavez) and Direk Danica (Sta. Lucia), to our producers Sir Albert (Almendralejo) and my manager Arnold (Vegafria). Hanggang sa muli.”

The star happily ended her post with an announcement about CEB grade of Malamaya and an invite to her friends and followers to watch her film.

For more information about “Malamaya,” visit ALV Talent Circuit Inc., Spears Activation & PR and Malamaya Film on Facebook.

MOVIE REVIEWS: Cinemalaya Film Festival 2019 (Part 1)

Here’s the first part of our festival report on Cinemalaya 2019, in which we cover Belle Douleur, Edward, John Denver TrendingMalamaya, Tabon and Shorts A. The 15th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival runs from August 7 to 15, 2019 in select Ayala Malls Cinemas and Vista Cinemas nationwide.


Kit Thompson (Josh) and Mylene Dizon (Liz) in Belle Douleur.

The first of the two entries dealing on the burgeoning subject matter of May-December love affairs features a palpable and electric chemistry between Mylene Dizon and Kit Thompson. Like the recent Glorious, it’s filled to the brim with wish fulfillment – gratuitous and torrid love scenes that’s otherwise substantiated with better screenplay and direction. By the way its characters are constructed, it perfectly makes sense for both to latch onto each other. Liz (Mylene Dizon) is a child psychologist in her 40’s who struggles dealing with the passing of her mother, as seen through her heavy attachment to her mom’s antique items. Enter an attractive Josh in his late 20’s who shows an odd fascination for the same stuff. Upon the suggestion of her friends, Liz does something “reckless and irresponsible.” You can tell where the story goes from here. 

Make no mistake, this is not a case of Oedipal complex for Josh. He genuinely wants to have a committed relationship with Liz, the latter even insisting to be the nurturer. Naturally, Liz wants to do her mutual end in the relationship as well, but she’s taken aback each time he accuses her of being too much of a mother figure. Liz might have escaped the stigma of being a single, middle-aged woman but she finds herself trapped into a new one.

The narrative unfolds and more relationship cracks are revealed – there are some things that Liz simply can’t provide. Generational conflict arises and compromises must be made. At which point, Belle Douleur slugs at its pacing with its prolonged honeymoon and frustration phases, none of which are really new and ground-breaking per se. The film could have sacrificed some of its sequences – particularly a subplot involving a friend’s infidelity issue – to reserve time for its rushed ending that should hold up the titular theme “beautiful pain.” 

The conclusion is up for a different discussion – somehow the female empowerment message feels an odd fit to Liz’s actions towards the end. Belle Douleur is a sentimental and heartfelt love affair that can either get too saccharine or exasperating for some viewer’s tastes. Regardless, the film hooks your attention, much owing to Dizon’s impeccable and subdued performance.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Joji V. Alonso and written by Therese Cayaba, ‘Belle Douleur’ stars Mylene Dizon, Kit Thompson, Marlon Rivera, Jenny Jamora and Hannah Ledesma. 98 minutes. R-13.


Ella Cruz and Louise Abuel in Edward.

Edward opens with an impressive one-shot sequence that lays out the chaotic workings of a public hospital – the understaffed crew, the lack of sufficient equipment and facilities, the depressing resuscitation performed in hallway, etc. Such hyper-realism foreshadows the harsh awakening that this sullen place holds store for the titular young lad, charmingly played by Louise Abuel. Left by his half-brother, he is tasked with taking care of his ill father – actor Dido De La Paz whose labored breathing and violent coughs alone warrant a supporting actor nomination. Edward quickly accustoms himself to the environment – when not tending to his father or serving as an errand boy, he would goof around with his best friend Renz (Elijah Canlas) as they use wheelchairs for thrill rides and bet on critically-ill patients. 

I actually came here expecting more of the father and son dynamic to be fleshed out – as what director Thop Nazareno deftly did in Kiko Boksingero. Halfway through, however, the film’s romcom aspects become more prominent as Edward befriends and falls for a girl patient named Agnes (Ella Cruz). Personally, the film could have enriched its coming of age arc more had the focus is on the paternal relationship. But in here, Edward often neglects his duties to his estranged father. Perhaps it speaks to the general immaturity of youth, of how sometimes teens prioritize romantic endeavors over family emergencies. Hence, the film lacks a better resolution for Edward and his father – or maybe that’s just how life is, sometimes you don’t get it. 

The film mostly plays on a comical tone largely helped by the bleak humor generated by its supporting cast and cheery musical scoring. But never underestimate the darker tones beneath, because once they kick in, the effect is poignant and heartbreaking. As the blow by blow tragic events happen, poor Edward finds himself worn out from the roller-coaster of emotions he experienced within his short stay in the hospital. Edward is a liberation from the cusp of innocence.

With its documentary-like sensibilities, the film also serves as a somber commentary where patients die because of the inept healthcare system. It can be a helpless and maddening experience to know that we’re living in that type of reality. After all, there’s an ‘Edward’ in all of us.

4 out of 5 stars

Directed by Thop Nazareno and written by John Paul Bedia and Thop Nazareno, ‘Edward’ stars Louise Abuel, Dido dela Paz, Elijah Canlas, Manuel Chua and Ella Cruz. 90 minutes. R-13.


Meryll Soriano and Jansen Magpusao in John Denver Trending.

If there’s an entry here that speaks to the heart of a social media driven generation today, it’s definitely John Denver Trending. From cyber-bullying, proliferation of fake news, bandwagon mentality, uprise of keyboard warriors and a self-righteous society mostly motivated by emotions and not reasons – the film bares it all. Juxtaposed with meaningful symbolism of superstitions and rituals, director/writer Arden Rod Condez makes an effort not to deliver heavy handed commentaries.

In it, John Denver Cabungcal (a promising debut by Jansen Magpusao) gets caught on video beating up a classmate. The latter’s friend uploads the said clip on Facebook with claims that John stole his iPad and acted hostile upon confrontation. What the netizens don’t see is that he’s innocent and he actually just fought back to get his bag. The film also mines much empathy in Meryll Soriano’s effective portrayal of John’s strong-willed mother who does her best to acquit his son from the accusations.

There might be some reservations towards the film’s nihilistic conclusion but I personally think that the screenplay’s build up satisfies the film’s bold choices. Overall, John Denver Trending is a very powerful and humbling film that I can wholeheartedly champion for everyone to see.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Directed and written by Arden Rod Condez, ‘John Denver Trending’ stars Jansen Magpusao, Meryll Soriano, Glenn Mas, Sammy Rubido, Vince Philip Alegre, Jofranz Ambubuyog and Christian Alarcon. 96 minutes. PG.


Enzo Pineda and Sunshine Cruz in Malamaya.

Effectively works as a double feature with Belle Douleur, Malamaya leaves you pondering with its themes on solitary, generational gap beliefs, artistic schools of thought and many other things. Directors Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez leaves plenty of room for dissection. In a way, it’s like looking at an art exhibit. You can look at the film in multiple angles, some might find it a pretentious feminist film while some may say it’s worthy of viewing. I fall into a latter category, with few reservations.

Much of my fascination falls on a temperemental and unaplogetic painter Nora who refuses to take crap from anyone. This girl can detect BS from a mile away. She may not be always right but she makes sure that she stands firm with her opinion. She takes an arrogant young photography hobbyist named Migs (Enzo Pineda) under her wing and having the same passion for art, steamy love scenes are bound to fly. It feels rote and familar by now but given that we are in for a modest level of crazy character introspection, Malamaya takes an orthodox and more artful approach than Belle Douleur. Just to be clear, Nora does not need men saving her. She can use them for her benefit but she never bows down to their whims.

It feels refreshing to see Sunshine Cruz act again as this film reminds us of her capabilities as an actress. Malamaya can be burdened by characterization flaws to fully deliver a concrete message but perhaps this is just a reflection of the captivating and erratic emotional and mental state of artists. Elsewhere, the film’s aesthetic visuals and production values are pleasing to the eye. It never hurts for a second viewing.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez, written by Leilani Chavez and Liberty Trinidad, ‘Malamaya’ stars Enzo Pineda, Sunshine Cruz, Raymond Bagatsing and Bernadette Allyson. 80 minutes. R-13.


Christopher Roxas in Tabon.

While Tabon‘s story clearly has the potential for a mystery/crime thriller, the film is completely let down by its misguided direction, dry screenplay and bland production design. Christopher Roxas (I even forgot his character’s name) plays a thinly-written protagonist that runs around the narrative asking the same questions over and over again, wearing the exact same face of confusion that the viewers bear.

The problem is that Xian Lim, in his directorial debut, seals his lips from the film’s mystery for so long. Not enough breadcrumbs are offered to lead the way or let alone create a proper misdirection. The result is a horror mystery that feels uneventful, dragging and bewildering. Not to mention, a drastic tonal shift involving the use of animation occurs halfway – by then, it’s hard to take what happens next seriously. Plot points are just lost in translation, just like how I can’t fathom the relevance of the film’s title.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Directed by Xian Lim and written by Xian Lim and Eseng Cruz, ‘Tabon’ stars Christopher Roxas, Ynna Asistio, Dexter Doria, Bapbap Reyes, Menggie Cobarrubias, Leon Miguel, Benjie Felipe, Lao Rodriguez and Richard Manabat. 90 minutes. PG.


GATILYO (Trigger) has sincere intentions to shed light on PTSD and the lasting effects of war but unfortunately, it plays more as a PSA with nothing really original to latch onto your heartstrings. 2.5/5

Directed by and co-written by Harold Lance Pialda, ‘Gatilyo’ stars Rocky Salumbides, Liya Sarmiento, Bon Andrew Lentejas and Ruby “Ube Lola” Daleon. 19 minutes. PG.

HEIST SCHOOL is an easy crowd-pleaser that garners the biggest laughs in the bunch. The clever screenplay and comedic beats are well-executed. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this. 4/5

Directed and co-written by Julius Renomeron Jr., ‘Heist School’ stars Jemuel Cedrick Satumba, Bryan Bacalso, Ella Mae Libre, Son De Vera, Teri Lacayanga, Brylle Parzuelo and Kevin Ramos. 17 minutes. PG.

SA GABING TANGING LIWANAG AY PANINIWALA (Belief as the Light in Darkness) is another mystery horror that leaves you confused with its incoherent sequencing rather than investing at a solid character development that should bring out the profound horror underneath. 2/5

Directed and written by Francis Guillermo, ‘Sa Gabing Tanging Liwanag ay Paniniwala’ stars Soliman Cruz, Dylan Ray Talon, Sheryll Ceasico and Stefanoni Nunag. 15 minutes. PG.

DISCONNECTION NOTICE is a heartwarming mundane tale of brothers living under the same roof. It’s sensational cinematography really does help in fleshing out the disposition of its characters. 4.5/5

Directed and written by Glenn Lowell Averia, ‘Disconnection Notice’ stars Jude Matthew Servilla and John Vincent Servilla. 19 minutes. PG.

‘WAG MO ‘KONG KAUSAPIN (Please Stop Talking) feels deeply personal and haunting to begin with. It’s a unique and harrowing manifestation of depression and suppressed ghosts from past. 5/5

Directed and written by Josef Gacutan, ‘Wag Mo ‘Kong Kausapin’ stars Rener Concepcion, Junjun Quintana, Karen Romualdez and Vincent Pajara. 14 minutes. GA.

Stay tuned for the second part of our coverage!

WINNERS: Cinemalaya Film Festival 2019

The 15th edition of Cinemalaya: Philippine Independent Film Festival closed on Sunday, August 11, with the annual awards night held at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

The movie “John Denver Trending” won Best Picture for the full-length category this year. Its 14-year-old titular actor, Jansen Magpusao, won the Best Actor award for his first acting stint. Ruby Ruiz, on the other hand, won the Best Actress award for “Iska”—her first lead role.

Here is the full list of #Cinemalaya2019 winners:

Best Film (Full-Length): “John Denver Trending” by Arden Rod Condez
Best Film (Shorts): “Wag Mo Akong Kausapin” by Josef Dielle Gacutan
Best Director (Full-Length): Eduardo Roy Jr. for “F!*@bois”
Best Director (Shorts): Don Senoc for “Sa Among Agwat”

NETPAC Award (Full-Length): “John Denver Trending” by Arden Rod Condez
NETPAC Award (Shorts): “Disconnection Notice” by Glenn Lowell Averia
Special Mention Citation (Shorts): “Sa Among Agwat” by Don Senoc
Special Jury Award (Full-Length): “Edward” by Thop Nazareno
Special Jury Award (Shorts): “Tembong” by Shaira Advincula

Best Actress: Ruby Ruiz for “Iska”
Best Actor: Jansen Magpusao for “John Denver Trending”
Best Supporting Actress: Ella Cruz for “Edward”
Best Supporting Actor: Ricky Davao for “F!*@bois”

Best Screenplay (Full-Length): Mary Rose Colindres for “Iska”
Best Screenplay (Shorts): Gilb Baldoza for “Kontrolado ni Girly and Buhay Niya” 

‪Special Mention for Subject Matter:‬ “Hele ng Maharlika”‬ (Shorts)
Best Cinematography: “John Denver Trending” – Rommel Sales
Best Editing: “John Denver Trending” – Benjo Ferrer III
Best Original Musical Score: “John Denver Trending” – Len Calvo
Best Production Design: “Edward” – Alvin Francisco 
Best Sound Design: “Iska” – Immanuel Varona

Audience Choice (Full-Length): “Belle Douleur”
Audience Choice (Shorts): “Heist School”

This year’s Cinemalaya film festival is extended until August 15, Friday, at participating Ayala Malls Cinemas and Vista Cinemas nationwide.

Hotter poster, steamier trailers for ‘Malamaya’ released

As the sexy romantic film Malamaya makes its world premiere at the 15th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival which runs from August 3 to 13, and commences theatrical run on August 14, its filmmakers have released a new poster and a set of new teaser trailers. In the new poster and trailers, film’s stars Sunshine Cruz and Enzo Pineda bare more to reveal more of the movie’s themes of desire and art.

Malamaya tells the story of established visual artist Nora Simeon (played by Sunshine) whose lost passion is reignited when she meets aspiring photographer Migs (played by Enzo). So enamored with her younger lover, Nora fails to notice how he invades her space and her senses, and eventually, her art and her body.

The new poster shows the stars unclothed and in a seemingly post-lovemaking scenario; Nora is lying on her stomach, smoking a cigarette while Migs’ head is on Nora’s back. Both look like they are contemplating on the future of their relationship.

Meanwhile, posted on the Malamaya Film Facebook page are three teaser trailers intriguingly entitled, “Anger,” “Desire,” and “Pride.”

“Anger” shows Nora inviting Migs to have sex, and then Migs asking Nora if he heard her correctly.

“Desire,” which has an original song sung by Bea Barlaan as background, has Nora talking about her art. The clip ends with a piqued Migs responding by kissing and caressing Nora, as if asking for another round of lovemaking.

The third teaser trailer, “Pride,” shows the couple in intimate moments in the car, in the bedroom, and in Nora’s studio. This teaser is capped by an accusatory statement from Nora’s friend, Alice (played by Bernadette Allyson). Alice ruins Nora’s inspired mood by asking if her latest creation was based on someone else’s work.

The directors, Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez, describe that the relationship of Migs and Nora as fiery and unpredictable. “They fall in and out of love. They battle for control. They steal each other’s art.”

Malamaya also stars Raymond Bagatsing in a special role. The movie is produced by Spears Films and ALV Films with Cine Likha Productions. For updates, check out the Facebook pages of Malamaya Film, Spears Activation & PR, and ALV Talent Circuit Inc.

Kuya Bodjie Pascua, child star Miel Espinoza whip up miracles in multi-awarded ‘Pan de Salawal’

An inspiring motion picture starring a cast led by a veteran actor and a fast-rising child actress became one of the most notable films of last year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. And now audiences can watch it in movie theaters nationwide beginning July 24, 2019!

Pan de Salawal is a heartwarming and hilarious tale starring celebrated actor Bodjie Pascua as Sal, a baker with a kidney problem, and young sensation Miel Espinoza as Aguy, a wandering kid with healing powers. Playing important are: Soliman Cruz, Madeleine Nicolas, Ruby Ruiz, Anna Luna, Felix Roco, JM Salvado, Ian Lomongo, Lorenzo Aguila, who make up the cast of characters whose lives are touched by Aguy. The film is the first full-length feature of writer/director Che Espiritu. It is produced by US-based CineFocus Productions in association with Urbanflix Philippines. 

To children growing up in the 1990s, Bodjie Pascua is a familiar face; they knew him as the cheerful and energetic Kuya Bodjie in the children’s show Batibot. As the pessimistic and weakly Sal, Kuya Bodjie does a 180-degree turn to tug at the hearts of viewers. His moving portrayal earned for him a Best Actor nod in the Gawad Tanglaw Awards. 

Miel, as Aguy meanwhile, is the perfect foil to the dour Sal. As Che remarks, “Miel and Kuya Bodjie create a lasting and endearing chemistry as Aguy and Sal.”

Miel as Aguy.

Only seven years old when she made Pan de Salawal, Miel felt right at home with her more experienced co-stars. Her spunky performance earned for her a Special Jury Prize for Acting at the 14th Cinemalaya Film Festival, as well as a Best Child Actor nomination from the PMPC Star Awards for Movies, who also nominated the entire Pan de Salawal cast for Best Acting Ensemble. Pan de Salawal also opened doors for Miel to be cast in ABS-CBN teleseryes, and in other films such as the rom-com Elise and the upcoming zombie flick, Block Z.

One could say that Pan de Salawal has become a gift to those who are part of it and it is their gift to the audience. 

For the cast, their involvement is their contribution to the health advocacy that is part of the film’s message. 

For CineFocus producers Herb Kimble and Matthew Godbey, it is a gesture of gratitude. Herb said in a previous interview, “I have committed to making films in the Philippines as a way of saying thank you to my fellow Filipino friends who have helped me gain success as a BPO entrepreneur in the Philippines.” 

‘Pan De Salawal’ writer-director Che Espiritu.

For writer-director Che, it is her tribute to the fantasy genre of the 90s that she grew up with. “Classic family-oriented and fantasy films like Magic Temple and Wansapanataym, The Movie,inspired me to dream… I hope Pan de Salawal can open doors to reviving this genre that sparked our imagination.” 

For more information about Pan de Salawal, follow its movie page on Facebook and like the Solar Pictures Facebook page.

Miel and Kuya Bodjie in ‘Pan De Salawal.’

Spears Films presents two competition films at Cinemalaya 2019

The Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2019 to be held from August 2 to 13 is doubly special for Albert Almendralejo’s Spears Films because the company is presenting two films.

Last year, Albert, a former GMA 7 executive-turned-filmmaker was so happy that his directorial debut—the documentary “Journeyman Finds Home: The Simone Rota Story”—was shown in exhibition at Cinemalaya.

Albert is a big fan of the festival. When it is Cinemalaya week, he clears his busy schedule so that he can watch the films at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Last year was memorable because he attended the prestigious indie filmfest as a producer-director and not just as a member of the audience. “Journeyman Finds Home,” the story of Italian Filipino footballer Simone Rota’s search for his biological mother, is Almendralejo’s collaboration with director Maricel Cariaga.

For the Cinemalaya 2019 competition, Spears Films is fielding the drama about art and love entitled “Malamaya,” and the family picture, “Children of the River.”

The team of “Malamaya”: director/co-writer Leilani Chavez, actors Enzo Pineda and Sunshine Cruz, director Danica Sta. Lucia and producer Albert Almendralejo. Photo courtesy of Erickson Dela Cruz.

“Malamaya,” is a romance that Spears Films is co-producing with ALV Productions and Cine Likha Productions. It features Sunshine Cruz as a seasoned visual artist who reignites her lost passion with an aspiring photographer played by Enzo Pineda. Getting in the way of their romance is a potter played by Raymond Bagatsing. “Malamaya” is directed by Danica Sta. Lucia and Leilani Chavez.

“Children of the River,” meanwhile, is Spears’ venture with Luna Studios and GMA Network Films. This movie written and directed by Maricel Cariaga tells the tale of three young friends whose fathers have gone off to war and are now left with the responsibility for caring for their respective families.  In the cast are: Cinemalaya 2017 Best Actor Noel Comia Jr., Juancho Trivino, Rich Asuncion, with the special participation of Urian Best Actor Jay Manalo.

Spears Films’ Albert Almendralejo with “Children of the River” actors Jay Manalo, Rich Asuncion, and Noel Comia, Jr., and writer-director Maricel Cariaga. Photo courtesy of Erickson Dela Cruz.

Albert says, “While ‘Malamaya’ is a romance in a cosmopolitan setting and ‘Children of the River’ is an idyllic story in the province of Quirino, both are coming-of-age stories of persons rising above their weaknesses. I was drawn to produce these films because both show the process of maturity.”

For Albert, Cinemalaya 2019 is a homecoming of sorts. He says, “It’s full cycle for me because the first film I produced, Ralston Jover’s directorial debut, ‘Bakal Boys,’ won the NETPAC Prize in the 2009 Cinemalaya. It feels great to be part of this significant festival.”

Spears Films also produced “Tumbang Preso,” a drama thriller on human trafficking directed by Kip Oebanda; and the documentary about the training of young Filipino footballers in the UK entitled “Little Azkals” by Babyruth Villarama, and “Pangarap Kong World Cup,” a two-part docu series that chronicles the preparation of the Azkals Philippine Men’s National Football Team. “These are stories about the youth and how to improve their well-being,” says Albert.

For updates about Spears Films/Spears Activation and PR, visit Spears Activation & PR on Facebook and

New cut of ‘Liway’ to screen in cinemas nationwide

A new cut of “Liway” will be presented to viewers when it commences its nationwide run on October 10. Audiences have been awaiting this theatrical release ever since the movie premiered at the Cinemalaya Film Festival where it emerged as the highest-grossing film of the filmfest’s 14-year history.

Based on director Kip Oebanda’s childhood experiences, it stars Glaiza de Castro as Liway/Inday, a young mom raising her child as normal as possible in a makeshift prison camp for dissidents during Martial Law. Using stories and songs, she tries to find joy even in their difficult life. As the reality of the outside world starts creeping into the prison, she must confront the difficult reality that the best interest of the child might be living outside the prison camp, away from her. It is ultimately a story of mother’s great love for her son and the incorruptible light of truth amid dark hopelessness.

Excellent reviews and strong word-of-mouth have catapulted “Liway” to be the Martial Law film of this generation. Aside from being the Cinemalaya 2018 Audience Choice, it also won Special Jury Commendation and Special Jury Citation for child actor Kenken Nuyad. At its full-house Cinemalaya gala night, “Liway” received more than seven minutes of thunderous applause.

Succeeding screenings continue to be SRO events—including the most recent one held at the University of the Philippines Film Center last September 21 to commemorate the 46th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law.

The film also features inspired performances by Dominic Roco, Soliman Cruz, Joel Saracho, Nico Antonio, Sue Prado, Paolo O’hara, Upeng Galang-Fernandez, Vance Larena, and Khalil Ramos in a very special role. Child actor Kenken Nuyad portrays Inday’s son, Dakip. The screenplay is written by Kip Oebanda and Zig Dulay. The movie is produced by VY/AC Productions and Exquisite Aspect Ventures.

The theatrical version to be unveiled on October 10 includes elements not seen at prior previews. “We wanted to enhance the experience of the moviegoer as we go nationwide,” explained writer-director Kip Oebanda. “Thus, those who have seen ‘Liway’ have a reason to watch it again, and those who have not seen our movie yet have more reason to do so,” added producer Alemberg Ang.

In the light of discussion about the crucial period in Philippine history, “Liway” seeks to be a testimony to the experiences of Martial Law prisoners. Oebanda declared at the UP screening, “The point of the film is to show that we are true, that our stories and narrative are real.”

One cannot help but be moved by the emotional tale of Liway and her family. As writer/director and professor Jose Javier Reyes shared on Facebook, “’Liway’ is an affecting piece celebrating the personal journey of Kip Oebanda that bears much importance at a time when national memories are forgotten…”

Even Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen—who watched “Liway” during its Cinemalaya run—affirmed the film’s significance. He said in a tweet, “’Liway’ is a story that deserved to be retold: the sacrifices endured if we live with compassion. It portrays the cost of genuine freedom as much as we can truly pass on to our children.”

Join the discussion; catch “Liway” when it opens in theaters nationwide on October 10. Interested parties may organize block screenings; for more information, please visit the Liway Facebook page.

Cinemalaya’s highest-grossing film, ‘Liway,’ gets nationwide release

After a very successful premiere at the 2018 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, the film “Liway” begins its commercial run in cinemas across the country on October 10. Quantum Films is the distributor of this stirring motion picture. The story, which is set during Martial Law, is about a young mother who uses storytelling to protect her young son from the painful realities of prison life.

The movie is based on director Kip Oebanda’s experiences as he was growing up inside the prison camp where his parents were detained. It features rousing performances by Glaiza de Castro as Inday/Kumander Liway, Dominic Roco, Soliman Cruz, Joel Saracho, Nico Antonio, Sue Prado, Paolo O’hara, Ebong Joson, Gerry Cornejo, Diana Alferez, Julie Bautista, Pau Benitez, Liway Gabo, She Maala, Renante Bustamante, with Vance Larena, Upeng Galang-Fernandez, and Khalil Ramos in a very special role. Child actor Kenken Nuyad plays Inday’s son, Dakip. The screenplay is written by Kip Oebanda and Zig Dulay. The movie is produced by VY/AC Productions and Exquisite Aspect Ventures.

“My childhood memories were full of laughter and love coupled with the daily routines of prison life,” Oebanda writes in his director’s notes. “Within the barb wired walls and the cramped, small room, I learned to read, write and speak.” Although the young Kip was thrown into a place that was certainly unfit for a child, he learned to cope. Oebanda says, “My parents, to the best of their ability, tried to keep me healthy and happy. By all accounts and in the small flashes of my memory, it was a happy childhood.”

“Liway” presents through the poignant relationship of mother and child, the struggles of those who fought for freedom during Martial Law. “Beyond a deeply personal story of people who refuse to remain as victims, it brings the audience to the emotional journey and sacrifices that freedom requires,” Oebanda elaborates.

Lead actress Glaiza de Castro hopes that the film’s subject and message can motivate the youth to examine the Martial Law period. She says, “(Sana) magiging kahalo na ng mga gagawin natin sa hinaharap. Magigiging inspirasyon… ugat ng diskusyon.” Producer Alemberg Ang affirms, “To preserve the lessons of the past, we must tap both the hearts and minds, particularly of the younger generations who may not have lived through the era.”

The reaction so far has been nothing short of “electrifying.” Thanks to good reviews and strong word-of-mouth, “Liway” is turning out to be the Martial Law movie of this generation. The story truly resonates with the people. Throughout the Cinemalaya 2018 festival, “Liway” played to SRO audiences wherever it was shown, eventually becoming the Audience Choice winner AND the highest-grossing Cinemalaya film in the festival’s 14-year history. At almost every screening, those who watched were stirred to tears, standing ovations, and even patriotic chanting.

So don’t be left out. Find out why everyone is raving about “Liway.” Catch it when it opens in theaters nationwide on October 10. Interested parties may organize block screenings; for more information, please visit the Liway Facebook page.

MOVIE REVIEWS: Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2018 (Part 2)

Here’s the second part of our festival report on Cinemalaya 2018 in which we cover Distance, Kuya Wes, Pan De SalawalSchool Service, The Lookout and Shorts B. The 14th edition of Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival runs from August 3 to 12 at Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and select cinemas in Metro Manila.

READ MORE: Guide to Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival 2018


Nonie Buencamino (Anton) and Iza Calzado (Liza) in ‘Distance.’ Photo via Cinemalaya.

Melancholy has always been a common pervading theme in Cinemalaya and this year, Percival Intalan’s Distance has arguably the smoothest delivery of that emotion. Unlike most conventional family dramas portrayed in cinema, the film withholds on revealing the history of conflict right away. Instead, it sets up the viewers to an awkward game of nuances and unspoken emotions, letting the feelings simmer in preparation to its cathartic third act. Such style works well in the context of the story: Liza (Iza Calzado) is an estranged mother and wife, who, at the request of her ex-husband (Nonie Buencamino), returns to a home that she left five years ago. She attempts mending fences with her two daughters (Therese Malvar and Alessandra Malonzo) but she does it by acting like nothing has happened. It does not help that the father lets her back into their lives unannounced, both parties forced to handle a tricky situation.

The film emotionally thrives by avoiding the elephant in the room. Take this scene for example, Liza’s family eats at a dining table while suppressing years of anger and disappointment. Calculating every move, they think of a way how to maneuver a conversation without getting into the touchy subject. They abide by a “don’t ask, don’t tell” philosophy and that’s perfectly understandable. As much as its moving to watch a character burst into tears like Bea Alonzo in her infamous scene in Four Sisters and a Wedding, this seldom happen in real life. People don’t get their lines right, people don’t find the right words to say at the right time. Most of them are content shoving unaddressed issues right under the rug in the fear of getting rejected or reopening old wounds. Distance understands this reality and chooses to operate with a restrained screenplay.

The film takes its time to build the tension, deftly injecting flashbacks to slowly unveil the truth. Yet, it doesn’t feel too dragging. Hence, when it gets to its single take confrontational climax, the moment feels earnest and grounded. The script, the direction and the camerawork all come together. The pathos subdued inside the characters’ cautious facades begin to fully manifest. Among its talented cast, the star that shines the brightest in this pivotal moment is Malvar. She delivers a performance that outlasts both Calzado and Buencamino. Next thing I know, manly tears started to well up in my eyes.

Distance ends before you even realize it, the film reminding you that you’re just a distant observer in this slice of life. Come to think of it, this is just a simple story a woman asking for her family’s forgiveness. Given to less capable hands, this will come out as a cheap soap opera. But with a quiet execution that speaks to the heart, this becomes a dark horse in the competition.

Directed by Perci Intalan, written by Keavy Eunice Vicente
Cast: Iza Calzado, Nonie Buencamino, Therese Malvar, Alessandra Malonzo, Adrianna So, Max Eigenmann, Lhian Khey Gimeno, Elia Maria Norelle Ilano, Erlinda Villalobos, Billy Seño, Tanya Gomez, Cherry Malvar, Myla Monido, Mailes Kanapi, Matt Daclan, Timothy Castillo
Run Time: 100 minutes

4.5 out of 5 stars


Ogie Alcasid in ‘Kuya Wes.’ Photo via Cinemalaya.

In James Robin Mayo’s Kuya Wes, a timid remittance clerk (Ogie Alcasid as the titular character) falls head over heels for his monthly-visiting, mother of two customer Erika (Ina Raymundo), so bad that he starts shelling out his personal money when she suffers a misfortune. To dismiss the film as just as an endearing romcom will be a disservice to its more important cause. It actually serves as a tribute to the middlemen – the taken for granted, unsung heroes who are often seen as a means to an end. You see, Wes is a giving tree. Apart from the customers who are depending on his service, he supports his brother Raf (Alex Medina) and his family. However, by being the bringer of joy all the time, he often gets taken advantage of. He will soon realize that in this life, kindness doesn’t always beget kindness.

Kuya Wes has an array of quirky characters to contribute to the gags all throughout, with Moi Bien as Wes’ loyal and feisty coworker being the standout. But at the core of it is a lonely man who only draws excitement in his unremarkable life when his crush visits him once a month. Such ill-advised infatuation is only a representative of his general desire to be noticed and appreciated by the people around him. It is very relatable and the thoughtful production design accentuates this by contrasting Wes’ brightly-lit office against his dimly-lit apartment, signifying the emptiness he feels at the end of the day.

As Wes undergoes through character development, the deceptive comedy takes a darker turn by the third act. Its vague ending could have used more arc redemption and Erika’s character, no matter how magnetic Raymundo’s presence is, ultimately feels one-dimensional. But overall, the film is very watchable, benefiting mostly from Alcasid’s firm grasp of his character, a sharp editing and a soundtrack courtesy of Johnoy Danao and Shirebound & Busking. Kuya Wes is a character study that deserves to seen and understood.

Directed by James Robin Mayo, written by Denise O’Hara and Heber O’Hara
Cast: Ogie Alcasid, Ina Raymundo, Moi Bien, Alex Medina, Karen Gaerlan, Nestro Abrogena, Star Orjaliza, Rubi Rubi, Edmund Santiago, Gerhard Acao, Raqs Regalado, Sir Rener Korikz A. Concepcion, Timothy Mendoza, Erika Clemente & Trisha Melocotones
Run Time: 90 minutes

4 out of 5 stars


Miel Espinosa (Aguy) and Bodjie Pascua (Sal) in ‘Pan De Salawal.’ Photo via Cinemalaya.

Francesca Espiritu’s debut film Pan De Salawal kicks off by showing snippets of people living in a small community near Manila railroad. There’s a former beauty queen (Madeleine Nicolas) who suffers from a persistent cough, a barber (Lorenzo Aguila) who can’t function well because of hand spasms, a meat vendor (Soliman Cruz) who contracts a breast tumor, his shy son (Dominic Roco) who harbors a secret, an asthmatic drug store clerk (Anna Luna) along with her paralyzed mother (Ruby Ruiz), and at its center is Salvador (Bodjie Pascua), a lonely baker who’s plagued by a chronic kidney disease. Their storylines seems disparate at this point but they will eventually come together when a wandering scavenger girl named Aguy (Miel Espinosa) visits their town and starts performing miracles.

It’s no coincidence that her name is a Visayan term for “aray” or “ouch.” Aguy possesses healing powers and administers it by inflicting physical pain to her patients. In case it’s not clear, her healing methods is the writer’s subtle way of saying that, for you to alleviate the pain, you must recognize its existence first. “Pain comes before healing,” so to speak. The film does not only focus on physical illnesses but there are plenty of emotional pains shown here as well: loneliness, frustration, longing, etc. Aguy, as the beacon of hope, immediately becomes an invaluable member to the community. Good things come in small (and dirty) packages, don’t they? There’s charm and maturity to Espinosa’s performance that makes her hold the film together.

I’d like to fancy this film as a fusion of Wansapanataym (as its magic caters to a general audience, except it has mature themes for adults too) and Home Along Da Riles (obviously due to the neighborhood’s proximity to a railroad and because it’s big, tight-knit family reels you in to its sense of belongingness). Poverty is often exploited by films when it comes to this type of situation, so it’s refreshing to see it aestheticized here. Much like Aguy who wears an underwear on her head, the film embraces its absurdist fantasy/comedy concept and that’s what makes it easily stand out among the competition. It’s not perfect – there’s little development when it comes to Sal and Aguy’s friendship and the supporting characters are thinly-written, but Pan De Salawal remains to be a warm and fuzzy film that hits all the emotions needed to connect to a wider audience. If this can’t bring happy heartbeats and “shine” to your eyes, then you must be a grump.

Written and directed by Anna Francesca Espiritu
Cast: Bodjie Pascua, Miel Espinosa, Madeleine Nicolas, Anna Luna, Felix Roco, Soliman Cruz, Ian Lomongo, Ruby Ruiz, JM Salvado & Lorenzo Aguila
Run time: 100 minutes

4 out of 5 stars


Celine Juan (Maya) and Ai Ai delas Alas (Nanay Rita) in ‘School Service.’ Photovia Cinemalaya.

Louie Ignacio’s School Service is a socio-realist drama that immerses its viewers to the proliferating beggar syndicate crime preying on children. Maya (Celine Juan), a kidnapped girl from province, serves as our entry point of view to this scheme. We quickly learn that ‘Nay Rita (Ai Ai delas Alas), a wheelchair bound woman who pretends to be disabled, is the ringleader of the operations. The “school service” is used to transport the kids from one location to another where they proceed doing their own business – beg, steal, deceive, offer sexual services, etc.

There are no overlords involved in this story and the scope remains to be on a street-level. Hence, there’s nothing new here that recent superior poverty films like Eduardo Roy’s Pamilya Ordinaryo or Ralston Jover’s Hamog has not yet shown. Rita is the most interesting character and the story could provide fresh insights by letting her deal with the bigger players of the syndicate. But the film decides to split the attention between her, his brother (Joel Lamangan) who deals with an impatient boyfriend (Kevin Sagra) and Maya who constantly finds a way to sneak away from them. They are all underserved by an abrupt ending that lacks to be definitive, a proof that the story has taken a loose path right from the very start.

Delas Alas is good here – she deftly handles emotions of despair, frustration, subdued wrath, etc. Even if the film gives little exploration of her backstory, there’s gravitas to her performance. It’s only an affirmation to the unpopular opinion that she’s acts better in dramatic than comedic roles. The other thespic forces like Lamangan and Therese Malvar prove their place in this generation too. The same can be said for the rest of the child ensemble. That being said, this film will be mostly remembered for the performances.

School Service is satisfied in dipping on a surface level, it ends up purely being an exposition of familiar tropes. Without a solid plot that fully paints the humanity of these street children, it just feels exploitative.

Directed by Luisito Lagdameo Ignacio, written by Onay Sales
Cast: Ai-Ai delas Alas, Joel Lamangan, Celine Juan, Therese Malvar, Felixia Dizon, Joe Gruta, Kenken Nuyad, Kevin Sagra, Santino Oquendo & Ace Café
Run time: 95 minutes

2.5 out of 5 stars


Andres Vasquez (Lester) in ‘The Lookout.’ Photo via Cinemalaya.

Every year, Cinemalaya is notorious for having one entry that is unintentionally bad. For festival aficionados out there, you might have already seen it yourself or heard it from the grapevine – Afi Africa’s The Lookout sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a revenge story of Lester Quiambao (Andres Vazquez), a gay hired killer who’s been a victim of child-trafficking in the past. He seeks retribution to all the persons who have wronged him. There are other subplots too involving the police force, but discussing them will be a futile exercise. Anyway, this is a very painful story that demands our empathy and tears. Unfortunately, it gets laughs instead.

Five minutes getting into this film, I already realized that the best way I can get the most out of this is to laugh along the audience. But even that proves to be a tough task. For the most part, my facial muscles are stuck in a limbo between feeling ‘hilarious’ and feeling ‘cringey’. Lester is a gay with a high libido for the sole purpose of parading gratuitous sex scenes with little payoff to the overall plot. The film clearly has important messages to tell with all the forced philosophical talks going on, but it seems to be more interested in displaying naked bodies, amassing all the “bomba” elements it needs to be part of the edgy cinema.

There are a lot of artistic choices that don’t work – weird camera angles, poor production designs, annoying flashback effects that takes you out of it, etc. But the biggest offender of all is the screenplay which features wildly inconsistent characters, unintended gags and cringey dialogues. The most flinching one that I can pull out of my head is this, “Magkaiba ang ‘I love you’ at ang ‘Mahal kita.’ Ang ‘I love you’ galing sa puso. Ang ‘Mahal kita’ galing sa puso tagos sa kaluluwa.” I hereby rest my case.

It’s a shame because Yayo Aguila does a fine job here. Her level of acting, unmatched by any of the cast, makes it feel like she belongs to an entirely different movie. By the third act, all logic and common sense jump out of the window in favor of concocting a mind-twisting, convoluted plot. Frankly, I was no longer invested and I just wanted it to be over with.

It won’t take a genius to tell that The Lookout is a rushed project because it shows. The story keeps on inorganically evolving every turn, as if the script is revised during production. The output ends up dull, confusing and devoid of any genuine filmmaking. The verdict: 1 star for Yayo Aguila, plus half a star for the laughs, because I’m not a heartless af.

Written and directed by Afi Africa
Cast: Yayo Aguila, Rez Cortez, Efren Reyes, Alvin Fortuna, Jeffrey Santos, Benedict Campos, Aries Go, Lharby Policarpio, Jemina Sy, Jay Garcia, Elle Ramirez, Andres Vazquez, Nourish Icon Lapuz, Xenia Barrameda, Dennis Coronel Macalintal, Ahwel Paz & Mon Gualvez
Run time: 105 minutes

1.5 out of 5 stars


Still shots from ‘Shorts B.’ Photo via Cinemalaya.

Jav Velasco’s ‘You, Me and Mr. Wiggles’ is a single-take overhead shot of a couple trying to overcome erectile dysfunction in bed. I’m still not entirely sold with the necessity of its frontal nudity but the direction is impressive with this one. Rating: 3.5/5

Directed by Jav Velasco, written by Denise O’Hara and Jav Velasco
Cast: Kiko Matos Elora Espano
Run time: 19 minutes

Keith Deligero’s ‘Babylonis a local assassination plot that involves time travel. Erratic, absurd but as a collective whole, very confusing. I’ll have the humility to admit that I am not in the same wavelength with this short. Too experimental is not my cup of tea. Rating: 2.5/5

Directed by Keith Deligero, written by Gale Osorio
Cast: Patricia Zosa, Rhyles Cameron, Rya de Guzman, Nicole Blackman, Publio Briones III
Run time: 20 minutes

Jojo Driz’s ‘Kiko’ is about a gay laundress who finds what matters the most in life’s roller coaster journey. Of all the shorts, this one leaves the most haunting image. I am, however, bewildered with so many things that it tries to achieve. Rating: 2.5/5

Written and directed by Florencio M. Driz, Jr.
Cast: Domingo Almoete, Neil Suarez, Earl Andrew Figueroa
Run time: 19 minutes

Jarell Serencio’s ‘Siyudad Sa Bulawan(City of Gold) may seem like it lacks the focus, but that’s because it tries to hit so many birds with one stone: issues of poverty, child labor and illegal mining. This would work better as a full-length film. Rating: 3.5/5

Written and directed by Jarell Mahinay Serencio
Cast: Manny Gonzales, Rich-er Gonzales, Gabriel Libunao
Run time: 15 minutes

Mika Fabella and Rafael Froilan’s ‘Yakap(Embrace) is an interpretative dance portraying a woman’s last few moments of life before crossing over to the afterlife. With such a short run time, the film could have opted for a single continuous shot to maximize visual excitement, just like what last year’s Juana and the Sacred Shores did. Rating: 2/5

Written and directed by Mika Fabella and Rafael Froilan
Cast: Rita Angela Winder, Jean Marc Cordero, TJ Abat, Jaycee Noriega, Regina Malay
Run time: 6 minutes

READ MORE: Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival Report Part 1