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Chai Fonacier holds her Luna trophy. (Photo: Tads Obach via Moira Lang's Facebook account)

Picking the right picture

Alvin Dacanay Before I ForgetMost movie-industry observers know the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) as primarily tasked to carry out two things: recognize the finest achievements in film in the previous year through its annual Luna Awards, and select the country’s official entry to the foreign-language film category of the Lunas’ American counterpart, the Oscars. 

The FAP accomplished the first task a little over a week ago—August 26, to be exact—when it belatedly, if a little too quietly, held the 35th edition of its awards at Resorts World Manila in Pasay City. As many expected, frontrunner Die Beautiful came out on top, converting five of its 10 nominations into wins: best editing for Benjamin Tolentino; best screenplay for Rody Vera; best supporting actor for Christian Bables, who looks poised to make a grand slam at the rate he’s going; best director for Jun Robles Lana; and best picture.

Also expected was Hasmine Killip’s win as best actress for Eduardo Roy Jr.’s Pamilya Ordinaryo. What was not so expected—but unsurprising in retrospect, given its production values—was the strong showing of Paolo Dy’s Jesuit-produced, English-language biopic Ignacio de Loyola. It dominated most of the technical categories: best cinematography for Lee Briones-Meily; best production design for Leo Velasco Jr.; best musical score for Ryan Cayabyab; and best sound for Albert Michael Idioma.

Every awards night yields an upset or two, and the Lunas was no expection. This year, it had two. One, Bembol Roco triumphed over favorite Paolo Ballesteros of Die Beautiful as best actor for his role as a father determined to bring his family to the province by pedicab in Paolo Villaluna’s Pauwi Na. And second, Chai Fonacier bested better-known performers to win best supporting actress for her performance as a transgender man who experiences heartbreak while traveling to Dumaguete City with his mother and brothers to attend his estranged father’s wake in Victor Villanueva’s sleeper comedy Patay na si Hesus.

Speaking of Fonacier, the versatile 32-year-old performer had been enjoying a stellar August. Besides Patay na si Hesus, which was one of 12 films shown at the recent Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP), she also appeared Pauwi Na—also a PPP movie—as Roco’s daughter. And at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival earlier in the month, she played a supporting part in Treb Monteras’s gritty hip-hop drama Respeto.

That movie, which marked the screen debut of young rapper Abra and explored Manila’s underground rap verse-battle scene, earned several Balanghai trophies, including for best film, at that festival’s awards night. Rest assured Abra’s and Fonacier’s media exposure would be increased when Respeto opens wide in cinemas on September 20.

Most of the films I’ve mentioned here are certain to be considered by FAP for its forthcoming shortlist of movies from which it will choose its official submission to next year’s Academy Awards. Also up for consideration are Baby Ruth Villarama’s moving overseas-Filipino-worker (OFW) documentary Sunday Beauty Queen, which won the top award at the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF); and Lav Diaz’s Ang Babaeng Humayo, which garnered the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice International Film Festival.

Ang Babaeng Humayo was initially set to be shown within the eligibility period for last year’s shortlist, but after the FAP chose Brillante Ma. Mendoza’s Cannes prize-winning Ma’ Rosa as its official entry, the playdate for the Charo Santos-starrer was moved just beyond the said period.

A film that may also be considered is another PPP movie, Mikhail Red’s Birdshot, which nabbed the Critics’ Choice Award during the PPP Thanksgiving Night at Whitespace in Makati City on August 20. Despite a few narrative flaws, audiences and reviewers have praised the 25-year-old Red’s assured direction and teenage Mary Joy Apostol’s mesmerizing portrayal of the protagonist Maya.

I can imagine that the FAP would have a particularly hard time coming up with its shortlist, because the last 12 months obviously yielded a stronger-than-usual crop of movies. If asked what would be the academy’s most likely choice, I would go for Die Beautiful, mainly because it seems to be so well-liked by the organization. Then again, that’s no guarantee, since Ma’ Rosa was completely shut out at the Luna Awards.

In other words, any one of these films have a fighting chance to be chosen.

No matter which film the FAP picks, it will face tough competition (as usual) on the road to the Oscars. As of this writing, 15 countries have submitted their official entries, including Sweden’s The Square, which won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and Germany’s In the Fade, for which Diane Kruger clinched the best-actress prize at the same festival.

In the history of the Academy Awards, only two films from Southeast Asia were nominated in the foreign-language film category: Vietnam’s The Scent of Green Papaya in 1994, and Cambodia’s The Missing Picture in 2014. Let’s hope that, whichever movie the FAP chooses, it would become the third, as well as the first for our country.

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