The long wait is over. The Metro Manila Film Festival Executive Committee finally announced last Wednesday, October 16 the last 4 films that would complete the MMFF Magic 8, and “Culion” secured a slot. The announcement was held at Club Filipino in Greenhills and was attended by several members of Team Culion including Producer Shandii Bacolod, Iza Calzado, Mike Liwag, Nico Locco and Executive Producer Mrs. Gilie Sing of iOptions Ventures Corp.
It can be recalled that the first four films were announced in July, and were screened based on their completed scripts, while the last four were screened based on completed film submissions.
The weeks leading to the announcement have been nerve-wracking for Team Culion and everyone was hoping and praying that the movie would be selected, as everyone was excited for the chance to be able to tell the story in a bigger stage.
“I felt sick before the announcement and I wasn’t sleeping well. As a first timer, I didn’t know what to expect,” Executive Producer Gilie Sing shared.
She added, “After we were announced, it felt good but I was shaking inside. I was close to tears while I was explaining on stage about our movie!”
Culion’s producer, Shandii Bacolod also felt anxious before the announcement. “To be honest, may hesitations ako na um-attend noong MMFF announcement. Kinakabahan ako kase na-experience ko na ‘yan noong 2016. The anticipation, the waiting, it’s crazy. Pero tumuloy ako as advised by my EP, Ms. Gilie Sing. When CULION was announced as part of the MMFF Magic 8, naiyak si Ma‘am Gilie. Grabe ang sigawan at saya nila Iza, Mike and Nico. Ako naman, ‘di ako naka-react nang bongga. I sort of became catatonic. Nag-flash lahat sa akin ang pagod, the waiting, the sleepless nights, lahat. Bumaliktad ang stomach ko. Haha. Nag-sink in lahat sa akin na pasok na kami, noong nakaalis na ako ng venue. I am very happy and very proud,” said Bacolod.
With the announcement of Culion’s inclusion to this year’s MMFF, Team Culion’s mission to move past the stigma associated with Hansen’s Disease and the island of Culion in Palawan is slowly becoming a reality. The film hopes to raise awareness about the disease and debunk the old myth that it is highly contagious and incurable. Years ago, Mr. Peter Sing (who formed iOptions with his wife Gilie) learned about the story of Culion and he wanted to share its importance with the current generation who would hopefully pass it on to the next. One effective method that he could think of to share the story was to produce a film, and that’s what he did.
The project started two years ago and the aim was to have it compete at the Metro Manila Film Festival as they believe that it is the best way to deliver the film’s message because of the festival’s wide network and audience.
The support that the film has been getting from the public after it launched its first teaser trailer has been overwhelming, and many have already expressed their desire to watch the film. Even National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, who is the head of the MMFF selection committee, has showered “Culion” with praise.
Producer Shandii Bacolod shared on Facebook a video of a very beaming and emotional Lumbera talking to Iza Calzado and praising “Culion.”
“Sharing this video that almost made me cry. Grabe super emotional kami ni Maria Izadora Calzado,” Bacolod shared.
“He also spoke to me briefly and said ‘Pumalakpak ako. Pinaiyak niyo ako. Tell Ricky (Lee) and Alvin why do they keep making films na napakasakit!‘” Bacolod added.
The stamp of approval, from no less than a National Artist, definitely speaks volume about the quality of the film and caliber of the people behind it. And the bar is certainly set very high with the best of the best working on the film — director Alvin Yapan, scriptwriter Ricky Lee, cinematographer Neil Daza and producer Shandii Bacolod.
Director Alvin Yapan himself could not contain his joy upon hearing Culion’s inclusion to the MMFF.
“Hanggang ngayon nanginginig pa rin ako sa announcement na kasali tayo sa Metro Manila Film Fest ngayong 2019. Tagumpay ito ng Culion, ng buong bayan ng Culion. Tagumpay ito ng produksyon ng Culion. Tagumpay ito ng lahat ng Pilipino na sa kabila ng pang-aalipusta, ng stigma, ng pagmamata, ay nananatili pa rin tayong mabuti, nanatili pa rin tayong may pag-asa, at nananatili pa rin tayong naniniwala sa pag-ibig,“ Yapan shared.
Meryll Soriano, who plays one of the female leads, was also beaming with pride for Culion and shared her pride at the accomplishment.
In an interview right after the announcement, Soriano said, “Tagumpay! Tagumpay! Masayang, masayang, masaya ako na nakapasok ang aming pelikulang Culion for MMFF 2019. Kasi talagang pinaghirapan namin. Hindi siya yung parang showbiz na sinasabi naming “pinaghirapan namin yung pelikula”. Pinaghirapan talaga namin at pinaganda namin ito. And it’s really a film that we want to be part of Metro Manila Film Festival. Kaya’t nagpapasalamat talaga kami na nakapasok kami. Tapos na yung sigawan pero, yes! Talagang masaya kami.”
Although the journey took two years to complete, “Culion” the movie, now an official MMFF contender, is finally ready to fulfill its duty.