By Anna Ven Sobrevinas
The Philippines’ bet for next year’s Academy Awards revolves around an eagle, a shotgun, and a doe-eyed girl.
Written and directed by young filmmaker Mikhail Red, this is the trifecta that started this year’s indie thriller Birdshot and the creative whirlwind that awaits the movie-goer.
Maya (Mary Joy Apostol), the daughter of farmer and care-taker Diego (Ku Aquino), mistakenly shoots a protected Philippine Eagle in a reservation. Consequently, this unveils secrets weaved deep within Filipino society and culture.
“The idea of Birdshot came from a news article I read. A farmer shot, killed and ate a Philippine eagle,” said Red. “He was jailed for it even though he claimed he was unaware of the crime. I saw it as a tragic situation for both the conservationists and these uneducated communities living in the fringes of wilderness.”
Prior to being assigned with the Haribon (Philippine eagle) case, local cops Mendoza (John Arcilla) and Domingo (Arnold Reyes) were investigating another case in the gray area between upholding one’s moral fiber and conveniently sweeping problematic matters under the rug. Just to keep away the heat from the chain of command and outside pressures.
“I like to tell stories about morally ambiguous characters, likeable criminals and corrupt cops, where there is no clear line between protagonists and antagonists,” added Red.
“Everyone is just a victim of the system, making difficult decisions to survive in the food chain of society.”
Truly one of the break-out Filipino films this year, Birdshot won Best Picture in the Asian Future category at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival. The film was a recipient of a production grant from the Doha Film Institute, and won the CJ Entertainment (South Korea) prize from the Asian Project Market. Birdshot was produced by Pamela Reyes of PelikulaRED, and executive produced by TBA Studios (the film production company behind Heneral Luna).
“International awards and festivals give recognition, weight, and merit to a film,” said Reyes. “The more prestigious the festival is, the better lifespan it will give to the film.”
All of these accolades are critical in building up the film’s chances of being officially selected as a contender under the ‘Foreign Language’ category.
“For one thing, there are almost 100 entries in the world vying for the final five selection,” she said. “These entries have varying merits: winners of A-list festivals, blockbuster hits, low-budget indies, films with famous actors, films with famous directors, etc.”
The recently concluded Los Angeles Philippine International Film Festival (LAPIFF) closed with Birdshot. The best was the last and it won Best Picture along with the film Imbisibol.
Veteran actor Ku Aquino attended the screening and he recounted asking Red about his casting style.
“The network television where I work never casts me as a farmer; a peasant. It’s always as a professional – a lawyer, a doctor, a general,” said Aquino. “Mik cast me as a peasant, and that was a huge challenge as an actor. I like working with young directors because they’re not into stereotyping, they’re very open. They see something in you and they like to capitalize on that and help you bring it out.”
Actor Kristan Cleto and his friends watched the film at LAPIFF to support Aquino.
“We were so excited when we came here and we were not disappointed because it was very well done,” said Cleto. “Characters were well developed and the photography was amazing. The plot was powerful. It’s very intelligent, and it takes an intelligent audience to appreciate that.”
As for director Melanie Lim, film festivals such as LAPIFF are critical in bringing home to Pinoys abroad.
“I’ve been following Cinemalaya films for a long time so when I moved to the States five years ago, I missed watching Cinemalaya films because it’s expensive to go home just for a film festival,” she said. “As an advocate of cinema, I want to watch movies in the theaters as much as possible to get the full experience, so the fact that the film was able to screen here, I had to go.”
As of November 6, Birdshot ranks 13th of possible contenders on Academy Awards predictions site awardscircuit.com. Female actor Angela Baesa shares the same sentiment as Reyes on the film’s chances of making it to the official list of films.
“We do have a shot, creatively but the way things are with Hollywood, we have to make so much noise,” said Baesa. “I hate that I’m doubting it but it is what it is. There was a good number of people but I think it needs to be out there more because we have a voice and the reason why we’re here too is because we’re Filipinos.”
Direk Mik calls on the Fil-Am community to support the film by attending their screenings and spreading awareness about it especially through social media.
“It’s probably a long shot for Birdshot since we don’t have the funds to mount a full campaign for the film,” he said. “We need all the support we can get especially from the Fil-Am community.”
Simply attending festivals and watching the film does not make a big enough bang for Birdshot. With the outstanding pride of Pinoys and our love for social media, we should not only stir the pot but whack it louder with another pot to give Birdshot that one shot.
“This film subverts its cynicism by championing the morals of Maya and by showing the beauty of our country, not just society’s ills,” added Red. “It’s a very well-crafted film that our production worked hard on – we want to showcase the technical talent of the Philippine film industry. Given the right resources and the proper patience, we as Filipinos can push the production standards of our films. We hope that more People get to see Birdshot.
That’s all that matters to me as a filmmaker, Oscar or no Oscar.”