Moro director’s film invited to Venice Int'l Film Fest

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 July) – Gutierrez “Teng” Mangansakan II’s film, “Limbunan,” the first Moro full-length narrative film has been invited as the closing film in the International Critics’ Week of the Venice International Film Festival next month.

No Filipino film has ever been featured in the line-up of Venice Critics’ Week, but the film done by the 33-year old Mangansakan, a Moro from Maguindanao.

Seven to eight films are chosen every year from first time directors for this section of the festival that runs from September 1 to 11.

Written, produced and directed by Mangansakan, Limbunan “glimpses into the life of a bride-to-be as she is kept from public view prior to the wedding in her private quarters –limbunan.”

“This is a great honor. This proves that I did something good,” Mangansakan said upon hearing the news announced by Francesco Di Pace, General Delegate fo the International Critics’ Week in a press conference Thursday noon in Rome (6 p.m. in Manila).

Venice is considered the second most prestigious film festival in the world and is among the “Big Three” list together with Cannes and Berlin.

“Limbunan” was first shown in the recently-concluded Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and while it did not win the balanghai prize, it will be riding high on a gondola in Venice.

Limbunan “is striking for its patience, and its graceful exploration of a culture that would otherwise face condemnation in the hands of a less nuanced and open filmmaker,” noted’s resident film reviewer Philbert Ortiz Dy.

“The film is just beautiful, both visually and thematically. Mangansakan imparts a dreamlike atmosphere to even the most mundane of actions, drawing a connection between past and present, family and culture, tradition and self-actualization,” Dy added.

Critic Francis Cruz hailed its “stylized storytelling and its undeniable splendor, (the film) is most importantly, a very personal ode to his (Mangansakan’s) often misunderstood and misrepresented cultural roots.”

This is the second year that a film panned by the jury in Cinemalaya has made it to Venice. In 2009, Pepe Diokno’s Engkwentro was invited to the festival and later won the Best Film in the Orizzonti Section and the Luigi de Laurentiis Award for debut film.

Limbunan will similarly be competing for the Luigi de Laurentiis Award which is given to the best debut screened in all sections of Venice International Film Festival. It comes with a cash prize of US$100,000.

According to the film’s synopsis, the 82-minute film, set in 1989, “captures the ritual motions of the women in a traditional Maguindanaon family preparing for the wedding of 17-year old Ayesah (Jea Lyka Cinco) who is betrothed to a man she barely knows.”

“As preparations for her union is underway, Ayesah is reunited with her childhood tutor Maguid (Joem Bascon) who returns to the village as a militiaman after five years, reawakening Ayesah’s past memory of childhood infatuation. Throughout Ayesah’s confinement, her precocious and rebellious eight-year-old sister Saripa (Jamie Unte) becomes her eyes to the world beyond her room. Her mother Amina (Mayka B. Lintongan) keeps her composure despite the fact her husband sleeps with his second wife half of the time, finding solace in the belief that it is both her religious and familial duty to be an obedient wife. Ayesah’s aunt Farida (Tetchie Agbayani) is tasked to ensure that she is prepared for the wedding. However, Farida’s dark past challenges Ayesah’s resolve finding herself choosing between love and loyalty to tradition and family,” the synopsis reads.

Mangansakan says the film is “about an arranged marriage of sorts” and is “an allegory of the relationship between Manila and Muslim Mindanao.”

There is a “disparity in the relationship,” says Mangansakan.

“Oftentimes our leaders would agree on concessions with the Manila government for selfish reasons, not putting in consideration the welfare of the people. For its part, the Manila government cultivates this type of relationship, this dependence. Unless the two parties start on equal footing, the relationship will remain feudal and oppressive.,” Mangansakan wrote.

“I like to believe that Limbunan is a co-production of the Philippines and Bangsa Moro,” Mangansakan states.

As a finalist of the Full Length Feature category of Cinemalaya, he was awarded an initial seed investment of P500,000 from Econolink Investments Inc. as a production grant. But Mangansakan had to come up with a counterpart financing of P600,000 to complete his film.

Mangansakan said he had to struggle with what he perceived as “impositions” from the Manila-based establishment of Cinemalaya and balance his artistic vision and expectation from the organizers.

“It was a tough juggling act. You have, on one hand, the nurturing of the independent spirit. On the other hand, you have to contend with industry people with studio system line of thinking. They impose their way of making films, instead of encouraging you to find your voice.”
Mangansakan said he stood his ground. “After all, it is going to be my film, my way of seeing the world with Moro eyes.”

Mangansakan had earlier planned to do a film on Salamat Hashim, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Mangansakan’s first film – a short film — “‘House Under the Crescent Moon” won the grand prize for video documentary from the Cultural Center of the Philippines Prize for Independent Film and Video” in 2001.

“House Under the Cresent Moon” is a “personal reflection on the Moro people’s struggle for their homeland, using my grandfather’s house as metaphor. I juxtaposed my personal experience in the house with historical events to weave a lyrical portrait of our collective dream for lasting peace. Made in a very crude fashion, the film contrasted my childhood memories in the house with its state as an evacuation center.”

His grandfather’s house in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, was used by hundreds of internally displaced persons (bakwits) who fled their villages during the “all out war” waged by President Joseph Estrada against the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) in 2000.

He has done more short films after that, focusing on the plight of women and children.

“In the end, I hope that my films become the bittersweet pill that will heal the unreasonable hatred, fear and prejudice against my people,” Mangansakan had earlier written.

“If I can achieve this, my filmmaking will cease to become a product of accident. I will become the healer that I once dreamt of in my childhood,” he said.

Mangansakan is also the editor of “Children of the Ever-Changing Moon,” an anthology of essays by young Moro writers, including himself.

In 2005, he was named Defender of Cultural Heritage by the Fookien Times Philippines Yearbook for his efforts in nurturing the rich tradition of his Maguindanaon ancestry. (MindaNews)