[Only IN Hollywood] A Pinay filmmaker on her clever, inventive Sundance entry

'Leonor Will Never Die' is a Valentine to Filipino cinema by someone who has obviously seen a lot of Tagalog action films

Filipino Movies, Film Festivals

1/24/2022 1:31:00 AM

'Leonor Will Never Die' is a Valentine to Filipino cinema by someone who has obviously seen a lot of Tagalog action films.

'Leonor Will Never Die' is a Valentine to Filipino cinema by someone who has obviously seen a lot of Tagalog action films

The cast, led by Sheila Francisco as Martika’s “action star grandma,” is uniformly engaging. Actors Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, and Anthony Falcon add to the pleasures of watching this surprise of a movie.“When she reads an advertisement looking for screenplays, Leonor begins tinkering with an unfinished script about the quest of young, noble Ronwaldo, forced to avenge his brother’s murder at the hands of thugs.”

, competed in the 19Quadrilaterals will compete in the Sundance fest which runs this year from January 20 to 30.On how she came up with the film’s concept, Martika said, “It started with the idea of having an action star grandma. I love older people because they possess the wisdom that I often think we need in life to see its beauty. Of course, I’m just talking about my real-life grandma here.”

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staples of Filipino cinema,  Leonor Will Never Die Duterte administration’s drug war killings . The cast, led by Sheila Francisco as Martika’s “action star grandma,” is uniformly engaging. Actors Bong Cabrera, Rocky Salumbides, and Anthony Falcon add to the pleasures of watching this surprise of a movie. GREEN. From the opening scene to the end, ‘Leonor Will Never Die’ is a showcase of Sheila Francisco’s impressive range as an actress. Courtesy of Arkeofilms/Carlos Mauricio. To avoid spilling spoilers, I will just quote the synopsis provided in the film’s production notes: “Leonor Reyes (Sheila Francisco) was once a major player in the Filipino film industry after creating a string of successful action films but now, her household struggles to pay the bills.” “When she reads an advertisement looking for screenplays, Leonor begins tinkering with an unfinished script about the quest of young, noble Ronwaldo, forced to avenge his brother’s murder at the hands of thugs.” “While her imagination provides some escape from reality, she goes all-in after an accident involving a TV set knocks her out, sends her into a coma, and transports her inside the incomplete movie. Now, Leonor can play out her wildest dreams firsthand and discover the perfect ending to her story.” Born in Manila, Martika launched her film career when her UP film school thesis,  Stone Heart , competed in the 19 th  Busan International Film Festival and won the best short film prize in the 2015 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. Also a cinematographer with over 10 credits, she shot and directed the documentary,  Quadrilaterals , described as “a portrait of a family of Overseas Filipino Workers seen through the objects in their home.” In my email interview with Martika, I asked the 29-year-old filmmaker how she learned the news that  Leonor Will Never Die  will compete in the Sundance fest which runs this year from January 20 to 30. She replied, “I was on the way to the set of Quark Henares where I was the cinematographer when I received the email. Quark is also the executive producer of Leonor.” (She and Aurora Oreta are also exec producers.) “I was confused when I received the email because I didn’t think it was real. I didn’t even read the letter. I just sent it to my producers for validation that maybe it is real.” “Then the day went by and I still couldn’t believe it. But of course, I am happy and grateful to another level for everything! I am most happy for our team because finally, our hard work has paid off!” On how she came up with the film’s concept, Martika said, “It started with the idea of having an action star grandma. I love older people because they possess the wisdom that I often think we need in life to see its beauty. Of course, I’m just talking about my real-life grandma here.” “Plus, out of the hundreds of Filipino action films throughout history, my friend and I thought, why are there none about an action grandma? From that, it evolved into a self-reflexive film about a writer writing her own life.” The movie is also a heartfelt ode to writing and the creative process. The writer-director recounted her long journey to pen the script. “Writing, like the film itself, had its own complicated journey,” she began. “I’m a cinematographer and a self-confessed bad writer so it was difficult for me to write a film about a good writer with a film about writing itself.” “It took me five years, a couple of labs and workshops, calls for help from friends and thoughts of quitting to come up with a shooting script.” “My producers Mario Cornejo and Monster Jimenez, who are both accomplished filmmakers, helped me finalize the script by conducting what seemed like writing therapy sessions. It is through their guidance that I felt that the script was ready.” “And it didn’t end there. We would constantly write and re-write until the last stages of editing this film. It is a perpetually changing script, which I wasn’t prepared for but feels just right based on how the film turned out.” Casting was an equally challenging process for the director nicknamed Marty. “We started casting very early and we had no clear frontrunners,” she recounted. “But we had two things to consider aside from talent: an openness to a film like  LWND  (Leonor Will Never Die) and a connection to the character when they read for the part.” “What was challenging was the idea of casting a wide net, especially for the men and trying to make sure that they had chemistry with our Leonor. That took some time.” “As with many independent films, actors are not exactly falling in line for your film. You have to seek them out and watch as many films, television shows, and plays to get the people you want.” “There are no casting agents for films in the Philippines. And, in any case, we had no budget to hire a casting agent in the first place. And then once you see the actors, you need to sell the project to them as well.” The director found her winning grandma action heroine in Sheila Francisco, whose credits include a critically praised performance as Bloody Mary in Trevor Nunn’s revival of  South Pacific  at the Royal National Theatre in London. “We had a handful of actresses but Sheila was the closest to how I imagined Leonor on paper and in mind,” Martika said about the actress, who also earned praises in stage musicals in Singapore. SHEILA. From the opening scene to the end, ‘Leonor Will Never Die’ is a showcase of Sheila Francisco’s impressive range as an actress. Courtesy of Arkeofilms/Carlos Mauricio. “Like what I have mentioned, when she read the script, I felt that Leonor was alive. And that’s a big deal for filmmakers because don’t we just want to bring characters and stories to life?” “To feel that she is real is my sign. And it’s a bonus that she’s a great singer and a wonderful person off-camera.” “There were a few really good Leonors who came our way. And seriously, it wasn’t so much that they were less than stellar but I was also looking for someone who could add their own thing to the character.” “There was a lot riding on that final casting. What are the qualities you look for in a character who was once a female director-writer in the ‘80s action genre?” “You need someone who feels like they fit in that macho world, with the intelligence and sharpness of a writer, and the tough tenderness of a mother. I was asking for a lot.” “Sheila Francisco was never on our radar until my producer Monster Jimenez saw her in the hit musical,  Ang Huling El Bimbo.  So I watched Sheila and it was a short but very distinct role – she owned that character.” “And when Sheila read for the first time, she did add another dimension to the character and that was very refreshing. I remember during her call back: we had to ask back the rest of our cast so she could read with them.” Rocky Salumbides as the ultimate Filipino macho movie action star is an absolute hoot. “He is a hoot, for sure,” Martika agreed about Rocky, who is a former ramp and print model. ROCKY. As a macho action star in a movie-within-a-movie, Rocky Salumbides plays it straight as he embodies the gung-ho, invincible Pinoy movie hero. Courtesy of Arkeofilms/Carlos Mauricio. “Rocky was one of the first actors we knew had to be part of the film. There’s a certain wildness to him. He’s one of those instinctive actors who are just naturally talented.” The film is a Valentine to Filipino cinema by someone who has obviously seen a lot of Tagalog action films. Martika agreed and said, “Growing up, we’d often have our television turned on in the afternoon until the news, which airs during dinner time. In those afternoons, I’d often see replays of Pinoy action movies.” “I can’t even recall the titles but I can recall scenes. I’ve always been fascinated with how films look like the lives of others contained in a tiny television. So a lot of that has remained in my memory since then.” But Martika has a special place in her cineaste soul for choice work by the masters:  Pagdating sa Dulo