MANILA, Philippines -- An internationally acclaimed film set in one of the islands in Mindanao prides itself as a "timely" reflection of the national clamor to end the decades-long unrest in the area.
Hailed for its artistry and for "showing a different side of the Muslim region," the Brillante Mendoza film "Thy Womb" is now set to reach Filipino audiences nationwide after earning a last-minute slot at the upcoming 38th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).
The Nora Aunor-starrer has been screened in a number of international film festivals, including the one in Venice, Italy and its counterpart in Toronto, Canada, but its local premiere before a Filipino audience may be its most important outing yet.
"Napaka-timely, kasi the government is exerting all efforts to reach out to our Muslim brothers, at ang pelikulang ito ay tungkol sa Mindanao, tungkol sa mga Badjao, at saka 'yung mga ugali nila na hindi natin alam bilang mga Kristyano" Mendoza told ABS-CBN News on Wednesday, referring to the historic Bangsamoro framework agreement signed early this month.
Alternately titled "Sinapupunan," the film tells the story of a Badjao midwife (Aunor) whose own infertility prompts her to find a surrogate mother to have a child with her husband.
Set in the scenic island province of Tawi Tawi in Mindanao, "Thy Womb," according to Mendoza, is "about unconditional love."
"Pag sinabi mong unconditional love, sa atin, hindi mo maa-associate 'yan sa mga Muslim brothers, but this is actually based on a real life story, so totoo siya," Mendoza said.
In the four decades leading up to the Bangsamoro agreement being formalized, the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao has killed around 150,000 people.
Drawing from this, Mendoza, in an earlier interview, said he had not anticipated being welcomed by a calm people when his production team filmed in Tawi Tawi.
"I was surprised when I arrived. It's really different from what we thought. The people there are not aggressive, they're very calm, they're not confrontational and they have an amazing culture," he said.
"For me, this is a very rare opportunity to change the mindset of people, to change society," he added.
According to the Cannes award-winning director, "Thy Womb" will return to Mindanao for its local premiere screening later this year.
Mendoza said the Davao premiere of the film will be attended by foreign dignitaries, including ambassadors from the European Union and the United States.
"Napakasaya namin dahil naging significant ang pelikulang ito hindi lang para sa 'min bilang artists kundi sa bansa na natin," said Mendoza, who won the La Navicella Venezia Cinema Award at the Venice film fest for his active involvement in the "affirmation of human values" through his works.
Hoping to propagate awareness on "our Muslim brothers" among his countrymen, Mendoza said he is only thrilled that "Thy Womb" has finally earned a chance to go mainstream via its participation at the MMFF.
"Dapat bilang mga Pilipino, maramdaman na natin na napakaganda ng Pilipinas, angganda ng bayan natin, lalo na 'yung lugar na Mindanao -- [sa kabila ng pagkakaroon ng] karamihan sa'tin ng iisang paniniwala, na iba doon sa paniniwala nila," he said.