“Leonor Will Never Die,” the Filipino film about a retired screenwriter who accidentally goes into a coma and is transported into the world of her own action flick, just won the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Innovative Spirit. The film is the directorial debut of 29-year old director Martika Ramirez Escobar.
In a video speech—this year’s festival shifted at the last minute entirely to online because of Covid—presenting juror La Frances Hui described “Leonor…” thus: “Switching in-between genres, this film within a film follows an ailing screenwriter who enters her unfinished screenplay of a gangster film to experience and edit her own creation. Constantly shifting in tone, the film is a playful display of the love of cinema. Its innovative and risk-taking spirit is especially commendable."
Accepting her award from her home in the Philippines, Escobar called her movie a “labor of love.” She thanked the supporters of her film, saying “You are proof that finally after eight years our film is alive.” Escobar started writing “Leonor” when she was 21 but the filming only started in 2019.
Escobar shared her award with her producers Mario Cornejo and Monster Jimenez, the team behind the acclaimed “Apocalypse Child” and “Big Time.” The filmmaker also shared the recognition with her parents “for allowing me to be a filmmaker.” Finally, she shared the award with her fellow young female filmmakers. “I am like you, I am with you and I hope this shines a bit of light on the difficult paths we have. I hope we all get to make the films we want to make in this life because we can.”
Another Filipino director also got recognized in this year’s festival. The short film by Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan, “The Headhunter’s Daughter,” received the Grand Jury Prize for Short Film. Eblahan’s story is about an aspiring country singer from the Cordilleras who ventures into the big, busy city of Baguio to enter a singing contest. In the process, she exposes herself to the post-colonial world of the city, seeing it from the eyes of an indigenous person.