Filipina Sheila Francisco plays the title role in 'Leonor Will Never Die.'
This is her feature film debut and it won the Innovative Spirit Special Jury award at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. A stage veteran, Francisco says the international recognition for Philippine independent cinema and Filipino talents is heartwarming.
In the film, she plays an aging screenwriter who inexplicably found herself in a movie that she wrote.
"It was like a gift that a role like this will come my way. Having been also an artist myself dabbling in so many things, I really empathize with Leonor and her passion for writing. Her relationship with her children. I don't have kids but ang dami kong anak-anakan. People are so open to receive also kasi dati ma-formula tayo. Di ba dati lahat action lang, or loveteam lang. pero ngayon napaka-diverse ng mga topics na pwede nating i-tackle as actors and filmmakers," Francisco shares.
(I don't have kids but there are many who I treat as my children. People are so open to receiving also because back then, we had formulas. Back then, everything was action or involved loveteams, but now, topics that can be tackled as actors and filmmakers are very diverse.)
Meanwhile, Rocky Salumbides, who plays an action star in the movie, shares how he overcame an insecurity to pursue a career in acting.
"Nag-umpisa yan nung nasa modeling pa lang ako. Kasi medyo kumportable na ako sa pag-project sa kamera, sa ilaw, pag-express ng emotions ko through photos. Eto naman parang gusto ko, next level. Kasi conscious akong magsalita kasi Bisaya ako, hindi ako masyadong komportable. Pinupuna yung paano ako mag-salita. So ito, challenge ito para sa akin. Sinubukan ko na mag-project ng may lines. Tinuloy-tuloy ko. Ayun, awa ng Diyos, eto na ngayon," Salumbides says.
(It started when I was still in modeling, because I was already quite comfortable with projecting in front of cameras, lights, and expressing my emotions through photos. For this one, I wanted to go to the next level. I was conscious of speaking because I'm Bisaya. I was not comfortable. The way I spoke was criticized. So this was a challenge for me. I tried projecting the lines. I continued it and, with God's mercy, here I am.)
The movie's triumph is a testament to Martika Ramirez Escobar's storytelling talent and risk-taking spirit. The genre-bending film’s main theme is a reflection of her core belief and imagination: that life is uncertain, but we keep on writing, and we don’t know if other people are writing about us.
Escobar says, "our script, which is like perpetually changing, we would improvise on-set and even on post production, we would change endings. We tried a lot of things before we came up with this final form. So I think the script aged along with me, because I started this eight years ago when I was 21. So I mean, I was a different person then. So through the years, the material evolved and now what it is, I guess I see it as my childhood as a filmmaker."
This year’s Sundance Film Festival is also a big moment for Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan whose 'The Headhunter's Daughter' won best short film.
Fil-Am Actress Sumalee Montano also scored big as a co-producer of the film 'Nanny' which took home the festival’s Grand Jury prize.