Gil Portes: ‘It was Oro vs. Moonlight Over Baler’

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“It just wasn’t meant to be,” sighed the ever-gregarious Gil Portes, feigning drama as he sat down with The Manila Times one rainy afternoon. The revered director was talking about his upcoming Valentine movie,
Moonlight Over Baler, and how it was pitted against the controversial Metro Manila Film Festival entry Oro [remember the dog-slaughter scene?]for the last spot in December.

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Noting the nosedive the box office took at the MMFF, he chuckled and stressed, “Fortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Gil Portes is in high spirits as the opening day of ‘Moonlight Over Baler’ draws near

Turning more serious Gil added, “Let’s call a spade a spade—the MMFF is a money-making festival, and no matter what they say that the Christmas season has nothing to do with what audiences want to see in the festival, I hope they’ve learned their lesson.”

A maker of both socially relevant and purely entertaining movies [Gil directed the critically acclaimed Mga Munting Tinig in 2002 following the life of a public school teacher, and the only Filipino movie released by Warner Bros. Pictures], the filmmaker admitted he made Moonlight Over Baler especially for the MMFF crowd in mind.

“It’s the type of film that will be appreciated by the Filipino audience, especially during the holidays—it’s a love story that’s simple and complex at the same time and beautifully done with A-1 cinematography. So malungkot pa rin ako hindi nakita ng intended audience.”

He recounted, “Kami ang nag-tie noon–ibinalik ang Baler at Oro, and akala ko nga kami ang mapipili kasi sira ang tape ng Oro! A very reliable source told me that ang Oro hindi nakita ang buo nung last day because of that. Eventually I guess they got to watch it. We were two votes short, and the slot went to them.”

It will be recalled that Oro tackled the real-life events of the 2014 murder of four miners in Sitio Lahuy, Barangay Gata, Caramoan, Camarines Sur.

“I’m not saying the movie wasn’t good,” Gil quickly clarified. “But with what happened to it in the end… let’s just say again I hope the board learned their lesson.”

Palanca awardee

Not one to wallow in what could have been, Gil is simply revved up to show a movie that is very close to his
heart—and at what he also considers an opportune time this Valentine season.

“Moonlight Over Baler is a love story inspired by my aunt who is also my adopted mother,” the director related.
“She was about to get married in the 1940s when war was declared, and she and her American solider fiancé had to postpone their wedding. He went off to fight and unfortunately never returned.

“He was my aunt’s one true love, because she stayed single for the rest of her life. One day, when she was already in her 60s, she went to a restaurant with her sisters, and lo and behold that. She sees a young detail man there who looked exact­ly like her fiancé.

“So yon na, from there, kinuwento ko ang storya ng probinsyana kong tiya kay Eric Ramos [screenwriter of Siphayo and Hermano Puli among others], who wrote what became a Palanca award winning piece.”

Gil and Ramos, however, took their time in finally shooting the movie since they wanted the perfect location and the perfect cast to bring to life the special story.

“One time, we visited Baler where former Senator Ed Angara hosted us in his beautiful property. I actually gave him a copy of the screenplay, which he read in one night. He told me the next day the movie was beautiful and if I wanted to shoot it in Baler, he will help me with the arrangements.”

Finding Fidela

The next hurdle was to find the perfect Fidela, the newly retired schoolteacher who meets a young Japanese photojournalist Kenji who looks exactly like her fiancé who went to war and never came back.

“To be honest I had someone else in mind for the part but it didn’t work out,” Gil continued. “And then someone suggested why not La Oro [showbiz’ nickname for respected actress Elizabeth Oropesa] so sabi ko, sige nga, tingan natin kung anong kaya ng matanda!” Gil cackled, adding how he and Oropesa love to tease each other about their age.

“And I have to tell you, she’s always been a good actress but something must have happened in her life all these years that made her so great today. Titingin lang siya ng litrato, I tell you, you’ll want to give her an award yourself.”

With much of the movie involving flashbacks, the young Fidela’s role was given to promising actress Sophie Albert. She shows how Fidela falls in love in the early ‘40s and accepts the proposal of USAFFE soldier Nestor, portrayed by Vin Abrenica.

“Eric brilliantly adds the twists and turns to this beautiful movie set against a breathtaking back drop. You’ll come out inspired by love too, when you watch this just like my aunt’s story inspired this project.”

As to whether he will make movies for the MMFF again after a movie so close to his heart failed to meet the “changes” the board instilled in 2016, Gil replied, “I love challenges. I am challenged by their rejection of Baler. And I’m an MMFF-baby with many awards from the festival. So yes, I’ll field an entry again and again.”
Moonlight Over Baler opens nationwide on February 8.

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