Join me for a carnivalesque throwback, an aftermath of Jaclyn Jose’s having won the Best Actress at Cannes and daughter Andi Eigenmann’s capturing the “best dressed” entitlement waiting yet for some reckoning, to get us into the rapture of things behind those glorious moments when the scenes flashed out to the world through syndicated pages, reporting the news straight from Marseille’s beachfront.
Untold stories of power brokers, procurers and pimps, film merchants, critics and jurors, feverish actors, and producers engaged individually or in groups in the notorious practice of “inside tradings” (think Wall Street), ponderous lobbying, and hellish chasing and game-changing acts at the festival’s inner boardrooms to corner coveted awards even if undeserved—in their madness to get extra mileage, legs, and killing for their oeuvres or for themselves, etc.
From the time of Lino Brocka when he first broke into the film scene of Paris through Pierre Rissient, to Dante Mendoza’s own touted version of French “connection” are among the many reminiscences in my memory bank via the social media, and like worms in Pandora’s box are wanting to get exposed and expiated in the way of an urban legend. Ever got wind of La Aunor missing out on a Berlin best actress award for Himala, or Hilda Koronel’s Euro-Asian face splashing the front covers of Canne’s most glamorous magazines for Insiang?
Let’s sample one of the least hyped filmmakers: Antonio “Tony” Aguilar, Jury Prize winner for his short film titled Ianfu (Comfort Women) at the 1994 San Francisco Int’l. Film Festival. This film had been totally eclipsed in the biased chronicling of major winners in international, film festivals, despite the fact that the shorty had bagged the Gawad CCP, and had been nominated by Urian and the Catholic Mass Media earlier on.
Tony is the grandson of the late Mars Ravelo. His way of life as film scholar to the bone is reflected on the title of his column in Pilipino Mirror “Eats, Drinks, and Dreams Movies.” Formerly president of the Production Designers of the Phil. (PDGP), Tony had once put to shame the jaded stakeholders of the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) in leading a highly publicized controversial boycott against ceremony then headed by Atty. Espiridion Laxa. This almost triggered the embarrassed President of the Actors Guild Rudy Fernandez on one occasion to plant clean a bullet through his head. Good that entertainment journalist Frank Mallo who Tony tagged along in the nick of time intervened to elude what could have been a fatal gunshot: the writer had carved the scene in the living including us.
Unlike most winners bringing home reports of their plaudits from Class A to C, D film fests abroad whether deserved or not, Tony tells all only when rudely provoked: he’d say to date no one has duplicated his Jury Prize in said Class A certified film fest, gamely admitting he lost the major plum to the director of An Excursion To The Bridge of Friendship.
Into the duration of the event, film fest organizers thought the Filipino director was doing a repeat of the touted Cher act of bringing in 17 suitcases to Cannes to get noticed. He was in fact stylishly mix-matching his daily outfit including a native Barong that gave him a GQ sartorial flair as he engaged himself in friendly, witty banters over film discourses here and there with his peers about him putting to good use his past teaching experience and diploma in Communication Arts from La Salle University.
Tony was swept off his feet when bestowed the “Star of the Festival” conducted thru an informal survey by the festival staff among filmmakers and celebrities themselves, besting the likes of (hold your breath!) Gérard Depardieu who came for the festival’s Lifetime Achievement award, Spike Lee, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem with mentor Pedro Almodóvar, Gus Van Sant, Uma Thurman, Guillermo del Toro, Manoel de Oliveira, Wayne Wang of The Joy Luck Club, etc. Doubting Thomases can check this out at the Gallery of said filmfest.
Comfort Women was “first” to have been exhibited at Clermont-Ferrand, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and Melbourne International Film Festival. It moved to Hawaii and Hongkong International Filmfest where a Japanese national scandalized by the content of the film which portrayed Filipino women as sex slaves to Japanese soldiers. After watching the film, he tersely told him off, “that never happened you bitch!”
On coming back home Kidlat Tahimik tendered him a cool welcome party among newbie indie filmmakers. Offers to direct commercial movies came his way, but some givens turned difficult for his conscience to hack: either it compromised his aesthetic guidepost or his morality that counted among others a fat-bellied gay executive producer long gone from a well-known film company demanding outright sex in his cubicle in exchange of a directorial break; unceremoniously he walked out of what could have been a big break gone kaput!
Tony’s sojourn out of the country was one for the books; a life-changing feat even if it proved financially straining to his currency and draining to his emotion as well. “You wear your best smile into it all the time hoping for distributors and takers of your film; get one or two proposals elsewhere, decent or otherwise,” Tony gamely recalls with a chuckle.
As in films life flashes forward : Antonio “Tony” Aguilar who is an original homegrown of the Phil. Educational Theater Assoc. (PETA) under its founder Cecile Guidote-Alvarez and former member of the widely held Ambivalent Crowd, now teaches Acting for Theater and Film courses at Manila Times College in Subic and Intramuros, Manila.