From ‘Tondo’ to Toronto

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Orteza’s ‘Hari’ shows the Filipino’s persevering nature
Cinemalaya X’s Special Jury Prize winner, Hari ng Tondo, has just returned from a triumphant showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, and is set to begin its commercial run across the Philippines on October 1.

From the pen of award-winning screenwriter Bibeth Orteza, the movie—which follows the ordeal of a rich man on the brink of bankruptcy and chooses to move his grandchildren from the luxuries of Forbes Park to hometown in Tondo, Manila—also marks acclaimed director Carlos Siguion-Reyna’s filmmaking comeback. Based on critics’ reaction both here and abroad, the man did not disappoint.

On Wednesday, the entire cast of Hari ng Tondo held a press conference to share their Toronto experience, as well as express their excitement over the movie’s commercial run.

With Siguion-Reyna still completing additional film studies in the United States, his wife Orteza took the lead in discussing the movie’s merits in the hopes of enticing the public to come and see this well-made indie.


She began by explaining her inspiration for writing a very novel screenplay that effectively presents multiple themes within a single story: that of a successful man who acknowledges his past with pride no matter how rough and humble it has become; a grandfather who takes pains to steel his grandchildren for the real world; and a study of the “impoverished Filipino” in what has long been portrayed as the notorious district of Tondo.

“Now it can be told that my inspiration for this story came from [the late Comedy King]Tito Dolphy when we were working on his biography Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-Isa,” revealed Orteza. “How he described the place [where he was born and raised]stuck with me—that Tondo, unlike the stories of Asyong Salonga movies, was once a gentle place. Isang lugar na sinilangan ng mga makata at artista, kaya may historical perspective talaga ang istilo ng pelikula.”

It is through the lead character of Ricardo Villena—whose portrayal by Robert Arevallo earned him Best Actor for this year’s Cinemalaya—that the Tondo of old is recalled. And in the process of his remembering, he is saddened by the deterioration—and poverty—he sees around him.

Yet despite what could have been just another grim movie that presents poverty in the Philippines, Orteza is noted by several critics to pull off a less depressing storyline in highlighting this plight.

“Poverty in itself is depressing but in Hari ng Tondo, we refused to depict the poor Filipino as victims, and we refused to show that hindi sila galit at kaawa-awa,” she explained. “Ako mismo, lumaki din ako sa hirap pero ni minsan hindi ko naramdaman o naisip sa sarili ko na biktima ako ng situwasyon. I was the eldest of seven children and imbis na magalit ako o maawa sa sarili, doon ko nakuha yung ugali ng Pilipino na pagpupursigi—yung sigi ka lang ng sigi para matulungan ang mga magulang ko mapag-aral ang mga kapatid ko. Ganyan naman kasi ang Pilipino kaya nga sa gitna ng krisis, nakakangiti pa rin tayo.”

According to the rest of the cast, which includes Cinemalaya X Best Supporting Actress Cris Villonco and Rafa Siguion-Reyna as Lolo Ricardo’s grandchildren, it is this more realistic portrayal of the Filipino seemed to appeal even to the foreign audience in Toronto.

Arevalo even recalled a couple chasing him down the street the morning after the screening, surprised that they asked for his autograph.

“They were effusive in their praises and it turned out that the girl is a news producer for the CBC Network there,” the veteran actor enthused.

The young Siguion-Reyna agreed by saying, “It was wonderful to actually see and hear the foreign audiences laugh and appreciate the humorous takes in the movie.”

For Villonco, it is an honor to be part of a movie that has hopefully changed the appreciation of other nationalities for the Filipino. And she can also never forget the experience of facing the international press in the same hall as Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Sandra Oh, among other Hollywood stars who also showcased films at the Canadian festival.

“It was an amazing experience, just as making movie was,” she ended.

Hari ng Tondo was the official entry of APT Productions Inc,. MXET TV and Reyna Films to the Director’s Showcase Category of the 10th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. It also stars Rez Cortez, Lorenz Martinez, Liza Lorena, Lui Manansala, Aiza Seguerra, Carlos Canlas, Mark Tayag, Ciarra Sotto, Gian Magdangal, Audie Gemora, Hans Eckstein, Raul Montesa, Jelson Bay, Gino Ramirez, Mengie Cobarrubias, and Eric Quizon. Star Cinema will release the movie commercially with Reyna Films and Central Digital Lab for the commercial run on October 1.

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