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Larawan’s triumph continues with wider release, US screenings

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CANDIDA and Paula’s struggle to hold on to their father’s painting (and, in turn, hold on to their ideals) as many people try to convince them to sell it to save them from destitution, closely mirrored what the creators of Ang Larawan went through just to get the film a nationwide release.

And the stuggle was ultimately fruitful for the film, which has gone on to garner prizes, a wider run, and a life after the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).

“From the beginning, we wanted to do Ang Larawan because of all it stood for — it was art versus commerce. If we can get the young people of today to discuss the story, even if they disagree, we just want them to open their minds to the possibility that things aren’t always about money. And the funny thing, that’s what happened to us,” Girlie Rodis, one of the film’s executive producers, told the media on Dec. 30 at the Via Mare restaurant in Quezon City.

“At the start of the Metro Manila Film Festival, we had 53 theaters, then it went down to 26 after few days. After the awards night, we went up to 56, which is more than when we started,” she added.

The film’s official Facebook page announced on Jan. 2 that the film is currently being screened in 77 cinemas nationwide.

Ang Larawan, which was based on National Artist Nick Joaquin’s play, Portrait of an Artist as Filipino, with a libretto by fellow National Artist Rolando Tinio, was one of the big winners at this year’s MMFF, taking home the Best Picture, Best Actress (Joanna Ampil), Best Musical Score (Ryan Cayabyab), and Best Production Design (Gino Gonzales) trophies, and also garnering a posthumous Special Jury Prize for Nick Joaquin and the Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas Cultural Award.

It was a continuous uphill climb for the team to get the film to where it currently is, from being rejected during the first round of MMFF entry selections to being pulled out of theaters the first few days of the festival, but, like the Marasigan sisters whose battle cry was “Contra Mundum (defy the world),” the film likewise did defy the odds.

Looking back, Ms. Rodis said their rejection during the MMFF script selection was a blessing in disguise as it served to publicize the film among millennials.

“It helped a lot as millennials became aware of the film,” she said, adding that many audience members from that generation watched the film multiple times in order to help the film not be pulled out of cinemas.

“A good portion of our sales are [from] repeat viewers,” said actress Rachel Alejandro, who played Paula and is also one of the film’s producers, remarked during the same press conference.

While the MMFF which will end its run on Jan. 7, the team behind Ang Larawan is determined to bring the film to as many people as possible. Ms. Alejandro said they will be touring schools including University of the Philippines Los Baños and the University of Cebu.

ABS-CBN’s The Filipino Channel (TFC) is also bringing the film to US theaters starting Jan. 12, according to a company press release.

The film’s producers are also looking at restaging the original sung-through play version, a plan originally set for 2017 but pushed back because of the film.

Ms. Rodis also revealed that they plan on adapting other Filipino musicals to film, like Jose Javier Reyes’s Katy! The Musical, about the life of the “Queen of Philippine vaudeville and jazz” Katy dela Cruz, as well as Ryan Cayabyab’s Alikabok, about a Katipunera who left her comfortable life in order to fight for her country.

“Even if it’s few and far between, we would like to make movies that are authentic and true to form,” she said. — Zsarlene B. Chua