DAVAO—In the van, on her way back to the hotel after gracing the Philippine premiere of Brillante Ma. Mendoza’s “Thy Womb” on Friday night, actress Nora Aunor couldn’t contain her joy—and surprise.
“Who knew I would win in Australia, while I was in Mindanao?” she asked. Aunor was named best actress and Mendoza, best director, at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (Apsa) held in Brisbane that night.
Apsa organizers had sent over their trophies so they could receive the honors at the premiere screening held in SM Lanang during the second Sineng Pambansa, mounted by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).
Aunor recalled that the last time she was in this southern Philippine city decades ago, she had a jampacked concert. She recalled, sadly: “There was a stampede and a child died.”
Mindanao was unforgettable for her, she said, and not just because of the tragedy. Last summer, when “Thy Womb” was shot in Tawi-Tawi, she grew even more fond of the region.
“I hope to go back to Sitangkai (a Tawi-Tawi town) soon,” she said. “I promised to build a health center there.” She said she had discussed with Manny V. Pangilinan, head of her home network TV5, the possibility of aiding the province.
“We could hold a fund-raising show for Tawi-Tawi,” she said. “I have personally set aside a small amount, P100,000, for medicines. But the people there badly need doctors and nurses, so that when a villager gets sick or gives birth, life is not necessarily put at risk. As it is, they have to take a long boat ride to the nearest hospital or clinic.”
The Apsa trophy is Aunor’s second for “Thy Womb.” She won the Bisato D’Oro given by an independent group of critics when the film competed at the Venice fest last September.
Mendoza, who got the La Navicella and P. Nazareno Special Mention honors at the same top-tier festival, admitted that he was initially apprehensive about filming in the south.
The Cannes winner related: “We had heard only negative things about Tawi-Tawi, but during the 14-day shoot, we hardly even noticed the security group assigned to us. We felt at home.”
Mendoza said he had felt strongly about making a film that would highlight the peace-loving nature of the people of Tawi-Tawi, “to empower them, to give them importance.”
Briccio Santos, FDCP chairman, agreed that “Thy Womb” had a positive impact on the island-province.
“The economic landscape changed for the better,” Santos noted. “Hotels are now often fully booked, and there are now four flights weekly to Tawi-Tawi (from Zamboanga), where there used to be only one. According to Tawi-Tawi Vice Governor Hadja Ruby Sahali, there will soon be an international flight from Malaysia. All of this after just one movie.”
This was proof, Santos said, that cinema and the arts could play a significant role in the peace process.