By Bayani San Diego Jr., Philippine Daily Inquirer
Insiang has finally returned home.
Almost four decades have passed since Filipino National Artist Lino Brocka’s Insiang first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, but lead actress Hilda Koronel vividly recalls the Smokey Mountain shoot and the whirlwind five-day trip to France.
The mere mention of the 1976 social realist drama’s title “brings back beautiful memories,” Koronel, now based in Los Angeles, relates in an email interview. She says she will forever be “grateful” for the chance of working with her mentor Brocka, and has nothing but praise for her costar and onscreen mother, film legend Mona Lisa.
“Mona Lisa was wonderful. I love her,” says Koronel. “I learned lot from Lino. We grew up together. He trained me and knew how to push me.”
Koronel remembers shooting her dramatic confrontation scene with Mona Lisa as “chaotic” (the heat was unbearable and there was some neighbourhood commotion), but they persevered and were handsomely rewarded for their efforts.
In 1978, Insiang was featured in the Section Parallel/Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Then again, this year in 2015, the digitally restored masterpiece returned to the same A-list festival for the Cannes Classics section.
Koronel feels “honored” that Insiang was included in the prestigious Cannes Classics section alongside works by Costas-Gavras (“Z”), Luis Puenzo (“La Historia Oficial”) and Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane,” “The Lady from Shanghai”).
After all, she considers Insiang her “baby.”
“It feels wonderful. I am very proud of ‘Insiang.’ It was a low-budget film that made it in the international scene. It’s great that, after all these years, our little film is still well-regarded,” she says.
In 1978, Brocka and Koronel traveled to Cannes to grace the film’s screenings. Brocka and Koronel were accompanied by Pierre Rissient, French cineaste and the Filipino filmmaker’s staunch champion, throughout their stay in south France.
Koronel even landed on the front page of France-Soir, a French daily, upstaging Hollywood actress Farrah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), also on the cover.
The Insiang screening at Cannes was a categorical success.
“The audience was enthusiastic back then,” Koronel reminisces. “They had no idea that such places as Smokey Mountain (a giant heap of trash) existed. A lot of Filipinos came to watch, to support us, too.”
One critic told Koronel that she was much too luminous to be a slum dweller. Brocka and Koronel were quick to retort: “We shut him up by telling him that I grew up in the slums in real life.”
“Our film was honored twice in Cannes,” acknowledges Koronel. “It makes me very happy that a Filipino film was shown alongside the greats.”
She hails Insiang as “Brocka’s masterpiece.”
“Its story (by Mario O’Hara) is timeless. It’s something we can proudly call our own. It’s not easy to get in Cannes. That it was shown twice in Cannes fills me with immense Pinoy pride.”
Like Brocka’s earlier film, Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Koronel says that Insiang remains “relevant” to this day.
“I wish we would make more movies like Brocka’s classics—films with substance, that have something to say about our society. Restoring these films are important to all of us—especially to the younger generation who may not have seen these movies yet—because the social problems that Lino discussed are still prevalent today.”
Koronel was able to attend the premiere of the digitally restored Maynila at Cannes in 2013 and had the chance to reunite with Rissient.
Although it was a tiring trip from the United States to France, she felt invigorated watching Maynila, with her husband Ralph Moore.
Maynila was restored by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), in partnership with the World Cinema Project, L’Immagine Ritrovata and the film’s producer-cinematographer Mike de Leon. The World Cinema Project is headed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese. In a videotaped message shown before the Maynila screening in Cannes two years ago, Scorsese, founder of the World Cinema Project, promised to restore another Brocka film—which turned out to be Insiang.
For the restoration of Insiang, the FDCP teamed up with L’Immagine Ritrovata once again. “The Insiang restoration marks the fourth collaboration of FDCP and L’Immagine Ritrovata,” says FDCP Chairman Briccio Santos. “This partnership allows and ensures the world-class restoration of the best Filipino film classics.”
Santos also points out that Insiang’s restoration wouldn’t have been possible without the invaluable contribution of producer Ruby Tiong Tan, and expresses gratitude to Rissient. “FDCP is always thankful to Pierre for his singular role of introducing Brocka (with the film ‘Insiang’) to Europe and eventually the world. He really pushed for the film to be shown in Cannes in 1978.”
When Koronel watches her younger self in old movies, it’s a bittersweet and “sentimental” experience: “it would remind me of the people we’ve lost—particularly Lino. It would have been better if he could bask in all the accolades that are being accorded to him now.”
The legendary Brocka died in an untimely car mishap on May 21, 1991.
“It was a great loss. He could still be making great films if he were still around today,” Koronel says.
Insiang finally returned home to Manila, as the opening film of the World Premieres Film Festival Philippines on June 24, 2015.