The legacy of 'Ang Larawan'
I have an ugly confession to make: I’m not particularly charitable. I go out of my way to be helpful to people I know and care about, but when it comes to giving time, money, and service to strangers…I'm not proud of this – I know I could do much, much more.
This critical observation about myself crossed my mind a few weeks back as I sat for a Q&A in front of a huge audience of mostly teachers and students in a gymnasium in Sta Fe, a small town on Bantayan Island, north of Cebu, after a special screening of Ang Larawan, a film I helped produce and starred in.
Ang Larawan, the screen adaptation of the musical based on A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino by National Artist Nick Joaquin, is an ode to the passing of the world of truth and beauty and a celebration of the tenacity of the Filipino spirit amid the rise of materialism and consumerism.
One of the teachers took the microphone, presumably to ask us a question. Instead, she profusely thanked us for making this possible. Ang Larawan, she said, is a rare gift that awakens the hearts and minds of young Filipinos to appreciate literature, art, music, and cinema that are uniquely our own. I can’t recall her exact words, but I do remember that they tugged at my heart.
Our group – made up of cast member/producer Celeste Legaspi, producer Girlie Rodis, director Loy Arcenas, and composer Ryan Cayabyab – was elated. Her voice quivering with emotion, Celeste replied that this was our intention all along in taking pains to make this movie a national legacy. Ang Larawan is for everyone, but especially for the younger generations that have begun to lose ties with our past, to remind them of who we are as a people.
A student's hand shot up and the question was for Mr C (our nickname for Ryan): How was the music made? Mr C explained that he came up with the melodies according to how the actors read National Artist Rolando Tinio’s libretto. If someone else had written it, according to the composer, the music would have been completely different.
This revelation prompted more excited questions from the kids, who were clearly in awe of Mr C. He eventually told them that it would be much better if he came back to give them a workshop, which apparently he does regularly for aspiring composers around the country. I wondered which statement is more true: Ryan is successful and so he gives back or Ryan selflessly shares his talent with others and that’s why he is blessed with success.
As the Q&A session continued, I asked myself: What have I done to give back? Throughout my 3 decades in Philippine showbiz and theater industry, I’ve contributed a “valuable service” by entertaining people. But the truth is, most of the time I get paid to do something (perform) I would do for free.
For me, few things are as enjoyable as singing, dancing, and acting on stage. The applause is just the icing on the cake. And let’s face it, there are worse things than traveling and performing all over the world, getting VIP treatment, free clothes, skin care, and a bunch of other cool stuff. I’m a very, very lucky girl in that respect.
So, when have I ever given something of myself without satisfying my own need for appreciation and validation? What can I call my legacy?
What gave us the courage, another teacher asked, to make a film that not only took many years of hard work to complete, but was also considered a financial risk? After all, aside from Paulo Avelino, we didn’t cast any bankable stars. Many correctly predicted that we wouldn’t rake it in at the box office during the Metro Manila Film Festival. Although we didn't do too badly, we were far from being among the top grossers.
We are currently touring our film around the country, slowly making back what our investors gave us on blind faith. We take turns attending these special screenings like a tag team, knowing we have a long way to go with little if any monetary gain to be had. What kind of insanity prompted us to Contra Mundum (defy the world) as our t-shirts proclaim?
The answer came to me as I recalled a lunch conversation on the beach in Bantayan. We were all smiles and felt very fortunate to be there. Mr C mused out loud, “Did we ever think we would get here?” We looked around the table and shook our heads. Loy responded, “When we first started, I don’t think any of us expected to come this far.” We all agreed happily.
As I looked at the young faces in the crowd, I said: “When you follow your heart, and you make something beautiful, something you love, it will take you places. This is a dream come true for us, being here with you.”
Did I hope to get a lot of awards? Did I hope that people would praise me for playing Paula? Do I still hope to join more international festivals? Yes, yes, and yes. But when the going gets tough and things are not working out – like the day we were pulled out of 30 cinemas on just the second day of the festival – these ambitions were not the reasons why I persevered. That day, I cried, thinking it was the end of the road. But it wasn’t. I pulled myself together, and as a team we pushed on even harder. Why? Despite the temporary setback, the passion in us to bring this film to Filipinos all over the world was very much alive. Even now, we have barely scratched the surface.
I still don’t consider myself a do-gooder, but I finally found something in my life that I believe in enough to share with others and future generations – no matter the cost. Ang Larawan is my legacy, our legacy. It came with a lot of hard work, heartaches, even squabbles, but also triumphs, appreciation and rave reviews.
That’s why my heart just soared when we saw the reaction of the teenage boys in Southridge School. They clapped, cheered, and their faces all lit up when the film ended. It was like a flame was ignited in them too. At that moment, I thought to myself, mine is the opposite of a “thankless job.” It is a gift that keeps on giving. – Rappler.com
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