Eddie Garcia (top), lead actor of Bwakaw, wasn’t able to make it to the premiere at the New York Film Festival. Among those present were (from left) Perci Intalan (producer), Jun Lana (director), Armida ‘Tita Midz’ Siguion-Reyna (star), Bibeth Orteza (co-star) and Ferdinand Lapuz (co-producer).]

MANILA, OCTOBER 15, 2012 (PHILSTAR) FUNFARE By Ricardo F. Lo - That question from Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre is the same one that I and I’m sure those who have seen the movie are asking — will Bwakaw earn for the Philippines its first Oscar? Keep our collective fingers crossed.

Edmund, who saw the movie at its US premiere at the ongoing (until Oct. 14) 50th New York Film Festival (NYFF), described it as “arguably the Philippines’ strongest entry in recent years to the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film category.” Bwakaw was listed by Time Entertainment as “one of the 10 films to watch” at non-competition NYFF, one of the most eminent international film festivals anticipated annually by the discriminating New York audiences and critics worldwide.

“And judging from the resounding cheers and ovation accorded by the huge crowd at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan, the Philippines may be in a better position than ever to clinch a nod for the Top 5 Oscar slots from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS),” reported Edmund.

Bwakaw is “the real discovery of the (NYFF) slate this year” and “a totally surprising, lovely film,” according to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the same group that used to dismiss Philippine entries in the past NYFF. (Bwakaw was invited to NYFF prior to its selection by the Film Academy of the Philippines as the country’s official entry to the Oscars, according to its producer Ferdinand Lapuz.)

[PHOTO -Direk Jun answering a question during the movie’s post-screening Q&A, with Richard Peña (NYFF selection committee chairman) as moderator. Left: Bwakaw in the NYFF souvenir program]

Richard Peña, Film Society’s program director and chairman of the NYFF selection committee, said out of hundreds of outstanding submissions worldwide, Bwakaw, “a work by an unknown director (Jun Robles Lana) popped out from nowhere to captivate and enthrall with its emotional truth, high humor and sage assessment of the human condition.”

True enough, NYFF audiences were laughing and giggling constantly especially during the movie’s first half, only to find themselves choking back tears in the latter part.

As Funfare and local critics have noted, Eddie Garcia delivers a tour de force as a grumpy old gay man who rediscovered life — through his “best friend,” a dog named Bwakaw — in a subdued but powerful performance only he can do.

Garcia was described by Lana during the festival’s Q&A as a multi-awarded and legendary Filipino actor and film director, who is considered as the Philippines’ Clint Eastwood.

“And Eddie Garcia is as straight as Clint Eastwood,” Lana assured the crowd that burst into laughter.

According to Edmund, here’s how the NYFF program describes Garcia and the synopsis: “Filipino cinema great Eddie Garcia gives a career-capping performance as Rene, a 70-plus single gent in a quiet provincial town who, having alienated almost everyone with his caustic comments, is resigned to seeing out his days alone, save for the company of his loyal canine companion, (Bwakaw). Rene has his secrets but is disinclined to share them until he befriends a brawny tricycle taxi driver (Rez Cortez). Employing frequent outrageous humor, director Jun Robles Lana elegantly captures the quality of everyday life in the backwater while crafting a superior character study of a man who has allowed most of life to pass him by until an emotional jolt emboldens him to go where he’s never dared venture before.”

Stefanie Dworkin, a New York-based video editor, calls the movie “first-rate entertainment.”

“The acting is superb, the story line is very good,” said Dworkin, who is of Russian and Jewish descent. “Some scenes are hammy but they’re kinda cute. It also presents a different kind of culture we’re not familiar with.” She added that the country setting, which is San Pablo, Laguna, is “simply adorable.”

Others, including a Cuban-American benefactor of Lincoln Center, called Bwakaw “a masterpiece.”

“It’s a magnificent film, a masterpiece,” said the man, who requested anonymity, and added that he’s a fan of Filipino director Brillante Mendoza. “I love watching foreign films and I noticed that more and more Filipino filmmakers, many of them very young like Mr. Lana, are coming out with exceptional work.”

Edmund quoted Jose Wendell Capili, a UP professor, as saying, “The movie has all the basic ingredients of a world-class film worthy of Oscar citation. It is “technically polished and the universal subject about old people and a dog is hard to resist.

And Lapuz, the producer, couldn’t agree more. This is the very reason, he said, why everyone involved in Bwakaw is inspired to give it a do-or-die push — even moneywise — to get noticed by the members of the Academy.

“We have an agent, Fortissimo Films, that is coordinating with our producers, APT Entertainment of Antonio Tuviera,” Lapuz expained. “They are currently finalizing on who will handle our publicity for the campaign. We are grateful that the film was given to this group, who, just like Jun and myself, love the film so dearly.

“Although we don’t have a publicist yet, there are private individuals who are doing their share in helping us promote the film like New York-based Vincent Nebrida, and Strand Releasing’s Marcu Hu. Of course, there’s APT Entertainment, which is spending money to hire a publicist.

“And through NYFF’s help, we got so many reviews published that brought awareness to the movie. The Toronto International Film Festival, too. We got good feedback from the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety. Even from Time Out London.”

In Bwakaw, Garcia got a terrific support from the likes of Soxie Topacio, Joey Paras, Armida Siguion-Reyna, Beverly Salviejo, Luz Valdez, Allan Paule, Gardo Versoza, Soliman Cruz, Bibeth Orteza and a resplendent Rez Cortez as the tricycle driver who became a special friend to Garcia’s character.

Edmund said that people missed Eddie during the NYFF. People were hoping he would show up at the end of the screening to receive their long and thunderous applause of approval. Unfortunately, Garcia wouldn’t get his US visa in time for Sunday’s screening, according to the producers.

“With Garcia’s absence, it was a regal Armida Siguion-Reyna — alongside Bibeth Orteza, Lapuz and Perci Intalan — who formally acknowledged the crowd’s adoration with a flying kiss,” added Edmund.

At the Q&A moderated by Richard Peña, direk Jun continued to be showered with accolades by film buffs and critics who were in awe of the rising young filmmaker from a Third World country.

Lana, who is a Palanca Hall of Famer and two-time FAMAS awardee for screenwriting, talked about the resurgence of Philippine cinema, thanks largely, he said, to independent filmmaking. He also shamelessly admitted that seeing Bwakaw making it to the Oscar night is his ultimate dream.

The smart and articulate director spiced up the evening chat with his wit and sense of humor that endeared him more to the crowd.

When asked what he hoped for the future of Eddie’s character in the film, Lana made the crowd go wild with his response: “Peace, love and wherever he’s headed, I hope he’ll find a very hot guy.”

Noted Edmund, “With his eloquence in English, mannerisms and fashion sense, not a few thought that Lana was US-educated. We verified this with Lapuz as Jun was mobbed by admirers in the theater lobby after the screening.”

It turned out Lana was actually “US-T.”-educated,” quipped Lapuz, referring to the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. “Proud Thomasian si direk,” Lapuz said.

Postscript (still from Edmund): There are no categories and no prizes are awarded at the NYFF, which is highly competitive with an average of 28 feature films in the main slate and 16 short films selected each year. This year, Bwakaw joins other notable new films including Lee Daniel’s The Paperboy (with Nicole Kidman and Zach Efron), Robert Zemecki’s Flight (with Denzel Washington), Ang Lee’s Life of Pi and Pablo Larrain’s No (with Gael Garcia Bernal).

What’s up?

WARNING: GMA Network chairman and chief executive officer lawyer Felipe L. Gozon does not have a Twitter account. Netizens are advised to disregard fictitious Twitter accounts using his name and photos.

No, Sen. Tito Sotto is not running for re-election in next year’s elections. His term is good until 2016. Missed out in Funfare’s list of showbiz people running were Saranggani Rep. Manny Pacquiao for re-election, his wife Jinkee Pacquiao for governor of Saranggani, Dennis Padilla for board member in Laguna, director Joel Lamangan for congressman (Cavite), Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado for re-election and ABS-CBN reported Sol Aragones for congresswoman in Laguna.

Actor-endorser Tony dela Rea is now being managed by Minda Flores. Tony guested in the ABS-SBN soap Walang Hanggan which ends in two weeks time. Before that, he was in an episode about the Olalia massacre of the GMA show Case Unclosed, cast as Col. Red Kapunan. Tony is the image model of Beth J. Skin Care International.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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