Having never worked on an international project before, Amanda Tan jumped at the chance when her friend and fellow film producer Jeremy Chua approached her to be involved in a film by influential Philippine director Lav Diaz.
“We’d worked together on films in the past and he asked me if I would like to come on board as an executive producer. Soon, he introduced me to powerhouse producer, Bianca Balbuena and a year later, here we are,” Tan said.
Little did they know that the project -- historical epic ‘A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery’ -- would take them to Germany in February to compete at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale).
The film was among the 18 entries competing for the top Golden Bear Prize. The festival’s Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize, which honours feature films that open new perspectives, eventually went to the challenging eight-hour drama on 20 February.
'A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery' trailer
Cinephiles familiar with Lav Diaz are no stranger to the auteur’s penchant for creating extremely long works. His previous ‘Norte, The End of History’ (2013) was five hours long.
Made with a production budget of about US$340,000 (S$477,000), the movie took 24 days to shoot, but according to Chua, is really a 18-year labour of love for the director.
Set in the late 19th century during the Philippine revolution against Spanish rule, the film focuses on the influence of Andres Bonifacio, considered to be one of the main motivators of the uprising.
The cast and crew at the Berlinale | Photo: Amanda Tan
Weaving in rich Philippine mythology, it also follows the lives of several groups of people, including Bonifacio's wife who is searching for his body on a mountain that is inhabited by spirits.
“The film is a tribute to the heroes of the Philippine Revolution and a sober reminder of the influence of American cultural imperialism and capitalism to Filipino youth,” Jeremy Chua explained.
Producer Bianca Balbuena, actors Joel Saracho, Angel Aquino, Piolo Pascual, Cherie Gil, director Lav Diaz, actors John Lloyd Cruz, Alessandra De Rossi, producer Paul Soriano, actors Susan Africa, Hazel Orencio and Bernardo Bernardo at the Berlinale photocall | Photo: Getty
While the film comprise Filipino stock, it also boasts Singaporean credentials with Chua and Akanga Films’ Fran Borgia as co-producers. Tan via her Empyreal production practice, serves as a co-executive producer. Their duties were mainly in the area of funding and financial management. They are also responsible for the marketing and distribution of the film when it finally makes it way here later this year. The film is billed as a Phillipines-Singapore co-production.
Despite its long running time, ‘A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery’ was shown in its entirety at the Berlinale, in a screening that started at 9.30am and ended shortly before 7pm, with a one-hour lunch break.
Producer Amanda Tan speaking with actress and Berlinale judge Meryl Streep
“We were very lucky as previous festivals recognized Lav’s films in the past and both Berlinale and Cannes were very receptive to showing the film. We’re glad the festival believed in it as much as we did,” Tan noted.
During the festival, both Chua and Tan got to rub shoulders and chat with film luminaries including actors Clive Owen and Meryl Streep who were both festival judges. The pair were part of the director’s 15-strong entrourage.
“Meryl and I both agreed how because of its (‘A Lullaby’) length, you get to truly immerse yourself in the universe of the Philippine revolution. After a while, the outside world doesn’t exist anymore, and you’re just there, part of that universe,” Tan explained.
As for whether the film will be screened as a whole or cut into friendlier lengths, Tan said that they “are considering all options at the moment.”
“We might release the full cut first then the shorter version to reach a greater audience,” she revealed.
“It will definitely arrive in Singapore and it promises to be the film event of the year for all cinephiles,” Chua added.