Monday, August 13, 2018

A sweet and “miraculous” victory for “Pan de Salawal”

Director Che Espiritu (in white shirt and black pants) introducing the production team and cast at the Pan de Salawal gala at Cinemalaya  
The film “Pan de Salawal” emerged as one of the biggest winners of 14th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, winning Best Director for Che Espiritu, Best Original Music Score for Len Calvo, Special Jury Prize for Acting for child performers Miel Espiritu and JM Salvado, and Special Jury Award.

This debut feature by writer-director Che Espiritu tells of how the lives of sickly residents in a railroad community are changed by Aguy, a mysterious seven-year old girl with healing powers. The twist is that Aguy must first inflict pain on the sick, like slaps and punches, before they can be cured.
The Pan de Salawal producers and cast. L-R: Actor Lorenzo Aguila, producer Matthew Grant Godbey, actress Miel Espinoza, producer Herb Kimble, actor JM Salvado, actress Ruby Ruiz

The title refers to “pan de sal,” the Filipino version of the dinner roll which is baked by Sal, the neighborhood baker with a kidney ailment, and “salawal,” the Filipino word for “undies” that Aguy, for some weird reason, enjoys wearing on her head like a cap or a beret. The plot is based on Espiritu’s experiences with hospital patients. She says, “I was a pre-med student before I shifted to filmmaking… There were some patients, I’d never forget, who, instead of being depressed, had the inspiring courage to win over their pain.”

The “Pan de Salawal” cast is composed of veterans, namely, Bodjie Pascua as Sal, Madeleine Nicolas, Soliman Cruz, and Ruby Ruiz; and young performers like Anna Luna, Felix Roco, and Miel Espinoza who portrays Aguy.
CineFocus producers Matthew Grant Godbey and Herb Kimble at Cinemalaya
The film is the first foreign-language feature produced by Herb Kimble and Matthew Grant Godbey of the Los Angeles-based company CineFocus Productions, who both saw the potential in the project when it was presented to them. “We were given a copy of Che’s script (in English). We saw the heart and the magic and agreed to produce it,” says Kimble.

That charm is what many viewers also recognized in “Pan de Salawal.” Lei Landicho of gave the movie a rating of 4 ½ out of 5 stars and said, “It offers a clean plot with seamless cinematic qualities to both entertain and educate viewers. From its cast to its screenplay, the film is surely one for the books.” Business executive Carlson Chan described it as “magical.” While award-winning actress Ina Feleo expressed her admiration for the young Miel. Feleo said, “A star is born. Miel Espinoza made me laugh and cry so much in ‘Pan de Salawal.’” Oggs Cruz of wrote, “The real miracle of ‘Pan de Salawal’ is how it effortlessly evokes cheer amidst the sea of suffering…”
Cinemalaya 2018 Best Director Che Espiritu with CineFocus producer Matthew Grant Godbey
For Espiritu, the success and inclusion of “Pan de Salawal” in Cinemalaya 2018’s main competition marks the culmination of a seven-year journey. “It was in 2011 when I first envisioned the film when I saw the difficulties my father experienced because of a kidney problem,” she says.

“’Pan de Salawal’ is really about miracles,” Espiritu underscores. Referring to the people who helped her bring the story to the big screen, she adds, “It’s also a miracle that this film was completed.”

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