After nearly four decades, National Artist Lino Brocka’s masterpiece Insiang will return to the Festival de Cannes. It had the honor of being the first Philippine film ever to be shown as part of the Directors’ Fortnight in 1978. Brocka’s restored film has been selected for the Cannes Classics at the 68th edition of the prestigious festival. lt premieres on May 16.
The Cannes Classics section of the festival is meant to showcase and rediscover old classics with new or restored prints in celebration of the heritage of cinema. The restoration of Insiang was accomplished in partnership between the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project / The Film Foundation. It was completed at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratories in Bologna, Italy, after a long process to secure the film elements.
National Archives of the Philippines (NFAP), under the auspices of FDCP, acquired the rights of the film following negotiations between FDCP Chairman Briccio Santos and the film’s producer, Ruby Tiong Tan, last year. On her decision, she said, “I wanted to turn over the film as a Philippine cultural heritage product. I thought, if I have a masterpiece, should I just hang it in my home, only for myself to enjoy? No, I should put that masterpiece in the museum, in the National Film Archive, for the public to enjoy.”
Now state-owned, Insiang is paving the way as a model for the nation’s important films to be made publicly accessible. The Philippine premiere of the restored version is set to take place on June 24,.
FDCP was elated to hear of the film’s acceptance in this year’s Cannes Classics. Santos said, “Our country’s selection this year for Cannes Classics with the late National Artist Lino Brocka’s Insiang is once more a great honor for Philippine cinema. This is truly a cause for celebration. It affirms the country’s efforts to preserve our audiovisual heritage. Brocka’s films have proven to be at par with the world’s pantheon of cinema classics that deserve to be celebrated to this day.”
He continued, “With the Philippine acceptance in Cannes Classics, first with the restored version of Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in 2013, and now with the restored Insiang, the country has gained the honor that validates the path we have taken to give importance to our national classics. Our effort to preserve our country’s film heritage is vital and foremost, as these films play a crucial role in inspiring our film industry and the present generation of Filipino filmmakers to pursue artistic excellence and maximize their creative potentials to emulate Brocka’s example. Insiang leads the way to the future of our country’s film preservation projects. The fact that in the last two years two of Brocka’s films has been selected for Cannes Classics shows that the world is hungry for his films to be revived, given his great legacy and contributions to world cinema.”
Cannes’ selection of the restored Insiang pays homage to the film’s international premiere in 1978 when it was featured in the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, or Directors’ Fortnight. The section is non-competitive, distinguished by its focus on discovering independent and innovative directors with a unique cinematic expression. The film was selected for the Quinzaine on recommendation of Pierre Rissient, renowned film critic, curator, programmer, distributor, editor, producer, screenwriter, filmmaker, and long-time artistic advisor of the Cannes Film Festival. Rissient, a long-time supporter of Philippine cinema, played a vital role in catalyzing its international recognition as a masterpiece.
Insiang centers on the story and struggle of Insiang (Hilda Koronel), a teenage girl living with her mother, Tonia (Mona Lisa), in the most notorious slum of Manila, Tondo. The oppressiveness of urban poverty leads Tonia to throw away the shackles of family responsibility, as she invites her young lover Dado (Ruel Vernal) to live with them. Dado, however, turns his voyeuristic gaze on Insiang and defiles her. Scorned by her mother and unable to leave the miserable household, Insiang seeks freedom by plotting revenge against those who ruined her life.
But before the film created such a buzz on the international film scene, Insiang had a brush with the censors of Martial Law-era Philippines before it could even leave for Cannes. “Because of the social realities depicted in the film, they did not want it to go to Cannes. It was banned because it wasn’t showing the beautiful parts of Manila. They delayed the censoring process just so that it wouldn’t make it for the Cannes deadline,” Tiong Tan recalled.
But, as fate would have it, Insiang did make it to Cannes. A last-minute meeting with the censors was interrupted by street protesters demanding the release of the film, and with public pressure, they released it.
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