Although a first-time actress, Laila Ulao managed to make waves for her performance in the acclaimed Women of the Weeping River, which won Best Picture awards at the 2016 QCinema International Film Festival, the 2017 Young Critics Circle, and the 40th Gawad Urian.
Now, with the movie’s release this March in time for National Women’s Month, the moviegoing public will finally get to see Ulao’s award-winning performance that many viewers have described as superb, stunning, and heartbreaking.
Directed by award-winning director Sheron Dayoc, Women of the Weeping River tells the story of Satra (Ulao), a young widow in a remote Muslim community whose family is caught in an escalating blood feud – locally known as the ‘rido’ – that stretches back generations. She must choose between following the wishes of her family to continue the feud and disobeying her loved ones in the hopes of stopping the clan war that has been going on for several years.
Women of the Weeping River is shot entirely in Tausug with an all-Muslim cast of non-actors. According to Dayoc, he considered both the physical features and the personal background of the actors for the movie “so they would be able to connect to the character they are playing.” This makes Ulao, a community nurse based in Zamboanga, who has also experienced losing a loved one in Mindanao, a perfect fit for the role.
“I initially thought Women of the Weeping River was just going to be an [online] short film. Kinabahan ako, gusto kong umatras,” Ulao quipped. “Wala akong experience in acting before this, kahit sa school.”
But what compelled her to push through with the movie was her desire to help share the story of Mindanao and its people.
“I worked for a non-government organization before acting and our advocacy is promoting peace and empowering women. I want to be a tool in promoting peace. The idea that the film will be seen outside Mindanao, it’s like a really big chance for us to show them our story, the story ng kung ano ba ang papel ng kababaihan sa Moro conflict.”
Dayoc said that because of her proximity to the character, Ulao was able to “live and breathe the character” of Satra.
“She’s living the character in the film kaya mapapansin talaga yung kanyang rawness and sincerity,” Dayoc said.
“Pinag-isa ko talaga si Laila at si Satra,” she said, admitting that her character’s journey is similar to her own.
“My father was shot to death. I was so mad. I was so angry. I wanted vengeance. But I realized that wanting vengeance is not good, not healthy, my hatred is slowly destroying me. With the help of Allah, I was able to overcome the anger,” she added.
Ulao admits that tapping into her personal experience was difficult, but it also proved cathartic for the first-time actress. “I started to remove the hatred I have in my heart. I’m slowly recovering my inner peace.” Her risk to take on Women of the Weeping River paid off, making her performance in the film one of the best debut performances of an actress in a Filipino movie in recent years. Her performance earned her the Best Actress award at the 2016 QCinema International Film Festival, where the movie premiered. The Young Critic Circle also gave her the Best Performance award last year, besting several veteran actors for the award. In December, Ulao won the Best Actress at the 1st ASEAN-China International Film Festival in Malaysia.
“I’m happy for the awards I got. I’m also excited for people to watch the movie para maintindihan kami ng mga tao outside Mindanao, for them to know the real story,” Ulao said. Women of the Weeping River, produced by TBA Studios, opens on Friday, March 23 at SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, SM Mall of Asia, SM Manila, SM Sta. Mesa, SM Fairview, SM Southmall and SM Bacoor at 1:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. as part of Cine Lokal. It is also slated to have an art-house theatrical release in the U.S. starting in April to be followed by regional screenings nationwide. For block screenings, contact TBA Studios at [email protected]
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