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Monday, April 22, 2024

A night of honor, tears, and hope

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“Make It Iconic” is the global slogan being used by France this year to celebrate the daring French spirit, reaffirming how this spirit is made concrete in the arenas of tourism, gastronomy, culture, education, science, the economy, and infrastructure through innovation and strategic partnerships across different global concerns and initiatives. Here in the Philippines, we witnessed a stirring example of how such a partnership can resonate in a touching, emotional, and socially impactful manner when the Embassy of France, SM Supermalls, and the French Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) operating in the Philippines, Cameleon Association, banded together for a special charity dinner.

Held at the Lanson Place, Mall of Asia, the dinner had several elements to highlight and recognize, but it was wonderful to note that the strongest spotlight of the night was reserved for Cameleon and its 26-year old struggle to develop a holistic approach to act on the causes of sexual violence and incest towards Filipino children and teenagers. Protected by a culture of silence and how it’s considered a taboo subject matter, Laurence Ligier, the founder of Cameleon, disclosed how 1 in 5 children below 18 has experienced sexual violence during their upbringing – and this alarming data applies to France, as it does here in the Philippines.

Ambassador of France to the Philippines Her Excellency Marie Fontanel

That this evening was happening on the second day of the ongoing 26th French Film Festival at the SM Cinema of Mall of Asia and Megamall until December 3, 2023, was so appropriate. Ambassador of France to the Philippines, Her Excellency Marie Fontanel, mentioned how one of the films being screened during the festival, the documentary “Un Silence Si Bruyant” (A Resounding Silence), tackles this very subject of incest in the context of contemporary French society. Directed by French actress Emmanuelle Béart and Anastasia Mikova, Béart had flown to the Philippines to present her film and was the special guest of the night. The fact that this was happening on the weekend when we celebrate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Woman and Children was just one more element of serendipity, and how the stars had aligned to make this such a momentous occasion.

The dinner also served as the opportunity to continue a tradition that commenced last year during the 75th anniversary of Philippine-French Diplomatic Relations – and this was to honor Filipinos who had spent years in French education and had subsequently excelled in their respective fields. The list of the 2023 awardees was a sterling example of the diversity and fruitfulness of this kind of education and cross-cultural exposure. There was filmmaker and film historian Nick Deocampo of the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute, internationally recognized Balai Palma chef Aaron Isip, Design Center of the Philippines Executive Director Rhea Matute, and SM Supermalls’ President Steven Tan.

From left are: Embassy of France Cultural Attaché Martin Macalintal, Ambassador of France to the Philippines Her Excellency Marie Fontanel, acclaimed French actress Emmanuelle Béart, SM Supermalls’ President Steven Tan, and Embassy of France Cultural Counsellor Marc Piton.

Entertaining video clips of the four awardees were presented, and it was lovely to watch Steven Tan recount how he pursued his Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) at the Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris, and that his love for French cinema was nurtured back then, making the current partnership between SM Cinema and the Embassy of France’s French Film Festival so meaningful to him.

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Isip is an alumnus of the renowned Le Cordon Bleu. Deocampo obtained a certificate of film from the Atelier du Formation Au Cinema Documentaire, and Matute obtained a master’s degree in International Brand Luxury Management at École Supérieure des Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) in Paris.

Acclaimed French actress Emmanuelle Béart at the opening of the 26th French Film Festival at SM Mall of Asia.

Hosted by French-Filipina Anne Gauthier and attended by a guest list led by Makati City Mayor Abigail Binay and SM Hotels and Conventions President Elizabeth Sy, the most meaningful points of the evening were undoubtedly the speech of Cameleon founder Ligier and her introducing the set piece of drama and movement that followed, as performed by the young women, men, and children who form part of the Cameleon population in Iloilo. Empowered by Cameleon and striving to right their lives, the performance was an incendiary reminder of what they had undergone, and a blazing testament to how they were not going to let the culture of silence get the better of them.

Béart interacted with the Cameleon troupe after their performance and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as the French actress went into long hugs with the young girls and children, promising them that she would continue the struggle to break this culture of silence. Cameleon founder Ligier did not mince her words when observing how ironic it is that the bulk of the financial support she gets for Cameleon’s operation here in the Philippines still comes from French donors. She fervently hoped that their participation in the evening would help build up awareness and lead to more support for their noble, uphill struggle of a cause. To cap the evening, SM Supermalls’ President Steven Tan led the spirit of giving by personally committing his support to Cameleon.

From left are: Ambassador of France to the Philippines Her Excellency Marie Fontanel, actor Cesar Montano, acclaimed French actress Emmanuelle Beart, Film Development Council of the Philippines Chairperson Tirso Cruz III, and SM Supermalls’ President Steven Tan

Cameleon Association Inc. can be followed on social media and they welcome donations. Cameleon is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a non-stock, non-profit, and is accredited by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). It is also a Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PNCC)-accredited donee institution.

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