Iti Mapukpukaw team ‘honored, overwhelmed’ after animated film named PHL’s Oscars entry

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Iti Mapukpukaw team �honored, overwhelmed� after animated film named PHL�s Oscars entry
Iti Mapukpukaw team — led by director Carl Papa (fifth from right) and Project 8 Projects founders-producers, directors Antoinette Jadaone and Dan Villegas (fourth and third from right) — feels ‘happy and honored’ that their film is the country’s official Oscars submission. They are joined onstage by Film Academy of the Philippines acting director-general Manny Morfe (center), Film Development Council of the Philippines chair Tirso Cruz III (sixth from right) and director Joey Reyes, chair of the screening committee (second from right).
Photos courtesy of Gerry Olea

No Filipino film has ever been nominated at the Oscars, but hopes remain as Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) makes history as the first animated entry the Philippines is submitting to the 96th Academy Awards.

Fresh from being Best Film winner and top-grosser at the 2023 edition of the Cinemalaya Film Festival, Iti Mapukpukaw’s selection was announced by the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) during the Film Industry Month closing ceremony held by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) on Friday night.

Starring Carlo Aquino, Gio Gahol and first Filipino Golden Globe nominee Dolly de Leon, the film tackles trauma and healing as it tells the story of a mouthless animator who seemingly lives a normal life until the death of an uncle and the arrival of a familiar alien.

The director and Project 8 Projects producers said that they feel honored and overwhelmed but ready to take on the challenges ahead for the film to score a nomination in the Best International Feature category. The FDCP has granted them P1 million to help in the film’s upcoming marketing campaign.

“We didn’t expect to be considered for the Oscars. We are really honored, surprised and happy,” said director Carl Joseph Papa.

“Sabay na happy, excited, afraid, overwhelmed, nervous, sabay-sabay na emotions but rest assured we won’t ever waste this opportunity. And we will do our very best to hopefully secure a nomination,” also said Project 8 Projects founder-producer Dan Villegas.

Iti Mapukpukaw makes history as the first animated entry the Philippines is submitting to the 96th Academy Awards. It stars Carlo Aquino, Gio Gahol and Dolly de Leon.

The team also expressed gratitude for the FDCP aid because “we need all the help that we could get,” Villegas said.

“I think it’s really meeting and working with the right people,” he further said about their next steps. “Ito walang bola, papunta talaga kami ng meeting after nito. Mag-aalign lang kami. May mga ideas na kami, kumbaga shortlist ng mga tao na pwede katukin to ask for help and hopefully, they say yes.”

Project 8 Projects co-founder/producer and director Antoinette Jadaone also credited the help of GMA Public Affairs in making the film possible through funding assistance. “Nung umpisa palang, nung pini-pitch palang namin, nandun na sila. Thank you GMA for your support and for supporting Philippine animation.”

They are set to do all the legwork in hopes of finally offering the country’s first Oscars nod since it started fielding entries at the inception of the category in the ‘50s. “Palaban kami,” said Villegas.

Meanwhile, direk Joey Reyes gave some details on what went down in the selection process. As chairman of the screening committee organized by FAP, he could not vote, but he revealed that members were really adamant about what they wanted.

“Dalawa talaga naglaban, bakbakan. The vote was three versus two,” he said, without mentioning the other film.

FDCP chair Tirso and direk Joey at the Film Industry Month closing ceremony at Acacia Hotel in Alabang.

The considerations, he added, boiled down to “No. 1, the originality of the material; No. 2, the universality of the theme, yung largeness of theme; and thirdly, how Filipino it is that can be translated to a universal message. Or yung pagka-Filipino niya…what are its Filipino (aspects) that can be understood by the world.”

He noted that lobbying, campaigning and vying for the attention of the Academy could cost at least two million dollars. “We’re very realistic. Kahit gaano kaganda yung pelikula mo, it’s a battle of marketing. Sino naman ang producer ang may two million dollars para ikampanya without any assurance na makapasok ka. It really needs government support.”

“I am hopeful but I’m not desperate (about the film’s chances). The point is that we send something good,” he said.

There are some quarters asking about the eligibility requirements for the Best International Feature, particularly the seven-day commercial screening.

According to the Oscars website, “The country-selected film must be first released in the country of origin no earlier than Dec. 1, 2022, and no later than Oct. 31, 2023, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor.”

All submissions and materials must be sent to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences by 5 p.m. on Oct. 2. The shortlist of 15 is set to be revealed on Dec. 21. Final nominees will be announced on Jan. 23, 2024 or almost two months before the scheduled Oscars on March 10, 2024.

The STAR sought clarification from FAP if the seven-day theatrical release was already factored into the vetting of the seven entries, particularly Iti Mapukpukaw, for Oscars entry consideration.

FAP acting director-general Manny Morfe reassured in an online message, “We asked the producers prior to viewing and (they) said they had a commercial theatrical release in Ayala Cinema last Aug. 5 to 14 with MTRCB permit and ticket sales report, which they can show.”

Meanwhile, Iti Mapukpukaw is facing exciting competition for a slot in the Oscars race. Among them are Berlin fest winners Totem of Mexico and Bad Living of Portugal; Singaporean director Anthony Chen’s The Breaking Ice, his third film to be sent to the Oscars (his previous ones included Ilo Ilo about a Filipino nanny in Singapore); Cannes winners Fallen Leaves from Finland, The Zone of Interest from UK and Goodbye Julia from Sudan; Venice fest winners lo Capitano from Italy and Autobiography from Indonesia; Denmark’s The Promised Land starring Hollywood star Mads Mikkelsen; another animated film The Peasants from Poland; and South Korea’s current box-office hit Concrete Utopia.

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