If earning Best Picture nomination nod at the 2nd CineFilipino Filmfest was any indication that indie film 1st Sem was bound for something great, it all became clear when it won Best Feature Film at a prestigious international film dubbed the biggest in South Asia.
First-time feature film directors Dexter Hemedez and Allan Ibanez found directorial breakthrough right on their first try after they won the Debut Directors Competition at the All Lights India International Film Festival last September 27. They bested entries from the US, Brazil and other countries.
1st Sem is a family comedy centered on mother and child relationship and themes on schooling, separation anxiety, youth, friendship, education, and ultimately, the sanity and sense of home.
“This victory is overwhelming for us considering that we went to India not expecting anything but just to enjoy being there,” expressed Dexter who informs that the film is a comedy that does not force itself to be and a drama told with just the right light feel to it.
The movie actually delivered a double strike after its lead actress Lotlot de Leon was honored with a Sole Acting Citation for her “exceptional performance." The Indian Filmfest usually gives honorable mention to the next best film but this time around, the esteemed jury decided to give the honor to the Pinay actress. It is her first international acting recognition -- a feat she bagged by acting lead for a comedy just for the first time in her career.
The triumphant film, with screenwriting icon Ricky Lee as creative consultant, was cited by the All Lights jury as “containing courage and cinematic storytelling.” The jury was composed of Hassan Nazer whose film Utopia was Afghanistan’s Best Foreign Film entry to this year’s Oscars, Pan Nalin who directed the globally distributed Samsara, and Rajesh Touchriver who was nominated best debut director at Cannes.
In 1st Sem, Lotlot stars as single mom of three Precy Marasigan, a probinsyana who sends his son Maru, played by Darwin Yu, to a Manila university to attend collegiate education. The incoming freshman apparently cannot cope with the transition to dorm life that he quickly returns home. From there, the story, describes by film critic Oggs Cruz as “a tender coming-of-age tale that has its heart in the right place” smoothly takes off.
Allan, who as writer has collaborated with Dexter, ventured to film directing with an eye for what’s honest and courageous. He related, “We crafted a story that will appeal to the youth, especially high school and college students, and to mothers like Precy. We intend to inspire and this win is for us, inspiring.”
Supporting Lotlot is a cast loaded with newbies taking her lead well, led by boyish-looking Darwin who honed his acting chops from Star Magic workshop. He plays the academically brilliant son who heads back home ahead of the batallion that sends him to the big city. That description alone from the duo director solicits laughter without them trying at all.
Allan Paule is no newbie, but him playing “that” cool uncle, makes way for a good balance opposite rising young actors Miguel Bagtas and Sebastian Vargas who are seen here as Maru’s brothers. Others in the cast are tried and tested thespians, including Teri Lacayanga, Maddie Martinez, and Karen Romualdez who had her acting training in Toronto, Canada.
Rounding up the 1st Sem cast are film and TV actor Simon Ibarra, model Marc Paloma, and fresh-faced Sachie Yu who plays Maru’s loyal bestfriend Michelle.
“On my first taping day, I was told by Tita Lotlot to just be natural on camera. She really helped me loosen up,” shared Darwin who played lead role Hercules in a high school production.
Last July 7, 1st Sem’s DP (Director of Photography) Neil Daza received recognition for his cinematography, given by Cinema World Fest Awards in Ottawa, Canada.
The movie is set to participate at the Nazioarteko Zinetxiki Children and Youth International Film Festival to be held in Bilbao, Spain from November 14 to 27, 2016. The Hemedez-Ibanez tandem is bound to make a wave at the New Directors Section.
The Kids First! Film and Video Festival in New Mexico, USA likewise shortlisted 1st Sem in its selection and raved that “it offers a very realistic depiction of a Philippine single mother dealing with her son’s misadventures."
Part of 1st Sem's quick success is the brilliant camera work termed by the directors as "tuhog scenes" shown without the usual cut intervals --- for as long as five minutes. The background music is anchored on a couple of songs from seminal alternative rock band Siakol titled "Inihaw" and "Sige Na Tuloy Pa." Yes, the movie is very Pinoy and universal.
(For further information on Ist Sem, check 1st SEM’s official Facebook page.)