Family comes in all shapes and sizes.
In the case of Dolphy, the late, great Comedy King lived a long life and finally passed away with his large and extended family by his bedside, not to mention the entire nation still praying for a miracle to the very last minute.
In the case of Rene, the lead character played by Eddie Garcia in “Bwakaw,” Jun Lana’s Cinemalaya entry to its Director’s Showcase category, the only family this grumpy old man has in his twilight years is the stray dog referred to in the film’s title.
From “Lassie” to “Old Yeller” to “101 Dalmatians,” films starring dogs have made us laugh and cry for as long as we can remember. But as far as Lana and the producers of “Bwakaw” are concerned, the dark comedy is actually the first Filipino film to feature a dog in the title role.
“When I started writing “Bwakaw” I had no story to begin with. All I had was this desire to start a writing project in order to remember my mentor (celebrated playwright and children’s book author) Rene O. Villanueva,” Lana told Interaksyon in an exclusive interview.
“After Rene died, my greatest fear was forgetting him. So I started writing a screenplay, and built it around a character I based on Rene. I knew it had to be a story about getting old, and people’s fear of getting old alone.”
Being the “passionate dog lover” that he describes himself, Lana, a multi-awarded writer who is also the creative director of GMA Network and Regal Films, also knew that the film had to have a dog.
He completed the script for “Bwakaw” in 2007 and soon realized that getting the film made would prove more challenging than he thought.
Even with such critical and commercial successes like “Mag-Ingat Ka Sa Kulam”, “Tarot”, “My Neighbor’s Wife” and last year’s “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” to his name, Lana said most producers still regarded “Bwakaw” as a risky venture.
“I was peddling the script around for years. Almost every producer I approached agreed it was a compelling story, but didn’t think it was commercial enough. It seemed too niche, too personal. That it was a personal project is something I cannot deny,” the director admitted.
With Cinemalaya, however, Direk Jun found what he says is “a platform to produce an unconventional movie.” But while the P500,000 seed money provided by the film festival’s foundation certainly helped, Lana knew he still needed additional funding to finally get the project off the ground.
“The number one obstacle I had to overcome was myself. I hate asking for favors. I’m horrible at it, and it makes me feel like I’m bothering people, even if they were my closest friends,” he pointed out.
“But for me to produce ‘Bwakaw,’ I knew I had to raise funds and approach people for help. ‘Bwakaw’ was such a passion project that it forced me out of my shell and my comfort zone.”
When he finally got the funding, Lana proceeded to cast the film. It’s been said that most difficult people to work with in the movies are children and animals. Well, casting the role of Bwakaw alone proved to be a quite a daunting task for the filmmaker.
“Actually even before the project was given the green light by Cinemalaya, I had already found my dog. We even started training the dog with Eddie Garcia. But a month before our shoot, the trainer bailed out on us and I really thought the movie would be shelved,” the director recalled.
But after days of auditioning other dogs and not finding his Bwakaw, Direk Jun decided to try his luck on YouTube one afternoon.
“After hours of trying different keywords in the search box, I stumbled upon a trainer specializing in Aspins or asong pinoy. That same night we went to his dog camp and met Princess, a highly trained bomb sniffing dog who blew us away with her amazing tricks,” he revealed.
While casting the role of Bwakaw took quite a while, getting Eddie Garcia to play the role of the grumpy old man who also happened to come out of the closet at his very advanced age was simply a no-brainer.
“Eddie Garcia was my first and only choice. I could not imagine doing this movie with anyone else. Fortunately he loved the script, and believed in it so much that he agreed to do the movie for way less than his usual fee,” the director revealed.
The legendary actor is no stranger to doing indies himself. He last won a Best Actor award for a 2005 Cinemalaya feature, Rica Arevalo’s “ICU Bed #7”. He concurred that “Bwakaw” is indeed an absorbing story that he just could not pass up.
Describing Direk Jun as “napakagaling, cool, and meticulous,” Mang Eddie told Interaksyon that he also loved the fact that while “Bwakaw” was filmed on a small budget and shot for only 10 days, it doesn’t look cheap because it was beautifully photographed by cinematographer Carlo Mendoza (“Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story”) who used two Alexa cameras and HMI lighting for the film’s glossy look.
The look of “Bwakaw” is not the only thing that does not limit its appeal to the indie crowd. Lana still refuses to believe it’s a niche movie and is optimistic that with the right marketing will find the broader audience it deserves “way beyond the halls of the CCP.”
“This film is so personal to me, making it was almost a religious experience. More than the awards, I’m aiming to get “Bwakaw” out to as many people as possible,” he declared.
“We have no budget for promotion, but if you noticed, the grassroots web campaign of ‘Bwakaw’ has been pretty relentless. We have teasers, celebrity endorsers, even a dog photo contest on Facebook that allows us to interactively reach out to our target audience. Hopefully all these efforts will result in audiences coming in droves to watch the film.”
“Bwakaw” also stars Soxie Topacio, Rez Cortez, Bibeth Orteza, Alan Paule, Beverly Salviejo, Luz Valdez, Soliman Cruz, May-I Fabros, Joey Paras, Roni Bertubin and, in her big screen return, Ms. Armida Siguion-Reyna.
It will have its Cinemalaya Gala Premiere on July 23 at the CCP Main Theater. For other screening dates and more details about the film, please visit its Facebook fan page at http://www.facebook.com/bwakawthemovie.