‘Maestra,’ Lem Lorca’s latest film, pays eloquent homage to teachers

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Anna Luna in 'Maestra.'

Team Maestra is still on a high after a double win at the Five Continents International Film Festival in Venezuela, where their film bagged Best Actress donors for Anna Luna and Special Mention for Best Screenplay for Archie del Mundo.

Now, director Lem Lorca and producer Carl Balita are excited about the movie’s series of screenings next week. It will be exhibited at Black Maria Cinema from December 5 to 7 and at UP Cine Adarna on December 6, 5PM and 7PM. On top of that, “Maestra” will be exhibited at SM Megamall, SM North Edsa, SM Mall of Asia, SM Fairview, SM Manila, SM Sta. Mesa, SM Bacoor, and SM Southmall on December 8 and 9, at 1PM and 6:30PM, as part of SM Cinema’s Cine Lokal programming.

Lem Lorca is behind acclaimed works like last year’s “Ned’s Project” where there is this beautiful scene where Max Eigenmann talks about wanting to have a butterfly inked on her skin because like the winged creature, she wants to break free and fly.

Lorca also helmed “Water Lemon” notable for that wordless final open-ended scene where Filemon (a magnificent Junjun Quintana) leaves the house he shares with his mom (Tessie Tomas) and sails out to sea. Viewers are challenged to draw conclusions as to what really happens to the character from thereon.

Lorca’s movies are at their most powerful in the quiet scenes. Lorca says that “Maestra,” the tale of three teachers who are not written to be mythical heroes but of flesh and blood, is also pregnant with silences.

Of his seven works so far, it is by far the one that resonates most with him. Not unlike the three central characters in “Maestra,” Lorca’s mom is a retired teacher and district supervisor.

Director Lem Lorca, actresses Anna Luna, Gloria Sevilla, Angelin Bayani, and producer Carl Balita.

It makes his work so much easier to be working with such a talented cast headed by Angeli Bayani, Anna Luna, and Gloria Sevilla. Angeli plays Gennie Panguelo, an Aeta who passed the board exam for teachers only after more than 20 retakes. Anna is Iah Seraspi, a fisherman’s daughter from Romblon, and Gloria is Espie Bautista, an octogenarian instructress who will not quit teaching.

Says Lorca: “Angeli (Bayani) is a chameleon. We made her an Aeta in the film. (While) ang ganda-ganda ng mukha ni Anna (Luna), and (she has) such expressive eyes. Si Tita Gloria (Sevilla), siya lang ‘yung makakagawa para sa akin nu’ng role na ‘yun.”

Scriptwriter Archie de Mundo agrees with Lorca’s observations. “Si Angeli, she really disappeared into the role. I’ve known her since forever and dito sa movie na ito ako sa kanya talaga sobrang na-amaze. Si Anna (Luna) naman, she tries to be as natural as possible. She really studied Iah’s personality.”

Acting, says Lorca, starts with charting a character analysis. “That is how at least it works on my set.”

True to his penchant for peppering his movies with muted scenes, Lorca stood his ground when there were major artistic decisions to be made. “There were scenes when they would argue to put musical score to a scene. Sabi ko, hindi, dapat walang music ‘yan. Hangin (the sound of air) lang ‘yan.”

Producer Dr. Carl Balita offers that his decision to greenlight the project was borne out of a sincere desire to honor the oft-neglected teaching sector. “This is not about making money. I would have invested the money on something else if my goal was easy return of investment.”

Balita continues: “The movie is a testament to people who do it (teaching) because it is what makes them truly happy.”

The same holds true for filmmakers, entrepreneurs, simple workers. “It is only the heart that will make you fight (for what you love and believe in).”

Awards or none, Del Mundo says that the best validation comes from seeing audience’s reactions like when it premiered at Cinemalaya last August. “It’s worth more than all the awards out there combined.”