The indie film 1st Sem starring Lotlot de Leon, Darwin Yu, Miguel Bagtas, Sebastian Vargas & Allan Paule has been receiving recognition left and right. After the Best Picture nomination at the 2nd CineFilipino Filmfest, the film won Best Feature Film at the All Lights India International Film Festival. Lead actor Lotlot de Leon also received the Sole Acting Citation at the said film festival.
Held at Hyderabad in India, the film festival gave the only acting citation in the entire festival for Lotlot’s “exceptional performance.” It was observed that it was the first time All Lights India International Film Festival awarded an actor. Apparently, Honorable Mention is usually given to another movie competing in the category.
That’s not surprising. I had the chance to watch 1st Sem during a media screening and Lotlot shone through and through in the movie. The jury’s decision to award her for such exceptional performance is the right thing to do.
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 for his college education. The incoming freshman apparently cannot cope with the transition to dorm life that he quickly returns home. What follows is a re-examination of the mother and son relationship.
Film makers Allan Michael Ibanez & Dexter Paglinawan Hemedez did a great job telling the story in the simplest way. 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.
The indie film 1st Sem is downright simple. You won’t find the glossy feel that you’d find in other films. But I actually enjoyed it. There are no pretensions and film director Dexter shares 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. I highly recommend that you watch it when it comes out on February 2017.
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.
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 in the indie film 1st Sem 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 indie film 1st Sem 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 the indie film 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.