By Jojie Alcantara
Mindanao’s noted young filmmaker Arnel “Arbi” Barbarona’s two films have stirred the Philippine cinema for the storyline and stark, haunting cinematography.
His latest opus, The Highest Peak, was shot entirely in the Philippines’ tallest mountain, Mount Apo. Set against this cold landscape, the white misted backdrop opens a story of a man whose loss of a wife and child pushes him to continue their plans of climbing the peak and ultimately finds his closure and healing throughout his journey.
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Official Trailer of The Highest Peak
This full-length film is produced by Red Motions Media with executive producers Wilson Tieng and Brilliante Mendoza, and the support of the Local Government of Digos City. The story is written by Arnel Mardoquio and directed by Arbi Barbarona. The cast include Dax Alejandro, Mara Lopez, Henyo Ehem, Roweno Caballes, and Jea Lyka Cinco. Barbarona also took charge of lighting, editing, and musical scoring.
Barbarona’s earlier film raked awards and gained attention in the film industry and this is “Tu Pug Imatuy”, the Manobo dialect for The Right to Kill. Inspired by real events that happened within the ancestral domain of the Matigsalug tribe and of Arbi actually meeting a real-life heroine, the story focuses on a couple who faces a grim outlook as rebels penetrate the lumad territory while soldiers are engaging in hot pursuit after them. Caught in a crossfire, they are forced to submit to degrading circumstances and obstacles and try to outwit these outsiders in order to survive and reunite with their family.
With the direction and cinematography of Barbarona, Arnel Mardoquio’s screenplay comes to life, a grave reminder of what is still happening in Mindanao’s ancestral lands. The cast with amazing talents is surprisingly composed of first-time actors led by main leads Malona Sulatan and Jong Monzon who are real Matigsalugs.
Official Trailer of Tu Pug Imatuy
Having directed several short films, Arbi is expected to rise in the ranks of other Mindanaoan filmmakers before him, as he continues to challenge himself even while working with just a small number of film crew, budget constraints and other risky challenges. His unique take on the musical score makes skillful use of authentic forest sounds and the tribal chants that are heard throughout the mountains. This particular film became controversial when it was exploited for propaganda and Arbi resorted to a statement in defense of his art.
Tu Pug Imatuy sweeped six awards during the Sinag Maynila 2017 Gabi ng Parangal awarding ceremonies held in SM Aura Premier, namely: Best Actress for newcomer Malona Sulatan, Best Screenplay for Arnel Mardoquio, Best Cinematography for collaboration between Bryan Jimenez and Arbi Barbarona, who was the most awarded as he also brought home Best Director, Best Picture (as co-producer), and Best Music.
(Awarding images source : sinagmaynila.com)
Barbarona’s “The Highest Peak” is included among the 10 distinguished Premium Selection titles for the 4th Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP), a gathering of “almost anything and everything Filipino” in its 4th edition that features a lineup of 168 titles, with 90 full-length features and 78 short films. The Premium Selection are films that have never been released to the Filipino audience or had a limited release in the country. This includes National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik’s “Ang Lakaran ni Kabunyan: Kabunyan’s Journey to Liwanag.”
Included among the Premium Selection titles are two classic ‘80s films: “Batch ‘81” by Mike de Leon, and the restored version of “Brutal” by the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya from the FDCP’s Philippine Film Archive. “The Helper” by Joanna Bowers is a documentary on Filipino and Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong while “Itoshi No Irene (Come On, Irene)” by Keisuke Yoshida is a live action manga series adaptation starring Ken Yasuda and Nats Sitoy that had an international premiere at the 2018 Busan International Film Festival. Also included are Glenn Barit’s “Cleaners,” the Best Film in the Asian New Wave Competition of the 2019 QCinema International Film Festival, and Vincent Soberano’s “Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids”, the 2019 Urban Action Showcase International Action Film Festival Best Action Film and Best Martial Arts Film. Three entries to the 2020 Sinag Maynila Film Festival are “He Who Is Without Sin” by Jason Paul Laxamana starring Elijah Canlas and Enzo Pineda, “Kintsugi” by Lawrence Fajardo starring JC Santos and Hiro Nishiuchi, and “The Highest Peak” by Arbi Barbarona starring Dax Alejandro and Mara Lopez.
Meanwhile, Barbarona’s epic “Tu Pug Imatuy” is included in the lineup of selection From the Regions.
PPP4 will be held from October 31 to November 15 on the FDCPchannel.ph platform. The Early Bird Rate worth PHP 450 for the 16-day Full Run Pass (PHP 599) is available until October 15 only. Other subscription options are the Half Run Pass (PHP 299) for eight days, Day Pass (PHP 99), and Free Pass (for short films and public events). Discounts will be available beginning October 16 for persons with disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens (20%) and students (30%).
“This year’s PPP may be different, but I assure that it will continue to celebrate the heritage and potential of our film industry by spreading the love for Philippine Cinema. The festival will also promote solidarity because ultimately, PPP 4 is one way to help sustain the Filipino film industry in light of the pandemic’s devastating effects,” stated FDCP Chairperson and CEO Liza Diño.
Thanks PPP4 for the still photos and posters and SinagMaynila for additional images.