Islands film nominated for 3 Canadian Screen Awards
Islands film nominated for 3 Canadian Screen Awards
By Michelle Chermaine Ramos
The Philippine Reporter
Written and directed by Martin Edralin, “Islands” is one of two Fil-Can produced films that have been recently nominated for several Canadian Screen Awards this month. Edralin got nominated for the John Dunning Best First Feature Film Award. The film also earned Canadian Screen Award nominations for Rogelio Balagtas for Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and for Esteban Comilang for Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.
Edralin is a self-taught filmmaker who accidentally stumbled into documentary filmmaking while he was initially pursuing a career as an English teacher. He taught English in a rural community in Ecuador just to get the experience to put on his resume to eventually apply to teachers’ college. However, while there, he became interested in the community and decided to make a documentary. The person who ran the biological reserve knew a film teacher who helped Edralin hire a cinematographer.
That sparked his passion for learning about films and cameras and he continued to create several short films and had two of his shorts screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Islands” is his first full feature film. It premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival and Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival last year where it won the Blue Ant Media Audience Choice Feature Film Award. It was also screened at the SXSW Film Festival, Victoria Film Festival, Available Light Film Festival, San Diego Asian Film Festival, QCinema International Film Festival, International Film Festival of India, Hawaii International Film Festival and New Orleans Film Festival. The team also won the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
The title is a reference to the Philippine islands and the main character, Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) being an island onto himself. At fifty years old, he still lives with his parents, has never had a girlfriend and is extremely shy. While his personality seems stunted, he is kind, responsible and takes care of his aging parents while working as a janitor. However, he is so socially awkward that he doesn’t make any effort to mingle with his coworkers even when they invite him out for lunch. His life is a monotonous routine of going to work, going to church with his parents, taking them to their seniors’ line dance classes and staying home. This is in stark contrast to his younger brother who has left the nest, found love and is married with two children.
When Joshua’s mother, Alma (Vangie Alcasid), suddenly passes away, he decides to quit his job to stay home and take care of his frail father, Reynaldo (Esteban Comilang). A former Elvis impersonator in his younger years, Reynaldo is a tragic shell of the man he used to be as his body continues to deteriorate. Now that Joshua has to fill the vacuum of his mother’s role in the house but never learned how to cook, he struggles to take care of his father who is too weak to even take a shower by himself. Help eventually comes when his cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco) who works as a caregiver in the Middle East comes over for Alma’s funeral and stays to help the family. Joshua is terrified of spending the rest of his life alone and things get awkward when he develops midlife crisis puppy love for Marisol.
Edralin said that the theme was sparked by his own fears of aging and seeing his parents eventually pass away. “I started working on this around 2016. My parents were getting older, my mother had retired already, my father was going to retire. And I guess I was worried about him. He’s not as active as my mother. I mean, he does lots of stuff around the house. But you know, he loves to watch TV and movies. Whereas my mom is like, when it’s not snowing outside, she’s in the garden all day, like nine months of the year. And you just hear the stories of people retiring and then just aging really, really fast. So, on one hand, I was thinking about my parents. I was also thinking about myself getting older, and my busy career, and wanting to be able to take care of my parents as we Filipinos do.” Edralin’s father passed away a couple of years ago but was able to witness his son’s success when he attended Edralin’s short film screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014 and 2016.
“Islands” is a heartbreaking movie that reflects Filipino culture and family bonds with characters similar to people most of us know. Although it was shot in Scarborough, Ontario, Edralin cast a wide net to find the right actors. “There was a point where we opened it up to the US and even tried casting in the Philippines. We actually saw a lot of great actors here. But for casting, you can be the best actor in the world but if you’re not right for the role, that’s not anything to do with your acting. It’s a combination of being a good actor and the right person, the right look and they also had to look like a family, and matching ages. There are so many variables,” Edralin explained. He eventually found Rogelio Balagtas and Sheila Lotuaco from Winnipeg with the help of a fellow filmmaker there who was kind enough to provide a space to host them for their Skype audition together.
The actors shared their thoughts on their roles via email interviews. It is easy for the audience to sympathize with Balagtas who shared what he hopes people can learn from the film. “I am an introvert just like the lead character. The role taught me to get along with other people somehow. Expand your network of friends and it will help. A man should learn to move on from a depressing situation or else he won’t realize that situation is like rust that destroys him bit by bit.”
Esteban Comilang who plays Reynaldo said, “’Islands’ is the most emotionally challenging role I’ve ever had the privilege to portray.” His performance of Reynaldo helplessly deteriorating with Alzheimer’s is painfully heart-rending. As for Lotuaco, she said her role was a perfect fit for her since she shares the same profession in Winnipeg. “I take care of the elderly so I can personally relate to Marisol. A good takeaway from this film is, I think living in Canada or in a foreign land, seeking a greener pasture is not easy, but if you have a good perspective in life, have a strong faith, you will still be able to find joy and have hope in whatever circumstances you’re in.”
Edralin says it’s a film that celebrates life and opportunity. “I show Joshua’s character who’s maybe a little bit stunted and stuck in a life situation—and probably doesn’t even realize it—even in his past prime dating years. But there’s always an opportunity for growth and opening yourself up to experiences and other people. Life has to go on and can always be better.”
Islands will be screened in April in select cities around Canada and the US and will later be available to rent and buy online in mid-April.