Bwaya star Angeli Bayani recalls shooting in crocodile-infested river and witnessing a spirit possession

by Jen Chuaunsu
Aug 1, 2014
Angeli Bayani is joined in this photo by Bwaya co-star RS Francisco. They are both part of this Cinemalaya 2014 entry that is competing in the New Breed category. (To learn more about the Cinemalaya 2014 entries, CLICK HERE)

For winning the Best Actress award at the 37th Gawad Urian where she beat out screen legends Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos, Angeli Bayani has achieved an admirable feat.

What is next for Angeli? Soon, she will be appearing in the international movie Foreigners alongside Hollywood actor Garret Dillahunt.

The producers of the film, who saw her standout performance in the Cannes Best Debut Film Ilo Ilo, eventually cast her. According to Angeli, the movie is about foreigners in Manila who have no identity. In the film, the foreigners actually conspire with syndicates.

Garret was previously seen as Armsby in the Oscar-winning movie 12 Years a Slave (2013) as well as No Country for Old Men (2007).

(Read related article: Garret Dillahunt shooting movie in the Philippines)

When asked about her experience working with Garret Dillahunt, Angeli exclaimed, “Oh my God! Alam mo, I hate them kasi I only had one scene with him. Actually two…what struck me about him was that sobrang simple lang niya. Ang simple pero yung nuances…parang ang sarap niyang panoorin.”

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She confessed that she was starstruck when she found herself sharing the same vehicle as Garret whose work she admired. She was so flustered that she even ran to the nearest convenience store just to calm her nerves. Then she went back to the vehicle, casually introduced herself, and tried not to hyperventilate.

In the local film scene, Angeli stars in Direk Francis Pasion’s third Cinemalaya film titled Bwaya.

Last July 31, a press conference was held for the Cinemalaya 2014 New Breed entry Bwaya and the Cinemalaya short film Eyeball (which is part of the set called Shorts B).

Eyeball is directed by Thop Nazareno and stars Nico Antonio, Alchris Galura, Sei Magalona Calibo, and Garret Villanueva. It is a comedy about a pervert who is set to meet a woman he met on Facebook. Instead, he meets someone else who will change his life forever.

The full-length film Bwaya is a true-to-life family drama that revolves around Divina (played by Angeli Bayani), a 35-year-old Manobo who hears shocking news: her daughter has been attacked by a crocodile and her body is missing. As Divina searches for the body of her daughter in the marshlands of Agusan, she learns a lesson more tragic than her fate: not all predators are underwater.

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The cast also includes Karl Medina who plays Divina’s husband Rex, R.S. Francisco who portrays the teacher blamed for Rowena’s death; and Jolina Espana, who plays 13-year old Rowena.

Direk Francis Pasion invited Angeli to audition after seeing her award-winning performance in Norte. He auditioned a lot of talented actresses, but he felt that Angeli captured the character best. Even the real life subject, Divina, agreed. Upon seeing the audition tapes, Divina said, “I see myself in her.”

Eyeball and Bwaya will be screened from August 2 to 10 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Greenbelt 3, Trinoma and Alabang Town Center.

(To learn more about the Cinemalaya 2014 entries, CLICK HERE)


According to Direk Francis Pasion, Bwaya is the first film that is shot entirely in the Agusan marshlands. He wanted to show the picturesque landscape and the plight of the people. But it was also incredibly difficult to shoot in that location. They stayed in floating houses and even had floating bathrooms. Aside from that, the river was infested with crocodiles. The cast and crew did not see any crocodiles, but they felt the crocodiles’ presence. Mechanical crocodiles were used for the movie.

In an email interview with Direk Francis, he told (Philippine Entertainment Portal) about the time when their boat malfunctioned at night at a crocodile-infested river.

He narrated, “One of the challenges during our shoot was the boat rides to and from our location. From where we are staying, it would take two hours to get to our location by boat. There is a portion where we have to turn off the motor of the boat so as not to disturb the fish sanctuary. That body of water is also the home of crocodiles the size of buses.

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“In one occasion, we were supposed to pack up at 4 pm so we don’t travel in darkness on our way back. But our boat had an engine malfunction. We stayed in pitch dark water for about an hour. It was really eerie. The silence is deafening and we were really afraid of what may come out of the crocodile-infested waters. All the actors were onboard, Karl, Angeli and R.S. Francisco. It was sort of traumatic. When the boat was finally fixed, we were rewarded by a magnificent formation of fireflies on the riverbanks.”

The actors found the location equally challenging. R.S. Francisco said it was very hot. Angeli was scared of the crocodiles at first, but later on she became scared of something more supernatural.

Angeli and Karl Medina witnessed how a villager became possessed by a spirit. Angeli narrated, “It started out fine until may mga naging pagkakamali yung party namin na hindi namin sinasadya. All of a sudden one day may isang sinaniban na hindi baylan…halos nagmakaawa kami sa spirit na please let us finish shooting kasi it’s also for you, it’s to tell your story…sinaniban yung bangkero na hindi gaanong nagsasalita. He suddenly sounded like a different person.”

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The film is based on true events. The real life subjects, Divina and Rex, were present on the set. Karl Medina watched Rex closely and observed the mannerisms of the father who lost his daughter.

It was harder for R.S. Francisco whose real-life subject had already fled. He talked to the villagers to learn more about the person he was playing. He also based his character on his high school drama teacher who had an ambiguity that was similar to the character.

Angeli talked with Divina and tried to capture as much of the real Divina as possible. But it was difficult for her as well. Angeli said, “Hindi ko talaga alam kung paano gawin. I was left to my imagination and interviews with other people kasi I felt nung kinakausap ko si Divina, too much input from her kaya ko nai-intellectualize yung character niya. So we started talking to the other people around her...doon ako humugot…”

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It was a total departure for Angeli to play a character who was hysterical and animalistic, a woman on the edge. But she could also relate to Divina on some level.

Angeli shared, “When I met Divina, nagko-connect kami sa level na one, babae kami. Pangalawa, nanay kami. May moment nga na bini-Bisaya niya ako. Hindi ko maintindihan kung ano ang sinasabi niya pero naintindihan ko siya…I think a shoot like that does something to you na nagtra-transcend ng language barriers and whatever class barriers. Nasi-strip away yun, e.”

Angeli understood how Divina turned violent after her daughter’s death. The actress admitted, “I think it’s a natural reaction ng isang nanay. Para sa akin napaka-importante na ipakita yon kasi nanay ako, e. Tinanong ako ni Francis, kung sa ’yo nangyari iyan…sabi ko papatay ako ng tao. Hindi ako nagbibiro kahit sino pa yan. Anak ko yun, e…I don’t think you can’t tell her story truthfully without showing that side of her.”

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Bwaya is also unique because there were only three professional actors in the cast. The majority of the actors were non-actors. Direk Francis decided to cast townsfolk to get a feeling of authenticity.

He discovered Jolina Espana when he saw her jump off a cliff and into the river. He was impressed by her spunky attitude and eventually cast her.

Direk Francis describes working with non-actors as “challenging and also rewarding.” Karl Medina found it challenging to work with non-actors to a certain point. He pointed out, “Yung kids meron silang inherent ability. Pero minsan siyempre nako-conscious din sila. Mas mahirap with the elders na na-expose na sa mainstream na showbiz.”

Angeli was impressed with the non-actors but admitted that at times the young actors felt self-conscious in front of the camera.


When asked about how it felt to be known as the actor who beat seasoned actors Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor, Angeli laughed before answering, “It’s insane kasi hindi ko naman kino-consider na natalo ko sila. I think it just happened to be the right project at the right time.

“Hindi ko kayang i-claim, kahit ano pang sabihin ng ibang tao na natalo ko sila…kasi a long time ago na-set na nila yung standard para sa atin. I can only follow in their footsteps. I can only hope to be like them or be one of them so to speak kasi I can’t be like them talaga. Ate Guy is Ate Guy and Ate Vi is Ate Vi…I tried to say this in my acceptance speech…na gusto kong pasalamatan sila na mga nauna sa amin at nagbigay daan.”

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Angeli felt honored to have been named the Gawad Urian Best Actress. She confessed, “I am just thankful for the publicity because it’s not just for me. It also opened doors for other theater actors. Kasi to me it’s not just for me lang. Para siya sa aming lahat.”


Angeli’s career is definitely taking off, but she has had her share of highs and lows. She admitted that there were times in the past when she felt like giving up showbiz.

“Nung pinagbubuntis ko anak ko, I realized how harsh the industry is to women. Especially moms. They just refused to hire me because I was pregnant. Tapos nung nanganak na ako, awa ng Diyos, nagkatrabaho ako ulit. But it was so hard having a newborn baby…napakahirap ipaliwanag sa mga tao kunwari male-late ka sa call time kasi nagbe-breastfeed ka, they don’t understand that. Tapos hindi ka makapag-taxi kasi gagastusin mo para sa gatas ng baby.

“Several times, I figured I think I would need something more regular…for six months I had worked at a call center.

“I knew it was something I could go back to kasi maganda naman yung record ko. But I asked myself simple questions like: Was I happy at that time? Was I fulfilled? No.

“At the end of the day I think my son will not thank me for giving up…sabi ko I can make this work.”

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Angeli Bayani is joined in this photo by Bwaya co-star RS Francisco. They are both part of this Cinemalaya 2014 entry that is competing in the New Breed category. (To learn more about the Cinemalaya 2014 entries, CLICK HERE)
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