Ms. Ruby Tiong Tan, producer of Lino Brocka’s Insiang, turned over the rights of the classic Filipino film Insiang to the Film Development Council of the Philippines last December.
She agreed to turn over the rights of this significant work in our nation’s film heritage, as talks are ongoing with Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project -The Film Foundation for the restoration of the film.
Considered one of the best films of the 1970s by the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, the film focuses on the struggles of the teenage girl Insiang (played by Hilda Koronel) who is oppressed by a life of poverty after moving to Manila. Her strict mother Tonia (Mona Lisa) allows Dado (Ruel Vernal), a lover many years younger her senior, to move in with them. After Dado develops an infatuation with Insiang, he later rapes her. When Tonia blames her daughter for the rape, Insiang seeks freedom from her situation by plotting revenge, thus transforming herself and her relationship with her mother forever.
The film is reputed to be representative of Brocka’s social realist cinema.
Insiang made Lino Brocka a prominent figure in world cinema. It garnered international attention when it became the first Filipino film to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1978. Among the film’s many accolades, it won Best Supporting Actress for Mona Lisa, Best Actress for Hilda Koronel, and Best Cinematography at the Metro Manila Film Festival in 1976. Because of the film’s influence on cinema, Insiang is regularly revived at various film festivals locally and internationally.
Ms. Tan told FDCP in an interview that the message of the film was to have audiences confront the harsh realities of urban poverty. “The writer Mario O’Hara said the script was based on a family he knew. Because of that situation where they all lived in one shanty, it gave room for Insiang to be abused by her mother’s lover,” she said. “The final scene was shot at the same penitentiary where the mother from the true to life story was incarcerated,” she added.
On the challenges during shooting, Ms. Tan recounted, “Insiang was the first film ever to be shot in Tondo. We had to have nine policemen on location around the shanty.” Time was another obstacle. “We shot the film for 21 days, shooting over night for practically all three weeks because we had to be on time for the first Metro Manila Film Festival,” she explained.
The producer continued that the film’s censors were not keen on Insiang garnering international attention. “Because of the social realities depicted in the film, they did not want it to go to Cannes. It was banned because it wasn’t showing the beautiful parts of Manila. They delayed the censoring process just so that it wouldn’t make it for the Cannes deadline,” she recalled. But Ms. Tan took matters into her own hands. "By the time it was passed, it was already so late for the negatives to be sent to France via airmail, so I had to bring it there myself.”
Being able to tell human stories of Filipinos, often set in overlooked social realities, and have those stories emerge undiminished by trite melodrama and moral clichés, was the heart of Brocka’s genius. “The purpose of the producer and the filmmaker is to uplift the quality of life, uplift the standard of films. Insiang was able to achieve that,” Ms. Tan said.
Previous restoration projects carried out by FDCP in partnership with World Cinema Project include Brocka’s other '70s classic Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, which won the “Best Archive Restoration/Preservation Title” award at the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries International Awards earlier this year.
Presently, the FDCP is finalizing the launch of the restored version Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan on DVD, which is set to be out by February 2015.