The 2016 Sydney Film Festival brings 2 Filipino films to the fray

I was 5 when I moved to Sydney from Manila, so my knowledge of Filipino films, filmmakers and actors is non-existent. I couldn’t name a popular Filipino actor if they walked past me on the street.  I grew up with a couple of people who knew them so well they developed crushes them, in much the same way I did for American film stars when I was a teen.  When I was in high school, a friend tore down a massive street poster of Stephen Dorff (does anyone remember him?) and gave it to me for my birthday.  That poster hung on my wall for years.

I digress (I say that a lot). These days my interest in Filipino films doesn’t lie in the pop culture element of it, although that’s not to say that that isn’t as interesting or entertaining (popular films and TV shows in the Philippines follow a kind of telenovela storytelling element to it – high drama, lots of lingering camera shots, unbelieveable storylines.  All characters are mestisas and the ones that aren’t are kontrabidas, a term borrowed from the Spanish contra vida, which technically means “against life”, but is Tagalog for “villain”.  Sometimes they’re also the maids, or the comedy relief, or the sidekick.  But they’re never the main stars).

Anyway, digressing again.  The point of my ramble is to say that nowadays I come across Filipino films from the Filipino-Australians in the film industry here (more on that in an upcoming post) and from the Sydney Film Festival 2016.

About the Sydney Film Festival

If you’re not in the know, the the 63rd Sydney Film Festival runs from Wednesday 8 June to Sunday 19 June 2016, and is a 12-day cinema bonanza of films from all over the world, some of which have screened at other film festivals like Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and the Berlinale.  There’s local Australian talent here, too (I am trying my fucking best to see a few this year – I just got paid and thanks to my work perks I will use the discount they gave us on ticket purchases hooray!).


The Festival (one of the world’s longest running film festivals, FYI) screens all across Sydney, from the State Theatre to the Skyline Drive-In Blacktown, from Event Cinemas George Street to Casula Powerhouse.  It’s all-encompassing and exciting.  Check the festival website for details.  Note: I am so glad it’s pay day – ticket booking time! 

This year, two films in particular catch my eye – Rosita and Insiang. Whilst one is not made by a Filipino director, they are Filipino stories with Filipino leads in arthouse films, an alternative to the types of films I saw as child when my mother or aunts rented filo movies from the sari-sari store down the road. I reviewed a similar film for the Sydney Film Festival in 2014 called Ilo Iloand I’m happy to see there will be 2 more to view this year.  Having said that, I have a list of links to films I would like to see this year that’s as long as anything, and I’m not sure I have the time or money to see them all, but if you’re interested in Filipino stories like I am, these are the two you should put on your list.


The concept of arranged marriages is something not a lot of people understand, and certainly not a lot of non-Filipinos.  But it happens, I think it happened to an old friend of the family’s from Manila (she moved to Canada in an arranged marriage situation).  Anyway, Rosita looks at this not as a joke but with kindness.


Rosita (Mercedes Cabral), a 20-something Filipina, moves to Denmark to marry Ulrik (Jens Albinus), a middle-aged widower from a Danish fishing village.  Everything is completely foreign to Rosita (going from Tagalog to Danish, for one) so things are a little tough.  Ulrik’s son Johannes (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) also develops feelings for Rosita.

From the festival website: Director Frederikke Aspöck’s charming, surprising film outlines the difficulties facing women in Rosita’s predicament with a wonderful blend of compassion and humour.

Screens Saturday, 11 June at 2pm (Monday screening sold out) at the Dendy Opera Quays Cinema.  To book tickets to Rositaclick here.


Earlier I talked about how most Filipino films I knew of were kind of telenovela in its quality, no less entertaining but certainly different from the arthouse quality of films at most festivals.  Insiang is suited perfectly for the Sydney Film Festival.

It was the first Filipino film to screen at the Sydney Film Festival back in 1979, and made despite the trend of producing “escapist” entertainment.  Director Lino Brocka shot the film in 11 days amid financial pressure and government censorship, and the film has been restored by Cineteca di Bologna, who worked with Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project to bring the film back to screening quality.


The film follows 17-year-old Insiang in her Manila slum in Tondo, as they face abject poverty and dire circumstances to eke out a living.

From the festival website:  Brocka is a hero for the Philippines, an incredible source of inspiration for generations of filmmakers not only from an artistic but also a political point of view. – Cecilia Cenciarelli, Cineteca di Bologna

Screens Sunday 12th June at 12:15pm at Dendy Opera Quays Cinema.  To book tickets to Insiang, click here.

Sydney Film Festival runs now till 19 June 2016. Tickets for Sydney Film Festival 2016 are on sale now. Please call 1300 733 733 or visit for more information.


All images courtesy of Sydney Film Festival. 


  1. Is there any chance that these will be shown in Melbourne in the future?

    • Hey Joe! The Melbourne Film Festival is on in October, and the program should be announced maybe a month or two prior to opening night? Perhaps these films will be shown there? If there are any great events or businesses in Melbourne that promote Filipino culture that you think should be included on this site, please let me know – would love to promote so that everyone can experience them (particularly visiting Sydney people like me!). Thanks again for your message, Joe! :)


  1. […] Cannes Film Festival and the SFF. Impressively, Director Lino Brocka shot the entire film in just 11 days despite the financial pressures and government censorship during that time. The all-star cast included Hilda Koronel, Mona Lisa, Ruel Vernal, and Rez […]

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