Leonor Will NeverDie, The Headhunter's Daughter, Sundance Winner

Two Filipino Films Bagged Major Awards At The 2022 Sundance Film Festival

Who says Philippine cinema is dead?

Acclaimed indie films Leonor Will Never Die and The Headhunter’s Daughter ended their Sundance 2022 run by claiming some of the biggest awards of the festival.

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While the pandemic has hit the Philippine film industry particularly hard, that hasn’t stopped filmmakers from producing and releasing films of significant acclaim. The past year alone saw many local projects get recognized overseas. Standouts include On The Job: The Missing 8 and Kun Maupay Man It Panahon. And already, 2022 has given the local film industry some much-needed welcome news thanks to the history making success of two Pinoy films at the recently concluded 2022 Sundance Film Festival.


Leonor Will Never Die (Ang Pagbabalik ng Kwago) (@LeonorWillNever) / Twitter

The first was Leonor Will Never Die, the eccentric film follows Leonor Reyes (Shelia Francisco), an action film writer and director. A star in her heyday but has now fallen on tough times, she is currently working on the script of what she hopes to be her comeback film, Ang Pagbabalik ng Kwago, but can never seem to finish it. One day, an accident causes a TV to hit her head, which causes her to enter the unfinished screenplay. From there, the movie switches between genres as the absurdist tale sees Leonor re-discover herself.

The movie was eight years in the making and it also serves as Martika Escobar’s directorial debut. Though by no means is she an amateur as she’s worked on her fair share of projects such as being the cinematographer for Hello: Stranger The Movie and Zack Tabudlo’s Heart Can’t Lose music video. The film was shown in the World Cinema Dramatic competition, which was history-making in itself. This marks the first Filipino film to be shown at the World Cinema Dramatic competition since the seminal The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros in 2006.


The other film was The Headhunter’s Daughter, a short movie by director Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan. The story follows Lynn (Ammin Acha-ur) who has dreams of becoming a country singer in the city. One day, she decides to take off for the city with nothing but her horse, her guitar, and a dream. This stunning tale inspired by the American frontier was screened under the Shorts Program 4 section of the festival.


Having two Filipino films screen at a festival like Sundance would have been prestigious at it is. But it’s made even better by the fact that both took home prizes from the festival. Leonor Will Never Die bagged the Special Jury Award: Innovative Spirit, beating out nine other films. The win also makes it the first time that a Filipina director took home an award from Sundance. La Frances Hui, a member of the awards committee, said during the awarding ceremony that “The film is a playful display of the love of cinema. It’s innovative and risk-taking spirit is especially commendable.”

In her acceptance speech, Martika said, “I would like to thank everyone who has shown their love and support for our film. You are proof that after eight years, our film is alive.” She also dedicated part of her speech to her fellow female filmmakers adding, “I would like to share this award with all the young female filmmakers out there, the dreamers. I am like you, I am with and I hope this shines a bit of light in the difficult paths we have.”

As for The Headhunter’s Daughter, it took home Short Film Grand Jury Prize, the top prize for short films. “We were entranced by this poetic and dreamlike film, which follows its character’s intimate journey with gorgeous cinematography, and direction, and acting, capturing a unique sense of place,” said Blackhorse Lowe, a member of the Sundance committee when announcing the win.


Aside from the award wins, both films have been receiving great reviews. Publications like Vogue US, New York Times, and The Atlantic have even named Leonor Will Never Die as one of the best movies from this year’s Sundance. So we have a feeling this won’t be the last time we’ll hear of these movies. Hopefully they can get a local release soon. Congratulations to all those involved on the projects.

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