With Kenneth Dagatan’s ‘In My Mother’s Skin,’ Philippine cinema continues its triumphant three-year streak at the most coveted Sundance Film Festival.
This year is quite a fruitful and colorful period for the local film industry and for Filipino representation on the global cinematic stage. There’s the psychological horror film Nocebo, which stars Filipina actress Chai Fonacier and marks the first co-production effort between the Philippines and Ireland. Erik Matti’s Venice Film Festival winner On The Job: The Missing 8 also got a nod at the International Emmy Awards. And of course, there’s Dolly de Leon repping hard with her buzzworthy performance in the Palme d’Or-winning film Triangle of Sadness. And for 2023, it seems that there’s no stopping Filipino cinema’s winning momentum as Kenneth Dagatan’s In My Mother’s Skin has just been selected at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
IN MY MOTHER’S SKIN
On December 8, 2022, Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the United States, unveiled its jam-packed lineup for 2023. With over a hundred titles spanning 12 sections and 23 countries, the A-list and Robert Redford-founded film festival is ready to bring the cinematic heat back to the wintry town of Park City, Utah. And joining the celebration is none other than a Filipino talent by the name of writer-director Kenneth Dagatan with his magical realist war and fairy film, In My Mother’s Skin.
Out of the record number of 15,855 submissions (with 4061 feature-length films), In My Mother’s Skin has made the cut and belongs to the highly competitive eight-film Midnight section. The sole foreign language film in the category, Kenneth Dagatan’s second feature film follows a young girl who tries to protect her mother while being stranded in the war-stricken Philippines and threatened by a sinister flesh-eating fairy. It is Dagatan’s follow-up to his horror debut Ma, which screened at the New York Asian Film Festival in 2019 and was the first original film of the streaming platform, iWant.
Sundance’s Midnight has in decades been a platform for provocative and inventive films that cut across genres and subject matters. Since 1991, the program has always strived to be a “special showcase of the most challenging but rewarding experiences from around the world, brought to you at the most arduous hour.” Knowing that this notorious section has been “a good place to find a new cult classic” like Dead/Alive, The Blair Witch Project, The Babadook, It Follows, Hereditary, and The Witch among others, it’s exhilarating to see that a Filipino horror movie is ready to make noise in Park City at Midnight.
In My Mother’s Skin also marks the first co-production between the Philippines, Singapore, and Taiwan. The Sundance-bound film is produced by Bradley Liew and Bianca Balbuena of Filipino production company Epicmedia Productions, Juang Junxiang and Lim Teck from Singapore’s Zhao Wei Films and Clover Films, respectively, and Stefano Centini from Taiwan’s Volos Films.
“We finally have a film at the most coveted Sundance Film Festival,” says Balbuena, former Epicmedia Productions CEO and now the head of studios and managing director of Anima Studios Philippines. “This film journey has been very pleasant, working with the best co-producers who are also good friends. We got a good premiere date slot that will be announced in the next days and I still can’t believe it.”
The film has also received support Film Development Council of the Philippines, FilmPhilippines’ International Co-Production Fund (ICOF), Singapore Film Commission, Infocomm Media Development Authority’s (IMDA) Southeast Asia co-production fund, Taiwan Creative Content Agency’s (TAICCA) Taiwan’s International Co-funding Programme (TICP), and Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival’s Network of Asian Fantastic Films (NAFF) Discovery Prize.
“We are the only foreign language film in the section,” Epicmedia writes in its celebratory post. “The film is a fusion of physical body horror, suffocating tone and psychological trauma. It is about hope that we will overcome physical and supernatural forces through human compassion.”
In My Mother’s Skin boasts a powerful ensemble of veteran and fresh Filipino actors including Beauty Gonzales, Felicity Kyle Napuli, James Mavie Estrella, Angeli Bayani, Arnold Reyes, Ronnie Lazaro, Noel Sto Domingo, and Jasmine Curtis-Smith. “I feel this film could possibly be a future Pilipino Cult Classic,” enthuses Gonzales. While Curtis-Smith shares in an Instagram post that their film’s Sundance selection is “a dream come true” and her career’s “freaking highlight” so far.
With Kenneth Dagatan’s In My Mother’s Skin, Filipino cinema also sees its triumphant three-year streak at the Sundance Film Festival. Just earlier this year, Martika Ramirez Escobar and Don Josephus Raphael Eblahan made historic wins at the fest with Leonor Will Never Die and The Headhunter’s Daughter, respectively.
Leonor Will Never Die (the first Filipino feature film to be selected in Sundance since The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros in 2006) went on to win an award at the Toronto International Film Festival and got a best international film nomination at the Film Independent Spirit Awards. In 2021, Sonny Calvento’s social satire Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss became the first Filipino short to be part of the esteemed film festival.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival will hold hybrid festivities and will run from January 19–29, 2023. Explore its excitingly diverse lineup here and follow Epicmedia Productions’ social media page to keep updated of the screening schedules for In My Mother’s Skin.
Continue Reading: ‘On The Job: The Missing 8’ Is Ph’s Bet For This Year’s Oscars