Ralston Jover adapts Rene Villanueva’s Hiblang Abo from stage to screen

Award-winning filmmaker and scriptwriter Ralston Jover turns Hiblang Abo (Strands of Gray), the late playwright Rene Villanueva’s story of four old men who all ended up in a hospice care facility, into a film for the main competition of the 12th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.

Hiblang Abo Poster.jpgHiblang Abo tells about the characters’ never-ending struggles and silenced memories in their twilight years as their remaining dreams and aspirations are confined in a home for the aged. Veteran actors Lou Veloso (Huse), Nanding Josef (Pedro), Jun Urbano (Sotero or Teroy), and Leo Rialp (Blas) play the main characters who are haunted by their pasts as they fought with their debilitating state of oblivion. “It’s about preparing yourself and your soul for the ultimate demise,” Jover said.

The filmmaker shared that since Veloso, whom he worked with in Da Dog Show, one of four other films he has directed so far, gave him the screenplay written by Naning Estrella, he immediately searched for funding for this 1980’s stage play. “Hiblang Abo by Rene Villanueva is so popular that it is still being staged by various theater groups, especially the theater guilds of colleges and universities all over the country,” he added. Fortunately, it was selected as one of the finalists in this year’s Cinemalaya.

Veloso, whose character is the main fulcrum of the story, hopes the film will make its viewers, especially the younger audience, appreciate the value of elders more. Although it is not inherent among Filipinos to leave old folks in an institution, he said we should ensure that we continue to love them and still make this a part of our Filipino culture. He also wants to make the film required viewing for schools.

Nanding Josef as Pedro in Hiblang AboJosef, also known as Tata Nanding, shared his experience caring for older members of his family, especially for his grandmother who died in his arms. However, he did not let this affect his performance so as not to make it too dramatic as the film, as the director envisioned, should be a celebration of life.

Meanwhile, Rialp believes that aging is more enjoyable than being young. He started acting in theater, and eventually in films, in his fifties so he did not experience the pressure young stars feel nowadays.

Urbano, more popularly known for his funny character Mr. Shooli, revealed he was hesitant at first to accept a dramatic role and act in an independent film, Hiblang Abo being his first attempt. He initially wondered who will watch a film about old men in the first place until he learned that it was adapted from a well-loved stage play. He also realized how different it was working in indie films compared to commercial films especially in the way they do things and how dialogues are more fluidly delivered.

With permission from the original writer Estrella, Jover said that he has re-written some of the scenes to give way to some contemporary elements such as the influx of the latest in technologies, like cell phone, that was not in the older version of the script. “I added certain magic realistic scenes, especially in the flashbacks to add dimension and colorful layer to the cinematic format of the stage play adaptation.”

Matt Daclan as the younger Blas in Hiblang AboMatt Daclan, for example, portrays all four main characters in flashback scenes to show that their fates are all the same. Anna Luna shows how her character Victoria lingers in the heart and mind of her father Sotero as he continuously yearns for her while battling Alzheimer’s disease and the threat of insanity.

“I also wrote individual character sketches for the actors for them to get a better grip of their individual roles. But most especially, I maintained the integrity and philosophy of Mr. Rene Villanueva as profoundly sensed in each dramatic scene,” Jover explained, stressing his respect for the late playwright.

Lui Manansala as Rosa in Hiblang Abo.jpgCinemalaya Best Supporting Actress Flor Salanga shared how Jover specifically instructed her not to cry in a very emotional scene. Kapampangan actress Angela Cortez had to play a Cebuana as wife of one of the main characters but she got ample support from her Cebuano co-actor Daclan. Veteran actress Lui Manansala portrays the demure Rosa, whom the old men would usually talk about inside the institution.

Rener Concepcion, Cherry Malvar, Mike Liwag, Bernard Carritero, and Rommel Luna provide additional support to the main cast. On the other hand, helping Jover realize his vision for the film technically are director of photography Pipo Domagas, production designer Lars Magbanua, editor Benjamin Tolentino, sound engineer Mike Idioma, art director Eero Yves Francisco, assistant director Charita Castinlag, production manager Carlianne Lois Domingo, line producer Martin Mayuga, associate producer Harlene Bautista of Heaven’s Best Entertainment, and executive producer and Jover’s long-time collaborator Bessie Badilla of Queen B Productions.

Jover took up Creative Writing and Film Studies at the Mowelfund Film Institute. He also attended Ricky Lee’s second scriptwriting workshop way back in 1983. He had his first big break in 2006 when he wrote the screenplay for Kubrador (The Bet Collector), a multi-awarded film about jueteng directed by Jeffrey Jeturian. He also wrote Manoro (The Teacher), Foster Child and Tirador (Slingshot) for director Brillante Mendoza before he helmed his own full-length film Bakal Boys (Children Metal Divers) in 2009. He also directed Da Dog Show, which took part at the Cannes L’Atelier in 2012 and premiered as part of the ASEAN Skies section of the World Premieres Film Festival in 2015, as well as Bendor and the recent international award-winning film Hamog (Haze) for Cinema One Originals.

The film’s gala presentation will be held on August 9, 9 p.m. at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater). Cinemalaya is a project of the Cinemalaya Foundation and the CCP in partnership with Ayala Malls Cinemas.  Established in 2005, Cinemalaya is an all-digital film festival and competition that aims to discover, encourage and honor cinematic works of Filipino filmmakers. The festival runs from August 5 to 14 at the CCP, Ayala Theaters in Glorietta and Greenbelt 1 in Makati, TriNoma, Fairview Terraces and UP Town Center in Quezon City and Solenad, Nuvali in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. Cinemalaya will also be held at the Ayala Center Cebu from August 9 to 14.