“I made such a bad movie! I wasted all that money and privilege! I should just have done other things! I never ever want to make movies again!”
That was what 12 Weeks screenwriter and director Anna Isabelle Matutina a.k.a. Sunshine uttered a week prior to the film’s gala screening. The movie eventually ran away with two awards at the 18th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival: Best Actress for its main protagonist Max Eigenmann, and the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) Award for Matutina.
The NETPAC award is meant to promote Asian cinema and recognize the works of young Asian filmmakers in a given year. Ideally—although not all the time—they give recognition to first-time filmmakers, according to NETPAC jurors Patrick Campos and Ida Anita del Mundo.
12 Weeks is one of the very few films in this year’s line-up that celebrates the modern woman, notes Madonna Tarrayo, President/CEO of UXS Inc. (Unitel/StraightShooters) and Cinemalaya juror.
In the movie, 40-year old humanitarian worker Alice discovers she is pregnant, just right after she has broken up with her much-younger boyfriend. While she’s not too keen on keeping the baby, she eventually has second thoughts about it.
"It's been a week and it still hasn't sunk in," Eigenmann said of her Cinemalaya win, posting photos of the awarding ceremony held last August 14 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, held just days after her aunt, seasoned actress Cherie Gil passed away.
In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, Eigenmann shared how she prepared to take on the role of Alice as well as her relationship with her aunt, who she dedicated the award to.
“The hardest thing about preparing for Alice was that all of her struggles were internal. I am the opposite in real life," Eigenmann said.
"I am the type of person that says how I feel out loud and the expressions on my face is another tell-all. To keep everything inside was the most difficult part for me. Preparing for the role was more of that than anything else,” she added.
Prior to the release of the indie film, Eigenmann shared a few fun facts regarding the film's shooting.
Eigenmann said of her reel ex-boyfriend, “Vance Larena and I shot all our intimate scenes on the day we first met. That was the best ice breaker, if you ask me,” she wrote in posts on Instagram and Facebook.
“After days of rehearsals and meetings over Zoom,…the entire team finally got to meet in person and start shooting…It came with its stressful moments where it felt like we wouldn't finish on time, but the great highs overpowered the lows. We finished with a bang and surprised ourselves...There were many tears, laughter and embraces shared and that experience will forever hold a place in my heart,” Eigenmann added.
As for the extended, and huge family of show business Eigenmanns, she said: “To be honest, our family rarely talks about our work with each other! We don’t give each other tips, but we all just constantly know we deeply support each other in all our endeavors.”
Eigenmann's performance in 12 Weeks has earned her high praise from various critics, fans of independent films, and colleagues.
In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, 12 Weeks director Sunshine Matutina shared: “Max was a complete professional. Before we went to production, we had a lot of talks about who Alice is. It was really just a process of her getting to know her character so that everything she does: the way she said her lines, the way she would keep quiet, even the way she sat, would come naturally, AS ALICE.”
By the time they started shooting, Eigenmann was already prepared.
“She knows that a lot of the film was just her experiencing the internal turmoil, and that’s really not an easy job for any actor. She [knew] what to do to get to that headspace where she needs to show that she’s angry, confused, happy, irrational, scared, and sometimes, all these at the same time. All I had to do was basically capture these on cam,” Matutina said.
"Despite her young age (34)—she has a deep well of experience where she could just dig into, and knows how to use this masterfully,” Matutina added.
Cinemalaya juror Jeffrey Jeturian, director of Ekstra, Kubrador and Pila-Balde likewise praised Eigenmann for “her richly-nuanced characterization of a reluctant mother-to-be.”
“As she masterfully showed in her movie, women go through life being doubted by others. Their capacity to get work done, to manage their own households, to control their own bodies, to make correct life decisions, to live their own lives—all this is constantly being questioned by others, even by fellow women, even by the people they love,” said sociologist Herbie Docena, who was featured as an extra in the film.
While Alice vacillates between wanting to let go of the baby and keeping it—while she deals with her inner turmoil—a war is raging and Martial Law is imposed on Marawi in faraway Mindanao.
“The role of Max as Alice could have easily been portrayed in the most melodramatic way: hysterical, contrived and exaggerated. Max did the opposite. You feel her rollercoaster of emotions with much restraint, yet, loaded with uncertainty, confusion, and pain….Her portrayal of Alice is aligned with the film’s mood: raw, honest, modern, and relatable. Easily, Maxine is one of our best actresses in the country,” pointed out Cinemalaya juror Tarrayo.
Bing Pimentel, Eigenmann’s mother in real life, depicted the role of her mother Grace in the film. Ina Feleo and her mom Laurice Guillen were initially tapped for the roles of Alice and Grace. It’s just that both of them got more involved in Cinemalaya projects. Feleo reportedly mentored Matutina on directing actors.
During the Cinemalaya Awards night, Eigenmann dedicated her award to her actress-aunt Cherie Gil who had just passed on 10 days prior to her victory.
"Tita Cherie, this is for you!" Max said in her acceptance speech. "Mabuhay ang pelikulang Pilipino!"
Prior to the awarding ceremony, Max also paid tribute to her aunt on social media.
“Tita Cherie was, and always will be one of my best friends. She was the person I called the most when I was feeling down, or even just to do a yoga class together, or have a nice lunch to just make kwento…We even grew closer after my Dad passed away. She reminds me so much of him!” Eigenmann told PhilSTAR L!fe.
“She’ll always be one of my biggest inspirations—to live life without any reservations. To be unapologetically me and understand that we can’t please everybody and THAT’S OKAY. I miss her dearly. But I know she is very proud of me now, and my Daddy as well,” she added.
We’ll definitely miss Cherie Gil, too, but aren’t we glad that her niece and heir apparent, Max Eigenmann—who is very much her own person—is in our midst?
“It will always be a great honor to be part of my family. I can only hope to continue making all of them proud,” she said.