Ateneo Associate Professor Alvin Yapan bags Best Director in 7th Urduja Heritage Awards for advocacy film Culion

February 02, 2021
Nette Zabala

Culion, a first-time film project by IOptions Ventures, wins big in the 7th Urduja Heritage Film Awards and walks away with five major awards.

First time film venture “Culion” looked every bit a veteran in the recently concluded 7th Urduja Heritage Film Awards as it was feted with five major wins: Best Heritage Film, Best Actress (Iza Calzado), Best Supporting Actress (Suzette Ranillo), Best Supporting Actor (Mike Liwag), and Best Director (Alvin Yapan).

Originally shown during the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) in 2019, historical drama Culion tells the story of three women—Ana (Iza Calzado), Ditas (Meryll Soriano), and Doris (Jasmine Curtis-Smith)—and how leprosy affected them and everyone in the leper colony. Set in the 1940s, the film takes us back to a time when there was no known cure for leprosy. Hence, the leper colony was segregated from the rest of the world in a bid to control the spread of the disease.  

Culion aims to address the stigma of leprosy as it tells the stories of those deemed outcasts by society

“There were so many reasons to say yes to this film,” Yapan said. “First of all, in my more than 10 years in the industry, this was my first time to direct a film I did not write. And this was also my first time to direct something written by no less than Ricky Lee! Of course, there was the added pressure of giving justice to the material he wrote.”

Yapan recounts the challenges of staging such a huge production: “We had to transport everyone to the island and the production team had to stay there for three months. We also wanted to stay true to the history of Culion so we really researched on every last detail - from the architecture back then, to what people wore and how they spoke.”

Culion bravely tackles the concept of leprosy (also known as Hansen’s disease), a condition that carries a stigma until now. “First and foremost, Culion is an advocacy film. This project started when the producers Peter and Gilie Sing visited the island and were moved by what they saw in the Culion Museum and Archives. We really wanted to address the stigma surrounding leprosy,” said Yapan.

The men and women behind award-winning Culion

Driven by purpose, Yapan and his team are now reaping the fruits of their labor. “This recognition from the Urduja Heritage Awards is truly an honor for all of us. The jury is composed of academics so it is even more special to receive this honor from my fellow educators,” said Yapan.

True to form, Yapan is not resting on his laurels and is already looking ahead. “This award is a boost to the project but in the end, the challenge is how to make films like this more accessible. Participating in the Metro Manila Film Festival helped us reach the widest local audience. But given the lockdown that we are all experiencing, the challenge is in how to distribute our films to a wider audience.”

Team Culion recreated scenes from the admitting ward of the Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital
 “This recognition from the Urduja Heritage Film Awards is truly an honor for all of us. The jury is composed of academics, so it is even more special to receive this honor from my fellow educators.”

Yapan is an award-winning filmmaker whose first solo feature-length film “Ang Panggagahasa kay Fe” (The Rapture of Fe), won Best Picture at the 33rd Cairo International Film Festival (2009). His films, An Kubo sa Kawayanan”, and “Edsa” also won back to back for Best Picture in 2015 and 2016 at the World Premieres Film Festival. Yapan is also an award-winning  writer whose work has been recognized numerous times by the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He teaches full time in the Ateneo de Manila University’s Kagawaran ng Filipino.

Photos by  Richard Visco and iOptions Ventures