Weaving together old film reels and dreamscapes, Leonor will never die features the bold cinematic voice of one of the brightest young directors in Philippine cinema, Martika Ramirez Escobar. Leonor will never die is Escobar’s feature debut and also makes her the second female director from the Philippines to land a spot in the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
Leonor will never die tells the story of elderly retired filmmaker Leonor, who lives with her son Rudie. She hasn’t paid her electricity bills for months, her movie star ex-husband is no longer pictured and there are flashes of grief over the loss of her other son Ronwaldo years ago. years. Falling into a coma following the fall of a television placed by a window, Leonor enters a curious intermediate place. She finds herself in the middle of one of her half-written action scripts – and with a chance to imagine and write a different life for herself.
On what inspired such a playful and multi-layered story, Manila-born Escobar shares that the spark for Leonor will never die was born out of a conversation with a filmmaker friend during a film workshop in 2014. [film] grandmother,” Escobar said. This idea then evolved into having an “action grandma” who reflected on the joys and tribulations of her life and wanted a chance to make different decisions. Leonor will never die is also Escobarit is love letter to cinema and homage to its predecessors. “I consider cinema as one of my greatest teachers, as a friend and as a therapist,” Escobar added. “I learned a lot about life by making movies and watching movies.”
Veteran producers Monster Jimenez and Mario Cornejo also joined the project. “Martika is a star. She can work as a cinematographer, director and screenwriter,” Jimenez said, explaining why she chose to work with Escobar. “I was just fascinated by his shorts. If you’ve seen his shorts, it’s actually even crazier, if that’s possible. Leonor will never die characteristics Sheila Francisco in the lead role of Leonor, with Bong Cabrera and Rocky Salumbides in supporting roles. Francisco has acted in theater and on screen and is the first Filipina to perform at the Royal National Theater in London (in 2001).
“It’s like eight years of begging from different people,” Escobar shared with a laugh, when recounting the journey to bring Leonor will never die to bear fruit. She spent much of the past decade developing the script at several workshops, finding collaborators, building a funding network and working on other projects, before finally directing the film. Reflection on the final form of Leonor will never die screening at Sundance, Escobar shared, “For me, the spirit of the script remains in the film.”
The production of Leonor will never die was born out of a collaborative process. The scenes were revised on set, based on feedback from the producers and cast. Escobar’s production philosophy seems to inhabit the same kind of self-reflexivity of the cinematic medium with which film itself engages. “It’s an ever-changing scenario. We did a lot of versions, we tried a lot of things, we deleted a lot of scenes,” Escobar said.
Wrapping principal photography at the end of 2019, Escobar began planning additional reshoots in February 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic was beginning to hit. Escobar then had to go through the tedious editing process with editor Lawrence Ang almost entirely online. This difficulty was compounded by the nature of the film’s narrative, which required complex editing work to make sense of its many layers of film within a film. “It’s almost as if Martika asked for it. She wrote a movie that was hard to do in post-production, and we did it during the pandemic,” producer Jimenez shared, on the weird parallel between the Leonor will never dieabout the process of making a film and the actual journey of production. “You have this last act between the editor and the director wondering if this will ever end. Martika and I have been talking about this ending for – I’m not kidding – three years. We literally tried it, we shot all of it. the ends we could think of.
Escobar received an email informing her that her film had been selected for the Sundance competition while on her way to a shoot. “I was confused, I thought it was a bad email. It’s beyond a dream. I’m really happy for the team because [this film is] truly a labor of love,” Escobar said. Jimenez also shared that it was important to Escobar that the world premiere of Leonor will never die would be in a physical cinema, not online. “You really had to go find a place where it would play in a theater and Sundance was one of the few festivals at the time that was sure of that.”
Unfortunately, the latest wave of Omicron has derailed plans to hold physical screenings in Park City, Utah, and at the Sundance Film Festival. announced the move online January 5. The announcement was particularly devastating for Escobar, but the team tried to look at the positives. “We’ve had a lot of meetings, and they’re interested in the next thing we’re going to do,” Jimenez explained. “We are lucky to have already found someone to take care of the festivals for us. It’s just one of those blessings of being a Sundance movie.