An overwhelming majority of people with mental and psychosocial disabilities are living in poverty. In the face of life’s trials one after the other, love allows people to survive tirelessly. This is the theme of Firestarters Productions’ second entry to the Cinemalaya 2019, Iska.

Firestarters producers RJ Agustin and Real Florido believe in the power of the ordinary people’s story that clamors to be heard. Their passion is driven by their ambition to bring change and inspiration to people. “We believe that our purpose is to be able to change lives and inspire people with the stories that we tell”, Florido says. This has always been the film production’s brand of storytelling since its creation of the internationally awarded film 1st ko si 3rd, directed by Florido.

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Shown in photo from upper L-R: producer Jerry Palaganas; Firestarters CEO and executive producer RJ Agustin, Iska director Theodore Boborol; Firestarters CCO and executive producer Real Florido; Iska screenwriter Mary Rose Colindres; artist handler Jhonanna Cara; supervising producer Maru Benitez; lower L-R: producer Joyce Jameson; actress Jade Lopez; title role Ruby Ruiz; actor Pryle Gula; line producer Arriane Dulay; coordinator Mary Mae Fernando.

The premium they put in their craft deservingly gained them awards and the trust of various brands and companies across the globe. In just a span of 5 years, they have received awards from Europe, America, and Asia. Solely for 1st ko si 3rd, they won the Gender Sensitivity Award from Quezon City International Film Festival, the Best Director Award from London Film Awards, and the Rising Star Award from Canada International Film Festival. Their brand marketing also bagged the Worldwide Digital Award and 360 Marketing Achievement Award from the prestigious Nicholas Hall Over-the-Counter Marketing Awards.

Iska is a collaboration of Firestarters’ vision and award-winning filmmaker Theodore Boborol’s voice. Florido and Boborol met during the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival where they both directed competing films – Kabisera for the former where he came to the aid of the late director Arturo “Boy” San Agustinand Vince and Kath and James for the latter. Boborol pitched the story to Firestarters and the team right away knew it was the kind of material they want to produce.

The story is loosely based on Boborol’s house cleaner’s account of her life experiences. He was a story editor of the reality show Pinoy Big Brother (PBB) back then. When he heard the story, he was moved. He was keeping an eye on the “real-life teleserye” PBB yet he was blind to the realities around him. The story sparked interest in him.

Iska talks of a loving but impoverished grandmother of a child on the autism spectrum, who tragicomically loses everything and becomes the person society reckons her to be. She lives in a shanty within the premises of a state university where she works as a photocopy operator on Mondays through Saturdays and as a laundry and cleaning lady the rest of the week. She has been married for 30 years to her alcoholic husband whom she calls “Asungot”. Her only daughter left to her care Dodong, her 10-year old grandson with autism spectrum disorder. Despite being told to house him in an orphanage, she chooses to take care of him because she believes that he should be under the care of his own blood and flesh.

Iska, later on, is accused of maltreating him, locking him up in a room, letting him go wild without food or clothes on. Her community labeled her as an irresponsible and unfit guardian while all she wants is to protect his welfare.  In the face of life’s trials one after the other, Iska maintains her tenacity and will to survive.

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This film typifies the dismal mental health state of the country and how the poor are even more marginalized as a result. It also represents those who mother children beyond their duty and capacity armed with nothing but pure love. Iska premiers August 2 at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.


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