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Will the Philippines finally get an Oscar nomination with 'Iti Mapukpukaw' (The Missing)?

By ERIC CABAHUG Published Dec 20, 2023 5:52 pm

The Philippines has won top awards from two of the most prestigious film festivals in the world—Best Director and Best Actress in Cannes, Best Film in Venice—but has been missing gold from the world’s most famous awards, the Oscars. It has yet to land a nomination, particularly in the Best Foreign Language/International Feature Film category for which it has been sending an entry in the past 34 years. It’s third only to Portugal and Egypt as the countries with the most Oscar submissions without a nod.

That might finally change this year with Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing), an animated coming-of-age drama that the 2023 Cinemalaya Film Festival international jury declared Best Film. The Filipino-Ilocano rotoscope film revolves around Eric, whose life "twists and turns after the arrival of the familiar alien, and the death of his uncle—both of which triggers him to remember his past and untangle his memories."

The hope of the movie ending the country’s Oscars drought has been bolstered by its inclusion in the list of Top 30 contenders by Variety, which is considered one of Hollywood’s most credible publications. According to Antoinette Jadaone, who was among the executive producers of the film, this is the first time that the media outlet has ranked a Philippine submission for their yearly Oscar predictions.

That’s no mean feat. It may even be considered a minor miracle. Of all titles on Variety's list, Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) is the only one without any exposure in a major international film festival. It also doesn’t have an international distributor (yet) and hasn’t had a screening in the United States before the list came out. (It has since had one screening for members of the Academy and the press as part of its Oscars campaign.) 

Most notably, it doesn’t have the kind of campaign budget that helps movies without high-profile exposure get enough traction to make the Oscars shortlist of 15 films from which the final five nominees will come from. 

How Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) made it to Variety’s top contenders for the Oscars

Social media helped Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) hit Variety’s list, according to Dennis Buckly, a Filipino movie reviewer and writer who’s part of the movie’s Oscars campaign team.

“Right from the start, we knew we were going for the grassroots route via social media,” he told PhilSTAR L!fe. “For one, we had very limited funding and very few insider connections in Hollywood.”

Buckly came up with the strategy that the team eventually went on doing. He calls it the "tier model" and it involves sending Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) screeners (online copies of the film) to tier-one X users composed of US-based film reviewers and relentlessly asking them to tweet their honest thoughts about the movie. He notes, “That was our base. They truly helped us kickstart the buzz.”

It proved effective, generating a generous amount of tweet reviews. The team then proceeded to target mid-tier film tweeps. That’s when Rotten Tomatoes-approved critics (those that get cited in the film review aggregator site) started to take notice. It was only a matter of time before the buzz caught Variety’s attention to debut at #23 on its lineup.

Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) stars Carlo Aquino

The reviews have been uniformly glowing. Candice Frederick of Huffington Post said, “Such a great use of animation to tell this heartbreaking and ultimately freeing story.”

Claudio Alves of The Film Experience described it as "the kind of cinema you feel in your gut, that breaks your heart and puts it back together again.”

Megan McLachlan, who is a member of Critics Choice and Rotten Tomatoes, said it's "an incredibly moving meditation on survival." She added, "You know a movie is good when the last line has you saying, ‘Wow,’ in the silence before the credits roll."

Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) also made it to the Top 15 picks of awards watcher site AwardsDaily, raving that it’s “emotionally gripping.” 

The official shortlist of 15 titles that will vie for the five nominations for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars will be announced later this week. Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing)’s campaign team has its work cut out to sustain the momentum it has gained and to further the traction to ensure the film makes it to the priority viewing lists of the members of the Academy of Motion Arts or Sciences who serve on the International Feature screening committee that will determine the shortlist.

But even if Iti Mapukpukaw (The Missing) ends up falling short and goes missing on that all-important list, it has already achieved what no other Filipino film has been able to do on Variety's list. After 33 years of missing any mark, that’s already a win.