Anna Isabelle Matutina digs into a woman’s darkest burden

Emotionally charged film 12 Weeks competes in the 18th Cinemalaya film festival

Anna Isabelle Matutina started as a traffic coordinator in a post-production company working with her first boss, editor Manet Dayrit. “This is where I first met the likes of Lav Diaz, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, and where Elwood Perez made me cry on the phone (of course, he wouldn’t remember),” she reflected.

Anna Isabelle Matutina

At the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, her very first short film, Panaginipan, premiered in 2005. She also edited the full-length feature, ICU Bed #7.

“That time in Cinemalaya was quite unforgettable because it didn’t feel like a competition at all,” she recalls. Anna Isabelle, Sunshine to her friends, got pretty close with the young filmmakers trying to help everyone finish their films. “I earned quite a few lifelong friends.”

Her dramatic film, 12 Weeks, one of the featured films in this year’s run of Cinemalaya, its 18th edition, is about 40-year-old Alice (Max Eigenmann) experiencing a mid-life crisis, getting pregnant and not knowing what’s in store for her. 

12 Weeks poster

Writing the screenplay was a therapy for Sunshine. “I had to dig deep no matter how traumatizing it was and I started to unpack a lot of things I never thought of before that were influencing or affecting the way I lived my life,” muses the 43-year-old director and edit supervisor of I-Witness and The GMA Documentaries. “I learned so many things not just about myself but other women as well.” Her background in documentary filmmaking helped her meet real-life women with the same experiences in her research.

Growing up, she considers herself as rebellious, the black sheep of the family. “ It feels a bit cliché now that I think about it—you know, raised in an all-girls school with Opus Dei parents and then getting involved with a bad set of friends.” She was the first among her siblings to leave home and carve her own path. “I think the secret to calming down is really meeting people who are crazier than you,” she says.

Bing Pimentel

12 Weeks is a story about women from the point of view of a woman director. “I did the film because I always feel like there’s a huge lack in our local cinema of complex stories about women, films that would tackle the contradictions in our lives, those that bare our deepest and darkest thoughts, the guilt and shame, and the huge burden that is imposed on us by society—basically what makes women ‘human,’” muses Sunshine.

How was it working with real-life mother and daughter, Bing Pimentel and Max Eigenmann? “I had a blast working with them!” exclaims The Gawad CCP para sa Alternatibong Pelikula winner. The Eigenmanns belong to a respected clan in show business. “I got truly surprised when I met Max and Ms. Bing for the first time over Zoom because they were so easy to talk to,” says Sunshine.

Max Eigenmann

The mother-daughter scenes are all emotionally charged. The veteran actress showed how passionate and serious she was about her craft. “She knew she had more to give and went ahead and asked for more takes. That was just so generous of her and I really felt humbled,” says Sunshine, a Broadcast Communication graduate.

Vance Larena

Sunshine feels like a debutante as Cinemalaya is opening this Friday, Aug. 5 with Leonor Will Never Die (Ang Pagbabalik ng Kwago) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Theater.

“This is Cinemalaya’s 18th year and I also feel like it’s my debut, graduating from shorts into a full-length film,” remarks the Alkansya director that won the 2012 UNICEF Asia-Pacific Child Rights Award. “I expect to get 18 shots of tequila on my gala night!”

On the set of 12 Weeks

Also in the cast of 12 Weeks are Vance Larena, Claudia Monette Enriquez, Nor Domingo, Mikee Lim, Angie Cantero Castrence, Paolo Villaluna, Blesie Ann Rivera, Pam Miras, and Danz Santos Katanyag.