Across the Crescent Moon (by Baby Nebrida,  Philippines, 130 minutes).

Manila, November 8th, 2017 (Teresa R. Tunday, OCDS) Across the Crescent Moon, a film that was hardly noticed in its home country ran away with Best Global Feature Film and Best Ensemble Acting awards at the International Film Festival Manhattan last October. An independent film that did not even make it to the Metro Manila Film Festival last December, it pools together the talents of veteran and neophyte actors alike, with cause-oriented director Baby Nebrida at the helm. A film in which interreligious relations are important.

Across the Crescent Moon, opens with a bitter fight between mother Mita Garcia (Dina Bonnevie) and daughter Emma (Alex Godinez).  Devout Christians, Emma’s parents are strongly against the love relationship between Emma and her boyfriend Abbas Misani (Matteo Guidicelli) but they will fail to stop the union of the two.  To their dismay, Emma and Abbas get married in Muslim rites, and stay in Mindanao.  Abbas is a soldier in the Special Action Forces (SAF) tasked to deal with the drug and human trafficking problem in Mindanao.  After their wedding the young couple reside in Mindanao with Abbas’ parents Karim (Christopher de Leon) and Sitti (Sandy Andolong) who warmly welcome the Emma to the family.  When Emma becomes pregnant, she pleads with Abbas to return to Manila until she gives birth; fortunately, Abbas is granted his request at work to be transferred to the SAF contingent in Luzon.  Missing her parents very much, Emma pays them a surprise visit.  She finds her mother home, but Mita cruelly disowns her.  In spite of Emma’s delicate condition, Mita’s heart remains hard and cold, without a whiff of mercy for the pregnant daughter.

Local film critics have contrasting reactions to Across the Crescent Moon.  There are those who praise it to high heavens, suggesting that the film be seen by every Filipino; others see nothing but the perceived shortcomings of the film, from camera angles to the story flow.  Some say watching the movie is a big waste of time and money; while others aver that one stands to miss much by not seeing it because “it is so special”, being a unique film that courageously tackles and portrays situations that no Filipino movie in the past had ever done.

It is easy to see why critics differ in their view of Across the Crescent Moon—a fact that does not augur well for the fate of the film at the box office.  Like average Filipino filmgoers, many critics merely look for entertainment, or amazement at the technical perfection of a movie, to the extent that they become oblivious to the film’s substance and its potential to open doors leading to a society’s redemption.  The theme of Across the Crescent Moon is hardly entertaining, but what is amazing about it is that it was produced at all—a film that owes its existence to people who gambled their talents, treasure, and conviction in their desire to contribute towards peace and reconciliation in the land.

Interviewed by CINEMA (The Catholic Initiative for Enlightened Movie Appreciation, the movie reviewing body of the Office on Women of the Philippine Bishop's Conference), its director and screenwriter Baby Nebrida said her intention was to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims by focusing on correct information and right knowledge of the situation—thus she deemed it best to highlight the goodness and benevolence of a Muslim family in this film.  With this purpose in mind, Nebrida persuaded veteran actors (Bonnevie, de Leon, Andolong) to play alongside neophytes (Guidicelli, Godinez) in this trailblazing movie.

The excellent performances the actors delivered are thus rooted not in acting techniques but in the sincere belief that participation in the film is infusing new meaning in their art. At a press conference prior to the launch of Across the Crescent Moon last January, the actors—both the seasoned ones and the newbies alike, all Christians from Luzon—admitted that in studying their respective roles, and in mingling with the Muslims while on location shooting in Mindanao, their eyes were opened to the beauty of the customs and prayer life of the Muslims.  For the actors, being in the film was not “just a job” but also a “learning moment”—their exposure to a different cultural environment enriched their lives and imbued their performance with freshness and intensity.  The result: whatever technical flaws the film had were overshadowed by the heartfelt performances of the cast.

The core of the plot is the love between two young persons coming from different backgrounds, and its message is the hope of a people’s healing springing from the understanding that love brings.   The role of Bonnevie—Mita, the narrow-minded mother who is complacent in her comfort zone, and has good intentions but lacks genuine understanding of her daughter or her fellow Filipinos—serves as the heart of the movie, for she reflects the transformation that Filipinos need to go through to liberate the predominantly Catholic nation from prejudice against their long neglected Muslim brothers. 

CINEMA won’t wonder if Across the Crescent Moon does not become a box office hit in the country, because as surveys made by the film industry itself reveal, the average Filipino goes to the movies to laugh, to get tickled or terrified, to be entertained and wowed by fantastic CGI (computer generated images)—never to meditate upon the future of their country.  The film may not rake in millions at the tills, but as CINEMA views it, a deep regard for its message can heal millions of wounded hearts in the country.  Showing and discussing the film in schools and parishes, particularly in key cities, may help broaden the horizons of the young who are in danger of being engulfed in mediocrity prevalent in the entertainment media, the internet, and society as a whole.