By: Patricia Yap
‘Ang Lihim ni Lea’, a Philippine independent animated short film about child sexual abuse bags international awards while generating relevant discourse and empowering victims.
Directed by Rico Gutierrez, Ang Lihim ni Lea (Lea’s Secret) is based on the 2007 children’s book of the same name, written by Augie Rivera and illustrated by Ghani Madueño.
The story is about a young girl that just moved into a condominium unit with her father. After the move, Lea believes she acquired a superpower—passing through walls and closed doors—not knowing that this was her coping mechanism for the sexual abuses done by her father.
The short film was released earlier this year in September and received nine (9) prestigious international awards in October. The most exemplary recognition Ang Lihim ni Lea bagged were the Grand Prize Animation: Silk Road Award at the Cannes International Independent Film Festival and Best Short Film Animation at the Buenos Aires International Film Festival.
Narrating the film, veteran actress Eugene Domingo lent her voice while celebrities Alessandra De Rossi, Candy Pangilinan, Stella Cañete Mendoza, and Princess Culvinar lent theirs for the other roles.
Gutierrez said that he chose to adapt the book because of its importance and timely message. He wanted more people to have access to the story. The book even includes a guide on the “Three Touching Rules” to help children determine sexual abuse.
“Para mas marami pang makaintindi at makapanood kung ano yung pwedeng mangyari sa kanila at kung anong puwedeng gawin nila kung mangyari sa kanila ito (For more people to watched and understand what can happen to them and what they can do it if happens),” he said.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, the incidence of child sexual abuse and exploitation, especially online, has become worse in the Philippines amidst the COVID-19 lockdowns. Just this October, a Filipina mother was arrested for livestreaming the sexual abuse of her own daughters for money.
The Internet Watch Foundation, a United Kingdom-based foundation that identifies and monitors sexual abuse content online reported to have processed 15, 258 reports in September 2020. This is a frightening 45% increase from 2019. In the Philippines, online child sexual abuse has increased up to 3 times due to the lockdowns and more children spending time on the internet.
With lockdowns in place, child sexual abuse becomes rampant at home and families in grave need of income become desperate enough to exploit their children.
Many Filipinos have expressed their awe and reception for the film. On social media, one can find posts that applaud Ang Lihim ni Lea for speaking and showing the truth in an attempt to condemn and empower.
Gutierrez said, “Nangyayari siya sa lahat. Mayaman, mahirap…at kailangan tayo mag-raise ng awareness para maprotektahan natin ang mga bata (It happens to everyone, whether you’re rich or poor. This is why we have to raise awareness in order to protect the children).
Given this, Ang Lihim ni Lea has proved its value in Philippine independent cinema not only for its execution but for its more relevant purpose and message.
Other awards include Best Original Story and Grand Jury Award Best Animation from the New York International Film Awards, Best Original Story and Best Main Theme from the Oniros Film Festivals, Best Animated Short from American Golden Picture International Film Festival, Best Children Short from the Independent Short Awards and the Indie Short Fest, Best Creative for the Europe Film Festival, and Best Director and Honorable Mention at Best Animation from the Top Short Films Festival.
Ang Lihim ni Lea will also represent the Philippines in the Madrid Indie Film Festival, Rome Independent Prisma Awards, Paris Lift-Off Festival, and the ARFF Barcelona International Awards.