Off a recent win For Best Children's Film at Amsterdam's CineKid Festival, director Kohki Hasei's Blanka is all revved up for its screening as a finalist at the 2016 Heartland Film Festival, the festival's 25th year bringing films that celebrate the human spirit and transformation to Indianapolis and wider audiences.
The film stars Cydel Gabutero as Blanka, an orphan who makes her living on the Manila streets doing small thefts and con jobs in hopes of one day saving enough money to "buy a mom." One day, she encounters Peter (Peter Millari), a blind musician, and her life begins to take an entirely new direction. The two slowly inch toward a functional trust of one another, joining forces to combat the challenges that life throws at them. With Peters help, Blanka learns how to become a talented singer and, perhaps even more importantly, money can't buy the love of a person.
Blanka is the kind of film that draws you in slowly, mostly courtesy of the big voice and abundant charms of Gabutero, a young actress with a perfect weaving together of acting ability and transparent childlike qualities. The film, which also won the Best FIlm in a Foreign Language prize at the 2015 Venice Film Festival along with the fest's Laterna Magica Prize, is likely nearing the end of its festival run but deserves a greater distribution even with a story that pretty much hits all the "precocious" street kid notes and never really goes anyplace we haven't been before in cinema.
Refreshingly, Hasei avoids condescending to Blanka's challenges and instead portrays her meager existence honestly and her resilience and perseverance through a positive lens. Blanka is a film that seems tailor made for Heartland Film Festival's mission to bring to life films that celebrate transformational films that celebrate the human spirit. It practically goes without saying that Blanka will experience challenges along the way, including with Peter, but it's also obvious that this family friendly film mostly targeted toward older children will find a way for lessons to be learned and hearts to be changed.
In addition to Gabutero's authentic and winning performance, Peter Millari gives a low-key and compelling musician as the blind musician who strikes a bond with Blanka but also feels ill-equipped to meet her needs on a long-term basis. The film's lensing, courtesy of Takeyuki Onishi, gives the film a warmth and intimacy even when Hasei's script isn't particularly sentimental.
Blanka screens several times throughout the festival. For more information on the Heartland Film Festival, going on from October 20-30 in Indianapolis, check out the Heartland Film Festival website.