Around 3,000 extras took part in the filming of Himala, the 1982 Ishmael Bernal masterpiece shot in Paoay. Considering its limited budget, it was a miracle of sorts putting together what is now largely considered, both by critics and the viewing public, as the best film ever produced in the Asia Pacific. Last Saturday, May 10, the miracle happened anew, with a crowd ten times bigger witnessing the immortalization of the film’s iconic character, Elsa.
The unveiling of a fiberglass statue depicting Elsa was the highlight of this year’s Himala sa Buhangin, an offbeat outdoor arts and music festival staged in the Paoay Sand Dunes. Actress Nora Aunor, who played the lead role, graced the event to the delight of an estimated 25,000 revelers, including hundreds of die-hard Noranians from other parts of the country.
Created by visual artist Gerry Leonardo, the fiberglass sculpture depicts Elsa deep in prayer and kneeling in front of a withered tree. Erected atop one of the highest peaks in the sand dunes, the statue was unveiled with cinematic effect at around 9:00 p.m. There were bolts of lightning as music from the movie was played along with the classic line: “Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala!” As if it were a movie shooting, fans chanted, “Elsa! Elsa!”
Aunor, who appeared to have sore feet, walked to the statue’s location barefoot, assisted by rumored boyfriend John Rendez and character actress Bing Loyzaga. When Aunor unveiled the statue, the superstar was teary eyed as she profusely thanked Governor Imee Marcos who produced the film as then head of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines.
In the press conference held at Plaza del Norte in the afternoon, Aunor said: “Mapalad ako. Sa lahat ng artista, ako lang ang binigyan ng ganyang klase kahit buhay pa ako. Mas malaki pa yata sa akin. (I am fortunate. Of all actors, I was the only one given a statue even if I’m still alive. It’s even bigger than me.)” The superstar, a strong contender for the National Artist Award, was also declared an adopted daughter of Paoay through a municipal resolution.
Bamboo sings “Himala”
Another event highlight was a concert topbilled by Bamboo. He performed a fifteen-song repertoire to a lively audience coming from various socioeconomic backgrounds and age groups. While singing “Himala,” one of his signature hits, the rock star ran from the stage to the withered tree near the Elsa statue. As if feeling the energies coming from the area, he was seen closing his eyes and bowing down for a few moments before carrying on with his powerful performance.
Fire and belly dancing amid fireworks and the burning of a bamboo installation capped the night.
During the day, various sand-related activities were held, including beach volley, 4×4 racing competitions, sand boarding, zorb riding, and castle-making.
Young artist Leeroy New, who also did art installations during the inaugural Himala sa Buhangin held in 2012, made a new version of “Chrysalis,” an artistic representation of the galleon that brought the 400-year-old image of the province’s patroness, La Virgen Milagrosa, to the shores of the town of Badoc. New, who has earned international recognition for his craft, also put together an interactive sculpture park out of junk and scrap from the provincial engineering compound. The park-cum-playground was a hit among kids.
“One of our concerns before starting the project was how to activate the area. They said it was a waste land, but when I saw it, it was full of potential,” said New whose dark tan revealed a month-long labor under the intense heat of the sun.
Wide media coverage
With every major news organization covering the event, Himala sa Buhangin gained attention nationwide. Featured in various news and lifestyle programs on national television and radio, it also saw print in newspapers. Significant buzz was generated in cyberspace as attendees posted pictures on social media.
The Capitol’s Communication and Media Office organized for members of the national media a familiarization tour that brought them to the various cultural-historical sites and national attractions of Ilocos Norte.
Elated with the turnout, Marcos said, “Before, the folks in Paoay would cry over these sand dunes because they couldn’t farm there, but movie directors here and abroad love it.” She noted that 4×4 rides and sand boarding, which have been drawing tourists in increasing numbers, have started to provide income to the people. “Indeed, this is the true himala,” the governor remarked.