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Children of the River is an invitation by director Maricel Cariaga to journey the mountains of Quirino province, a journey revolving around the relationships of the four young children of soldiers. In the film, the four kids deal with the ups and downs of growing up away from society, while also facing the consequences brought about by the war down south.

The movie itself is a raw take on companionship, as family and as friends. At the center of it all are the children themselves—Cinemalaya 2017 Best Actor winner Noel Comia, Jr. as Elias, Junyka Santarin as Pepsy, Dave Justine Francis as Agol, and Ricky Ariarte as Robin. Individually they deliver a commendable a performance, but the chemistry among them is remarkable, as if they were truly friends like the characters they portrayed. In a special performance, Jay Manalo just about steals the show with a crushing monologue that sums up the thesis of the film.

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GROW TOGETHER Maricel Cariaga returns to Cinemalaya with "Children of the River,” a raw look into the life of soldiers' kids who are distanced from society for everyone's protection. In the midst of their companionship, four friends see their relationship grow stronger as the days pass. Cariaga told her four main actors—Noel Comia, Jr., Junyka Santarin, Dave Justine Francis, and Ricky Ariarte—to "not act, but be natural like the friends they are.” The director even admitted that after filming, the four became inseperable (like their own characters). Catch all the films in #Cinemalaya15 from Aug. 2-13 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and select Ayala and Vista cinemas nationwide.

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Unbelievably shot on location in just six days, Children of the River stands to be an underdog contender in this year’s Cinemalaya. The term “coming-of-age” almost seems unfit for the movie due to the maturity of the children and how they deal with societal topics, even as propagandistic as it may seem toward war. Still, this attempt by Maricel Cariaga deserves its special place in the realm of independent films, one that explores a hopeful future for children wishing to grow up in a world free of hatred and conflict.

Catch all the films in #Cinemalaya15 from Aug. 2–13 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and select Ayala and Vistas cinemas nationwide.

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