Badjao (1957). Directed by Lamberto V. Avellana; screenplay by Rolf Bayer; cinematography by Mike Accion; editing by Gregorio Carballo; music by Francisco Buencamino, Jr. Produced by Manuel De Leon. Cast: Rosa Rosal, Tony Santos, Leroy Salvador, Joseph De Cordova, Vic Silayan, Oscar Keesee, Pedro Faustino, Arturo Moran, Tony Dantes and Gerry Gabaldon.
Synopsis: The Badjao are non-Muslim sea-nomads of southern Mindanao who live in boats and in houses built on stilts above the coastal waters. Hassan (Santos) is a pearl diver who is well-known among his people. One day, his boat is attacked by Muslims from a nearby village. Together with his father and other Badjao elders, Hassan goes to the Muslim village to express their desire for peace, asking that they be allowed to live unmolested on the waters around the Muslim lands.
In the village, Hassan meets and falls in love with a Muslim girl, Bala-amai (Rosal), the niece of the tribal chief. The Muslims, who look down on non-Muslims such as the Badjao frown on the match, but Bala-amai’s greedy uncle is captivated by the quantity of rare blue pearls which Hassan offers as part of the dowry. The uncle gives his consent to the marriage on the condition that Hassan leave his home among the Badjao and settle down in the Muslim village with his bride, in defiance of Badjao tradition. Hassan’s father disowns him and he is forbidden to rejoin his people. But Hassan’s love for Bala-amai is so strong that he willingly submits to Muslim ways of living, tilling the soil like the rest of her kin.
One day, the Muslim chief calls for Hassan and asks him to leave farming and go back to pearl diving so that they can have more pearls. Hassan politely refuses. When he leaves, the chief secretly orders his men to set fire to Hassan’s hut. Bala-amai is about to give birth and she almost loses her life and the baby but for Hassan’s timely arrival. Hassan decides to return to the Badjao with his wife and child but before he does so, he confronts the Muslim chief who ordered the burning of his hut. Bala-amai’s decision to go with her husband prevents the Muslim chief from taking further action against Hassan. He is allowed to leave the village in peace. Arriving in Badjao territory, he and his wife are rejected by his own tribe. To appease his father’s anger, Hassan resorts to an old Badjao custom. In full view of everyone, he throws his newborn son into the sea (according to Badjao ancient belief, the baby is worthy to live if it survives this test). Nobody moves to save the baby until Hassan’s younger brother (Salvador) finally dives into the water, followed by other relatives. The baby survives, and Hassan is welcomed back into the clan.
Badjao won for Avellana the best director award at the 1957 Asian Film Festival, along with prizes for best screenplay (Bayer), cinematography (Accion) and editing (Carballo). (Written by L. Pareja; from the CCP Encyclopedia of Art, Volume VIII, Philippine Film).