Finding Auntie Terry: Cannes-winning film “ILO ILO” reunites Singaporean director with Filipina nanny

Oct 28, 2013


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In the early 1990s, Ilongga Teresita Sajonia moved to Singapore to work as a nanny, taking care of three little boys. Once, on a vacation with the family, she visited a wishing well and wished that her wards would grow up to be decent men and that they would not forget about her.

From left to right: Iloilo director Anthony Chen, Aunty Terry and Christopher Chen during their reunion at Aunty Terry's home in San Miguel, Iloilo

Decades later, her wish came true and it was no less than a Cannes International Film Festival award-winning film that paved the way for the reunion between her and the boys she loved and cared for like they were her own.

Aunty Terry hugs Christopher, the youngest of the 3 siblings, during their reunion after 16 years in her home in San Miguel, Iloilo

Teresita was the inspiration behind ILO ILO, a film that received international acclaim and won the prestigious Camera d’Or for first time feature films at the 2013 Cannes.
Set in Singapore, ILO ILO chronicles the relationship between a family of three and their newly arrived Filipino maid, Teresa, who has gone abroad like many other Filipino women in search of a better life. The family needs to adapt to the presence of this stranger, which further threatens their already strained relationship.

Aunty Terry (center) with the Iloilo director Anthony Chen and the cast in Singapore

Still, Teresa and Jia Le, the young and troublesome she cares for, soon form a bond. Their unique connection continues to develop and soon she becomes a part of the family. But it is 1997 and the Asian financial crisis is starting to be felt in the region.
The film which won the Camera d’Or award in Cannes and is now Singapore’s entry to the Oscar Awards for best foreign language film. It is the feature film debut of Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen, one of the three boys “Auntie Terry” took care of as a domestic helper in the Lion City.

After the success of the movie, Cebu-based PR agency Selrahco PR contacted Chen and his siblings, and offered to help them reunite with their former nanny, whom they fondly called “Auntie Terry.” This proved to be a challenge as they knew only her first name and hometown, Selrahco PR’s Iloilo-wide search ended in an emotional reunion, when Chen and his youngest brother Christopher flew to Iloilo to see her again after 16 years.
Mr. Charles Lim, Selhraco PR consultant, acknowledged the support of the Iloilo media in his search for “Auntie Terry” when he had only three photos of Sajonia taken in Singapore in the early 90s and without a name and address to begin with.
He also thanked Caroline Bondoc and her family in Iloilo, Cebu Pacific, close associates, Director Helen Catalbas of Department of Tourism 6, John Rolida, Toots Jimenez, Jr, and Shara Dableo for their unwavering support for the successful completion of the search.
“I was very happy to see them and just hugged them tight,” recounted Teresita in Filipino. “They were still young when I left, and now they have become so big and handsome.”

Christopher Chen, the youngest among the 3 siblings is overcome after seeing Aunty Terry for the first time in after 16 years

Teresita worked for the Chen family for eight years, but had to return home in 1997 due to health issues. Since then, she had lost touch with the family but still carried photos of the three boys with her. “They were very nice kids; they could be mischievous at times, but they’re really very sweet,” she said.
In late August, ILO ILO was screened in Singapore cinemas and “Auntie Terry” was there to attend its premiere screening. Her dream to revisit Singapore and the Chen family was made possible when Cebu Pacific flew her back to the city state in August 2013 on a direct flight from Iloilo City to attend the Singapore premiere where CEB was also the official airline.

Aunty Terry revisits Singapore after 16 years when Cebu Pacific flew her back to the city state on a direct flight from Iloilo City to attend the premiere of the movie last August.

It was her first time to travel to a foreign country after 16 years and to watch a movie in a cinema.
“We are honored to be part of this wonderful reunion and support Auntie Terry when she goes to Singapore through Cebu Pacific’s direct flights from Iloilo. For us, Auntie Terry represents the hard work and selfless love of global Filipinos,” said Cebu Pacific Vice President for Marketing and Distribution Candice Iyog. “She and many other global Filipinos leave a lasting impact wherever they are in the world.”
Teresita said she could not believe that Chen would make a movie inspired by their story and that he and his brothers would come looking for her. “I’m so touched and thankful,” she said. “It must mean that they loved me as much as I loved them.”
“ILO ILO is a story about love, family and relationships, and we could never have imagined that a little film like this could reach out, connect, and re-connect those ties that we thought were long lost,” the filmmaker posted on the movie’s official Facebook page after the reunion.
Chen is the first Singaporean to win a top award at Cannes for a feature film.
Kagay-anons have a chance to catch the multi-awarded film courtesy of a special screening on Friday, 15 November at SM City Cinema 2. There will be a 10AM matinee followed by a 7PM gala in the evening. Auntie Terry, actress Angeli Agbayani (who plays her role in the movie) and Mr. Charles Lim, the Selrahco PR who reunited Terry with her wards after 16 years, will be present to grace the affair.
ILO ILO will have its special screening in Iloilo City on December 1st. It officially opens in cinemas throughout the Philippines on December 4.
For more information on the premiere, special screenings and other inquiries, please email or call Precious Heradura (+639228596363) .


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