When we grow old, we want to be like Jessie Lichauco.
Still all-there and sharp as a tack at 104 years old, she is the subject of the documentary Curiosity, Adventure & Love, which is screening for the first time in the country at the World Premieres Film Festival 2016 from Jun 29 to Jul 10, where it will compete in the Filipino New Cinema category.
Coconuts Manila was lucky to watch the movie back in May, where it had a small private screening in a conference room in Seoul, South Korea, at a conference organized by the Asian American Journalists Association, where Jessie’s granddaughter and the movie’s co-producer, freelance journalist Sunshine de Leon, is a member.
“I just woke up one day and thought, I have to tell her story,” de Leon, who co-produced the movie with Suzanne Richiardone, said that day, as she recounted how the idea of the project started in 1998, when she was 27 years old and living in New York. “Sometimes you have these ideas and you don’t know why, they’ve just been sitting in your belly for so long.”
Growing up, de Leon would be approached by people and tell her that her grandmother was an inspiration to them. “She’s 104 and still functional, She doesn’t think that she’s older than she ever was. She’s the same person that still wants to be engaged in life.”
De Leon’s initial idea was to write a book about Jessie, but in Manila she met a filmmaker friend who told her, “Forget the book, Sunshine. She’s 99 and can talk. She can remember things. It’s far more compelling to show her story in film.”
The movie is one-hour long and features interviews with Jessie conducted at the 200-year-old Lichauco house in Sta Ana, near the Pasig River, which has been designated a heritage site.
The producers also talk to historians and World War II survivors, making the movie also about the history of the Philippines over the eight decades Jessie has lived here. In between these interviews are rarely seen footages of Manila pre- and post-war.
Jessie, an American born in Cuba, lost her parents at an early age. She was raised in Florida in a convent school, and was working as a secretary in Washington DC when she met the man who would be her future husband, Marcial Lichauco.
Marcial was the first Filipino to graduate from Harvard University (he also earned his law degree there in 1926) and was an active proponent of Philippine independence from the United States. He was secretary of the OsRox (Osmeña-Roxas) Mission, which travelled to the US Congress to urge the passage of a bill granting independence to the Philippines, and it was in one of those trips that he first met Jessie.
He later became ambassador to the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. He died of a heart attack in 1971. Until now, Jessie confesses in the movie, she sleeps in Marcial’s bed so he will know where to find her.
In 1933, 18-year-old Jessie arrived in the Philippines from the US via a 28-day boat ride. She and Marcial had been dating in the US, and he invited her to come and see the country she would live in. She was young, adventurous and had nothing to lose — she could always go back to the US if she didn’t like what she saw.
She never found a reason to go back, though. In fact, she married Marcial the same year she docked in Manila. “He took me to an unimaginable world of wonder,” says Jessie, who has been granted Philippine citizenship during President Benigno Aquino’s administration.
Months after the movie finished its post-production, Jessie is still very much around and active. She has always kept a low-profile and was never attraced to the idea of being a society lady or one of those ladies who lunch. Instead, she spent her time doing charitable works that benefit the young and the poor.
These days, she’s even managed to keep up with technology, and with current events. Here is de Leon’s latest video of her, shot two weeks ago, after the death of Muhammad Ali.
Curiosity, Adventure & Love will be shown at the World Premieres Film Festival 2016 on Jul 3 & 4. 5pm (SM Megamall), Jul 6 & 8, 7pm (SM North Edsa), Jul 8, 7pm, Jul 9, 9pm (SM North Edsa). For complete schedule, go to wpff.ph/schedule. Follow the movie on Facebook.com/curiosityadventureandlove and Twitter.com/nanafilm.