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RD Alba and Cesar, and the ties that bind them

After doing Panaghoy Sa Suba in 2004, director-producer RD Alba is reunited with Cesar Montano (right) in Biktima, a thriller in the tradition of RD’s other films

Of course, it’s a plus factor that they are both Boholano so they adhere to the same work ethics.

In Biktima, which is touted as a “maindie” (part “mainstream” and part “indie”), Cesar Montano and RD Alba are reunited after working together in Panaghoy sa Suba in 2004, the former as actor-writer-director-producer and latter as associate producer. Although born in Cebu City (on Sept. 4, 1978), RD is likewise Boholano at heart because most members of his family are from Tagbilaran, including my good friend Liklik Shroeder, RD’s aunt who now lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband. Cesar is from the town of Baclayon where he maintains a cozy vacation house.

Not to be confused with the films of the same title, one starring Vilma Santos and the other Sharon Cuneta, Biktima is the story of a lady journalist believed to have been kidnapped by terrorists during a coverage and how the unfortunate incident affects her life and those of people around her. Angel Aquino plays the journalist, with (aside from Cesar and his wife Sunshine Cruz) Mercedes Cabral and Philip Anthony (the American guy who fights with Cesar in the last scene of Panaghoy) as co-stars.

“It’s a thriller,” said RD who denied that it’s a fictionalized true story. “We shot it mostly in Bohol for only eight days.”

You might be wondering just who RD Alba is (his full name, he cautioned, is quite long: Jose Simplicio Yap Alba III).

RD is the initials of his parents’ first names, Rey Alba and Disi Yap (a doctor who owns the Englewood Hospital in Tagbilaran City). He heads Alba Productions (producer of Biktima, with Star Cinema as distributor) which he described as “a small one, amin-amin lang,” which produced the Cebuano TV drama series Kapalaran, a tie-up with ABS-CBN Regional Network, aired in the Visayas and Mindanao between 2002-2004 and for which RD directed more than 175 episodes featuring mostly Visayan-speaking actors (among them Pilar Pilapil, Chanda Romero, Joel Torre, Gino Antonio and Luke Mejares). He also directed 75 episodes of Milyonaryong Mini, another hit Cebuano comedy series that starred Cherry Lou, Budoy Mirabilles, Juliana Palermo and Giselle Sanchez.

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That’s another tie that binds RD to Cesar their obsession to revive Visayan movie industry.

Cesar makes effort to showcase Visayan talents when he produces movies such as Muro-Ami which starred Rebecca Lusterio (photo), a seashell vendor at a beach in Bohol who went on to win a Best Child Performer award for her performance as a diver and Panaghoy Sa Suba for which she won Best Supporting Actress. (Trivia: Rebecca was featured in Funfare years ago after graduating from high school in Bohol, unable to continue her studies due to lack of money. The management of Colegio de San Juan de Letran read the story and gave her a scholarship. She finished Masscom and is now taking her masters in Europe.)

“We haven’t abandoned that dream,” assured RD even now that he has been living, since he was 11, in the US (that’s why he speaks with a slight twang) where he studied, finishing high school at Upper Darby in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; AB in Drama at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama; and Master in Fine Arts in Film Directing at the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood, California. Among his mentors were Philip Noyce (director of Clear and Present Danger, Bone Collector and SALT), Donald Petrie (Grumpy Old Men and Miss Congeniality) and Jon Amiel (Entrapment, Copycat and Tudors).

It was in the US where RD directed the TV shows Passion Project (pilot episode, 2011) for LOGO/Oxygen; 13 episodes of R.S.V.P., a talk show hosted by G Tongi and Dr. Tess Mauricio for The Filipino Channel; and R.S.V.P. with Dr. Tess, also a talk show for GMA Pinoy TV. Before Panaghoy, he directed two movies, Sabangga: GI Thai Girl (2000) for the Vancouver Film Festival and Mourning Eve (also in 2000) for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

“Mourning Eve, my thesis film, is a relationship between a straight girl and a gay guy,” said RD. “The girl is so in love with the guy that she undergoes a sex change. There’s weird twist in the end. It deals with the question, ‘How far would you go for love?’ Eve in the title is the name of the girl. It’s a mystery-thriller.”

It’s thrillers that, well, thrill RD who grew up on movies by Alfred Hitchcock and Wes Craven.

“I love that shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho which was actually the movie that made me realize that I wanted to be a filmmaker,” recalled RD. “As I grew up, that scene kept on replaying in my mind.”

RD’s crossing paths with Cesar is not just coincidence, it was destiny.

“I met Cesar for the first time in L.A. while I was in film school,” recalled RD. “When I was doing Kapalaran, I learned that Cesar lived just a few blocks from our house in Tagbilaran, so I contacted him and asked him to help us in our show. He actually did more than that he appeared as guest in two episodes. Before long, we developed our friendship and became business partners. Panaghoy kind of formalized our partnership.”

Besides dealing with terrorism, Biktima (showing starting on Wednesday, Sept. 19) is also about women’s rights and sexual harassment done, you guessed it, thriller-style.

“Everything is fiction,” clarified RD who, along with Cesar, had a hand in choosing the cast and the writing and editing. Thus, any similarity to real persons and events is purely coincidental.

Being also a writer-director, didn’t Cesar “meddle” in how certain scenes should be done, you know? (Cesar believed so much in RD’s talent that he reportedly waived his talent fee for Biktima.)

“Well, he made some inputs and I’m happy for that,” said RD. “All in all, I had a free hand in how the movie should be done.”

RD purposely came home to shoot Biktima and is going back to the US before end of this month.

Asked what comes after Biktima, RD said, “What do you think?”

Your guess is as good as mine yes, of course, another thriller!

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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