Sometime in August last year while chatting with Jake Macapagal, he mentioned he was working on a dream project with noted British director Sean Ellis. Jake had been amazed by the lead role of Oscar in the film Metro Manila plus the role of associate producer practically fell on his lap after what seemed a casual meeting with Celine Lopez and Ellis. We wrote in this column then that all Jake could mutter was, “I welcomed this project as a gift.”
Now that Metro Manila has been officially invited to the Sundance Film Festival under its World Dramatic Competition category, opening Jan. 27, 2013 at Park City, Utah, the gift and the dream have become a reality. We go to the official website of Sundance to pick out more information.
When asked to comment on the geographical diversity of the 2013 international lineup, Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth answers that the World Dramatic Competition features a number of films shot by foreign filmmakers in countries outside their homeland. A Chilean film was shot in Italy, a German film in America, a Polish film in Spain, an Italian film in Brazil, and a UK film shot in the Philippines (Metro Manila). He notes, “There’s something remarkable about that. It speaks to the global filmmaking community what’s happening.”
Reacting to this comment, Jake says, “The film is unique in the sense that it was made in the Philippines, using a Filipino cast and crew, directed by a British director, edited by a French national, using British and Filipino funds. Ellis utilized Tagalog with English subtitles with the actors themselves translating their own script using a very colloquial and truthful form of the Tagalog language.”
From a regional festival in Utah in 1978 to the international non-profit Sundance Institute in 1984, the festival has introduced to global markets ground-breaking films for over two decades, including Sex, Lies and Videotape, Maria Full of Grace, The Cove, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, An Inconvenient Truth, Precious, Trouble the Water and Napoleon Dynamite.
The 2013 Sundance Film Festival received 12,146 submissions (429 more than for 2012), including 4,044 features and 8,102 shorts. Of the features, 2,070 were from the US and 1,974 international.
In the World Cinema category, Metro Manila is competing against 11 other films, Circles, Crystal Fairy, Future, Houston, Jiseul, Lasting, Shopping, Soldata, There Will Come a Day, Wajma — An Afghan Love Story and What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love. They share subjects involving choices in life, the search for one’s true self, and love in various forms. They come from an aggregate of Eastern and Central Europe, South America, South Korea, Afghanistan, New Zealand, Indonesia and the UK.
Metro Manila from the United Kingdom and the Philippines is credited with Sean Ellis as director as well as screenwriter (with Frank E. Flowers). Producers are Mathilde Charpentier and Ellis; executive producers are Ellis, Enrique Gonzalez and Lopez; associate producers are Macapagal, Missy Papageorge and Stefan Sonnenfeld.
The all-Filipino cast includes Macapagal, Althea Vega, John Arcilla, Miles Canapi, Ana Abad-Santos, Moises Magisa, JM Rodriguez and Erin Panlilio. Original music by Robin Foster, cinematography by Ellis, film editing by Richard Mettler and casting by Raymond Alzona. It is obvious from the lineup how small the production lineup is.
The film tells of Oscar and family, leaving the primeval poverty-stricken Banawe rice fields to seek a better life in the big city of Manila, where they fall victim to the machinations of big city folk, a daily part of city survival.
Post-production work was done in the UK and the marketing aspect was also handled by Ellis group. Lopez had kept in touch from the time she met Ellis, sending him Filipino films, filling him in on what’s happening in the local indie scene to four years later when the director decided he would do the project. The fact that Lopez was on board as co-producer must have helped a lot. When the film was done, Ellis took a flying trip to Manila to screen the picture privately with his staff and actors.
We ask Macapagal for reactions. “I believe the film shows the Filipino as a race of resilience, perseverance and one that puts the family above all else. It’s a very human story about what a man would do for those he loves. The film does show the reality of poverty in the country but it uses this to highlight the strength of character played by its protagonist, and that love can flourish in even the hardest of situations. The film is a montage of every experience Ellis has had in the Philippines and every Filipino he met. This is Sean’s love letter to the Philippines and its people.”
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