Arnold makes it to Tribeca

DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda () - May 12, 2012 - 12:00am

When Arnold Reyes received word that his latest indie film project, Graceland, would be exhibited at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York, he wasn’t sure how to react. He was flattered that the movie was included, but what exactly was the Tribeca Film Festival, and why was it such a big deal?

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded by Jane Rosenthal, Craig Hatkoff and Robert de Niro 10 years ago in an attempt to breathe life back into the Tribeca or the Lower Manhattan area of New York after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The intention was to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and contribute to the long-term recovery of Lower Manhattan.

“My director (Ron Morales) called me and said, ‘Arnold, pasok tayo sa Tribeca,’” relates the actor-singer who started out as a pop singer and member of the all-male trio BoysVoyz, but who has since found fame as an actor on stage and in independent films. He was featured in two entries in this year’s Cinemalaya.

Graceland  an indie film he made two years ago in which he plays the lead character Marlon  was invited to take part in the festival. The movie is not about Elvis Presley’s home; it is a family-slash-political drama revolving around Marlon, whose wife is suffering from kidney disease, and whose child is mistakenly kidnapped. In the midst of that situation, and with no other way out, Marlon is driven to desperation, but eventually finds absolution and a “land of grace”  hence the title of the film.

It was a very personal film for Arnold to make, because his mother, the late Africa Reyes, had also battled kidney disease. Playing Marlon gave Arnold a sense of what his father went through, because it was Arnold’s father who took care of her and helped her through the twice-weekly dialysis sessions until she passed away two years ago. “It gave me a profound sense of gratitude to my father,” reflects Arnold.

At the time of the call, Ron was in Sweden, where he is based, and the connection wasn’t too good. But even after he had asked other people what Tribeca was, and why it should mean anything to him, Arnold still had his doubts.

Ang una kong naisip,” confesses Arnold, “was that wala akong US visa, kaya paano ako pupunta doon? It would be my first trip to New York, first time in the US, first time out of Asia, for that matter. I also thought about the career opportunities I would be leaving behind.”

Graceland was exhibited as part of Tribeca’s Cine Mania, a showcase for suspense-thrillers. That it made to the final selection really was a big deal, because it was chosen from more than 3,000 entries from different countries. Over the course of the festival, Arnold came to realize what a big honor it was for the film and for him as the lead actor. People liked the movie and hailed his performance.

Reviewer Matthew Schuchman wrote: “Arnold Reyes brings wonderful balance to a role that can easily be skewed too far in one direction by another actor.”

Another review, written by Mark Young in Reviews/Spotlight, Tribeca Film Festival, read:Arnold Reyes is fantastic as Marlon Villar, a driver for a Filipino congressman who becomes entangled in a kidnapping plot. To go much further into the film’s plot would involve spoiling events which are better experienced than read; it suffices to say that Reyes captures perfectly the balance of being at the mercy of fate while blaming himself for his misfortune at the same time.”

Even Michael Moore, director and producer of Fahrenheit 9/11, enjoyed Graceland. For Arnold, being in the company of film luminaries and celebrities was something he found overwhelming. For him, coming from the Philippines, and not even being a crazily popular or in-demand actor here, to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Moore was a big honor  and it wasn’t until he was there that he realized how much it meant.

“There were so many famous and big names, hindi ako aware!” says Arnold, who even enjoyed walking around New York and visiting its famous landmarks, such as Times Square.

At the same time, the whole experience had a profound effect on him beyond being just a tourist jaunt. “Mas na-inspire ako to improve my craft. Ayoko nang bitawan (ang acting),” he says.

He hopes his Tribeca stint will translate into more work, especially in mainstream showbiz where his last exposure was in My Amnesia Girl where he played a doctor. Arnold also did portrayals in the indie movies, Isda, Adela, Muli, Senior Year, The Leaving and Astig, where he earned the Best Supporting Actor Award for Cinemalaya 2009.

For sure, this won’t be the last. There are invitations for Graceland to be exhibited at other film festivals around the globe. Arnold is excited and hopeful that as an actor, he is finally finding his own graceland.

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