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Sunday Lifestyle

In a cold place

FROM COFFEE TO COCKTAILS - Celine Lopez - The Philippine Star

A few years ago my psychic in New York said that I would be making a movie that would succeed in a cold place. This was probably around 2008.

At the time, I told this to Sean Ellis, the director of Metro Manila. At that point the movie was just an idea. A good idea, but it wasn’t even a zygote yet. Sean was still riding on the success of his critically acclaimed Oscar-nominated film Cashback. I, on the other hand, was freezing in London and looking to briefly relocate there. Somewhere in between, Metro Manlia started taking shape.

Sean and I immediately got ahead of ourselves and started hypothesizing where this cold place was. It was not Cannes, not Venice, not even Tribeca because it was held during spring. I was thinking of Telluride and it was not a very exciting thought. I was hoping perhaps it wouldn’t be in a festival, but that it would prosper in air-conditioned theaters.

Fast forward to 2013. Our movie Metro Manila won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience award at Sundance. An amazing award since the Sundance audience members were the ones to elect it. It won in freezing Park City, Utah!

A cold place.

I still am floating on this surreal cloud. This was the little movie that could. It astounds me how it fared so well in one leap and in one bound. The movie was done with a skeleton crew and actors who took massive pay cuts to be part of the project. Everyone, even our then security detail Toto and my beloved governess Joy, pitched in. It was a labor of love. So many people helped us — from Mr. Paul Chan, who just lent us his armored tuck after we spotted it on EDSA, to Timmy Tan who let us use one of the Philippine Airlines airplanes for a scene.

Sure, shooting and wrapping the film presented loads of challenges, but the generosity of those who helped us with no questions asked was also very inspiring. Towards the end of the film we were all broke but we managed to have a simple wrap party at Barcino. When I think of this, it seemed so long ago. Sean was exhausted and everyone was just waiting for something to happen.

There was really a time when I felt like the movie was going to be an under-the-radar thing. That it would sinfully slip away through the cracks of the grand wall of accolades. However, seeing the rushes, it was undeniable to me that Sean is a genius. He shot the film with his iron arm and with a skeleton crew. When I say “skeleton” I mean three of four people helping him with lights and sound.

I’ve always believed in the work of genius and how it finds its way into the world of relevance and later on posterity. Like a true Filipino I was filled with hope. His approach to storytelling was very much what I skimmed out of the Dave Eggers’ book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I read Eggers’ memoir one million years ago and it reminded me of Sean and the things that he went through in 2012. This passage, however, tells a lot about how Sean shares his heart and imagination:

“These things, details, stories, whatever, are like the skin shed by snakes, who leave theirs for anyone to see. What does he care where it is, who sees it, this snake, and his skin? He leaves it where he molts. Hours, days or months later, we come across a snake’s long-shed skin and we know something of the snake, we know that it’s of this approximate girth and that approximate length, but we know very little else. Do we know where the snake is now? What the snake is thinking now? No. By now the snake could be wearing fur; the snake could be selling pencils in Hanoi. The skin is no longer his, he wore it because it grew from him, but then it dried and slipped off and he and everyone could look at it.”

He is generous in his thought and he makes his story, everyone’s story. Metro Manila has moved around the world at this point, arresting people’s attention and holding hostage a clear and true message.

When we were working around 2011 for the support of the film council in the Philippines, it fell on deaf ears. They said they didn’t feel it was a Filipino movie. I reasoned that the producers and actors were all Filipino shot using our native language. They also thought that the movie was not pro-Filipino.

Granted it is not a paean to the more attractive parts of the country; yet the story itself sheds external visual aesthetics to capture the true resilient nature of Filipinos. The protagonist’s point of view, which I believe is our collective integrity as Filipinos, shines as it is set against the more predictable and bruised values of the underworld.

I have seen beautiful Filipino films disappear in the world of the extraneous. We need to believe in our stories, which are true and nuanced even if they’re not going to be pretty. We are a nation known as amazing storytellers. We all escape to the captivating world of soap operas, where the dead come back to life and the poor find themselves winning the genetic lottery and are actually children of wealthy people. Like the living dead, these are all fables, fairy tales. The pathos of the true Filipino story is there to augment the clear fighting spirit of Filipinos against adversity.

These stories we need to embrace, as we are a nation that is known to triumph over anything. We need that backdrop of the exceedingly unfortunate truth of deprivation and desperation.

The story of Metro Manila and its success is a story all its own. We didn’t even have a trailer! Sometimes luck happens almost instantly. However, when it takes a couple of years to make it happen, it becomes more than just a product of luck. It becomes providential. Also it pays to do something for the sake of just doing it. No expectations. In this case, we were all proud to be part of this beautiful movie. What happened after production made us relish every bit of success that came our way.

It’s made me a believer in trusting that the world does listen.

A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS

DAVE EGGERS

DRAMATIC AUDIENCE

FILIPINO I

METRO MANILA

METRO MANLIA

MOVIE

MR. PAUL CHAN

SEAN

WHEN I

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