After a five-year wait, filmmaker Ron Bryant returns to the indie scene with a woman-powered movie, “Bingoleras,” one of eight entries in the ongoing CineFilipino Film Festival.
While malling one fine day, Bryant stumbled upon a bingo game. The idea hit him like a bolt of lightning: “The game suggests a multi-character women’s comedy that’s naughty, frivolous. unpredictable, exciting,” he explains.
He came up with the script for a comedy about six single women whose lives are turned upside down by a bingo marathon during a town fiesta.
After all, a woman’s life is often a game of chance in this country.
Bryant gathered some of the finest (albeit underrated) actresses in the country for his comeback feature film: Eula Valdes, Charee Pineda, Max Eigenmann, Hazel Orencio, Liza Diño and Mercedes Cabral.
“These actresses provide an interesting mix of personalities,” Bryant says.
He knew that casting would be crucial because he was presenting something new. “These female characters are not what we usually see. Their sensibilities are different from the norm.”
In a nutshell, they are transgressive women on the verge of a breakdown or a breakthrough, whichever applies: A cop who’s a closet lesbian (Diño); a free spirit (Valdes) married to a gay man; a cigarette vendor (Orencio) duking it out with the neighborhood bully (Cabral); a pair of swindlers (Pineda and Eigenmann) with unlikely motivations.
“They have contrasting personalities,” Bryant explains. “Different principles. But they are all strong women.”
He worked with Valdes and Pineda in his last narrative film, “Alon” in 2008. With the rest of the cast, it was his first time.
“I’ve always wanted to work with Mercedes,” Bryant says. “And Hazel and Liza, too. Max was a revelation. I worked previously with her dad (Mark Gil) twice, in ‘Rotonda’ and ‘Alon.’”
The supporting players were personal choices as well. “I waited for Lou Veloso to be available. He had just run (unsuccessfully) as Manila vice mayor,” he relates. “Lou would be irreplaceable as the parish priest.”
Bryant wanted comedienne and former Manila city councilor Cita Astals for the role of a petty politician. Astals had vanished after hitting hard times.
“We looked for Cita. We asked Manila City Hall for her address. Luckily, someone gave us her number,” he says. “She was perfect for the part.”
After a string of macho-man roles, Art Acuña was cast against type as Valdes’ queer husband. “Art, Lou and Cita were game.”
No star complex
He has nothing but praise for the entire cast. “No one had star complex. We were like friends having fun. They were all easy to work with.”
Levity was just what the doctor ordered, if only because shooting “Bingoleras” was as nerve-wracking and suspenseful as a bingo game.
“Up to the last minute, I was haunted by a nagging fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish this film,” admits Bryant, who worked on two documentaries (on Ilocano poet Juan SP Hidalgo and the late filmmaker Celso Ad. Castillo) during his break from narrative features.
He got to shoot the film’s finale scene only on Sept. 3, barely two weeks before the fest’s opening. “I wanted that shot badly,” he quips.
To his credit, he saved a lot on production design because his shooting schedule coincided with a real fiesta in Navotas, his childhood home. “It was just coincidental,” he says. “I got bunting and marching bands for free.”
The fiesta scenes lent the film not only with a festive feel, but also a sense of small-town authenticity and flavor.
True to the film’s carnivalesque tone, the shoot proved to be a roller-coaster ride for Bryant.
He enthuses, “It was at once exhausting and energizing, frustrating and fulfilling. Probably, the greatest experience of my life.”
The CineFilipino Film Festival, at the Newport Cinemas of Resorts World Manila, Lucky Chinatown Mall and Gateway Cineplex, ends Tuesday. Apart from eight feature films, 10 short films are also being screened for the fest.