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‘Van Damme Stallone’ goes to the cineplex

/ 12:30 AM July 04, 2017

Randolph Longjas (left) directs Paolo Pingol in “Star na si Van Damme Stallone”

Filmmaker Randolph Longjas will travel near and far, to screen his movie “Star na si Van Damme Stallone” whenever and wherever there’s an audience that’s willing to watch.

He feels strongly about the film’s mission, which is to open viewers’ hearts and minds about people with Down syndrome. The award-winning Cine Filipino film follows Van Damme Stallone, a kid with Down syndrome, who dreams of being an actor.

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“I will never get tired of talking about the film,” he told the Inquirer. “If we need to go to every school and community, we will do it. Last year, we had a free screening in a prison!”

He himself was “changed” by the movie, he recounted. “I didn’t know much prior to making this film. It was a 180-degree turn for me. Before, the only information I had was based on my biology classes on genetics.”

Working closely with the film’s two Van Dammes—the adult (Paolo Pingol, 25), and kid (Jadford Dilanco, 7) versions—was an eye-opener, though.

Candy Pangilinan (left) and Paolo Pingol in “Star na si Van Damme Stallone”

“I never realized how sensitive and loving they were,” he looked back. “During our shooting we had a strict rule: No bad vibes on the set. It was because Paolo and Jadford could easily get affected by negativity.”

Randolph and his team created a “space” that was a safe haven for the two. “We watched our language. Smoking was not allowed. Every time we got tired, we got a tight hug from them… You have to experience their hug. It’s the purest, most genuine embrace you will ever get.”

He described the two as “bundles of joy.”

He has kept in touch with Paolo and Jadford over a year after the shoot.

“It was more than a movie for us; it was a commitment,” he asserted. “I check on them on Facebook, and we chat every so often.”

One time, Paolo was confined in a hospital. “Paolo didn’t want to take his medicine,” he related. “So his mom, Tita Oyie, called me to talk to him. After our conversation, she sent me a photo of Paolo, who was smiling by then.”

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The director hopes that the public at large will likewise fall in love with the film’s two Van Dammes.

“More than acceptance, my wish is that people will consider them a part of society,” he asserted. “I hope more people will entrust them with jobs in different fields, because that will boost their morale. I am happy that some cafés and drugstores now hire them.”

They are just like us, he insisted. “It’s just that they have an extra chromosome.”

For this reason, he is “exhilarated” that his film has garnered a slot in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino set next month (Aug. 16 to 22).

“We had been planning to have a theatrical release, with the help of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines,” he recalled. “But with this new festival, we can reach a wider audience. It is in line with our campaign to share our film with as many people as possible.”

It’s important to tell this story, he explained, because very few Filipino films had tackled the lives of people with Down syndrome in the past.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” he pointed out. “Some families are overprotective because they are afraid that their kid might get bullied. But with the community getting bigger, they now have a venue to talk about their concerns and support each other.”

The film also serves as a tribute to his late cousin, who had Down syndrome. “She left us a week before her 18th birthday two years ago. I consider this movie a chance to showcase their beautiful lives.”

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