Fil-Am director’s movie makes Manila debutBy Bayani San Diego Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Everytime he returns to Manila, Filipino-American filmmaker Ron Morales discovers a part of himself that he has left behind in his parents’ homeland.
Morales, 34, was born and raised in New Jersey. He had worked as a crew member of Hollywood films “Spider-Man 3,” “My Sassy Girl” and “Jumper.”
Even before he made his debut film “Santa Mesa” in 2008, he has been going home to Manila since he was a kid.
While “Santa Mesa” entailed “going back to one’s roots,” his second film “Graceland” involved “diving into the culture.”
“I wanted to go deeper into the human element,” he said. “The main character in the film is a man who will do everything for his family.
Since he recently became a father himself (to a 7-month-old boy), he took an interest in dissecting a parent’s unconditional love for his family.
“Graceland” was inspired by his real-life experiences during one of his many homecomings. “I’ve been reading about kidnappings in newspapers. One time, my cousin and I were stopped by a policeman. That became the catalyst in writing the story of ‘Graceland.’”
After debuting at the Tribeca fest in New York last April, “Graceland” played at the Fantasia fest in Montreal and the Traverse City fest in Michigan—both held last month.
Next stop is the Fantasic fest in Austin, Texas, from September 20 to 27.
The Traverse City fest is headed by the controversial, Oscar-winning documentarian Michael Moore, who saw Morales’ film at Tribeca.
“Michael sought out our producer and asked us if we could show our film in his festival,” Morales recalled. “I met him briefly and he is a genuine sweetheart of a person. Very down-to-earth.”
It was not Morales’ first encounter with an Oscar winner.
One of his actors in “Santa Mesa” is Melissa Leo, who won an Oscar best supporting actress for “The Fighter.”
“She’s a tough cookie,” he said of Leo. “She’s fantastic. For a newcomer, it was interesting to work with someone who’s immensely talented. She dives head first into her character.”
Another favorite is Filipino veteran actress Angie Ferro, who is both in “Santa Mesa” and “Graceland.”
“As soon as she went in the room during the readings, we clicked,” he said. “She got the essence of the character and the lines of dialogue.”
He had the same light-bulb moment when he met Filipino indie actor Arnold Reyes during the tryouts for “Graceland.”
“Arnold blew me away. Later, I learned that his mom was sick and it made me realize why he understood his character’s dilemma,” he recounted.
He was awed by the wealth of acting talents in the Philippines. “The cast is amazing,” he said.
Apart from Ferro and Reyes, also in the ensemble of “Graceland” are Leon Miguel, Menggie Cobarrubias, Archie Adamos, Marife Necesito, Dido de la Paz, Angeli Bayani and Ella Guevara.
He expressed enthusiasm about the local run of “Graceland.” (Screenings at Robinsons Galleria are ongoing until September 18 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.)
“I never got to release ‘Santa Mesa’ theatrically,” he said. “I want my fellow Filipinos to know me through this film.”
He added: “I have a lot of Filipino-American friends who want to shoot and screen their films in the Philippines, too. It’s important to go back to your roots.”
“Graceland” was graded “A” by the Cinema Evaluation Board.
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