When Tyrone Acierto’s “The Grave Bandits” won best picture and director in the New Wave section of the recent Metro Manila Film Festival, the young filmmaker was reluctant to go up the stage and receive his trophies.
“I thought I heard wrong,” he told the Inquirer. “I couldn’t believe I won for my first feature film; there were seasoned directors in the same section.”
The double win was “a great reward for all the hard work,” said the US-based Acierto. “My early shorts were rejected.”
His mother and sisters in Chicago, were thrilled to hear the news. Apart from extending financial help every now and then, the filmmaker added, “They were behind me at every step, reminding me to always believe in myself.”
As part of the best picture prize, “The Grave Bandits” will have a commercial run in local theaters, “hopefully in March,” Acierto said. “I’ll be back by then to promote the movie.”
He spent 40 days in Santa Cruz, Zambales, early last year to shoot “Bandits.”
Shuttling between the Philippines and America is nothing new for Acierto. He was born in Manila and his family moved to the United States in 2000. He was 19.
A painter and photographer, he studied filmmaking in Columbia College in Chicago.
Being caught between two cultures has imbued his film with a distinct flavor. “The Grave Bandits” is about petty thieves who encounter an army of undead on an island.
His movie is not the garden-variety zombie flick, he insisted: “The challenge was how to merge the genre with Filipino culture. I wanted to make a film that would be appreciated abroad in spite of the shoestring budget.”
He started with $75,000, but after coproducers came on board, he finished it to the final tune of $200,000 (small by Hollywood standards.)
“In an orderly society governed by laws,” he said, “zombies symbolize chaos. The best of the genre are the ones that see that zombies represent something bigger.”
On top of his list is George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.”
In “Bandits,” he said, the zombies represent greed because “greed dehumanizes.”
To create the monsters in his film, he turned to Filipino makeup whiz Cecille Baun, whom he met through producer Vanessa Ulgado.
“I was excited to meet Cecille,” Acierto said. “She has worked with Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone and John Sayles (when they made movies in the Philippines).”