“Dance of the Steel Bars,” inspired by the life stories of Cebu’s dancing prison inmates, was screened on June 7 at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC).
“Everyone had a positive reaction,” reported actor Dingdong Dantes, who first visited the facility in 2011 to shoot for a week. “They laughed at the funny sequences and fell silent during the sad scenes. They were all glad to see their stories on the big screen.”
Film director Cesar Apolinario said this gave him goose bumps. He recounted, “Their response was overwhelming. They cried, laughed, applauded… One inmate thanked me and said, ‘Kung kailan pa ako nakulong, saka pa ako naging artista.’”
Apolinario noted that the film definitely boosted the inmates’ morale: “Most people think negatively of them. Through the film, we’d like to make the public see that prisoners also need care and protection. We shouldn’t have to put them in a filthy and constricting environment. This only pushes them to do worse things.”
The producers’ very limited budget kept them from doing another version of the inmates’ YouTube hit, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” said Apolinario. “The royalty was way too big.”
The CPDRC’s 1,600 prisoners perform dance routines as part of their daily exercise and rehabilitation. Several such performances were filmed and uploaded to YouTube, and became extremely popular.
Dantes said the CPDRC was nothing he imagined. “It’s surprisingly very organized and systematic. The facility I pictured in my mind was chaotic and depressing. Too bad I didn’t get to really talk with any of the inmates because we were busy the whole week we were there.”
The actor’s experience totally changed his perspective on people. “I now believe that anyone can change for the better,” he said.
“Steel Bars” is Dantes’ first indie movie. “And I’m very proud of it,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed working with Direk Cesar and I hope to work with him again.”
Apolinario said it took only eight days to shoot the entire film, which he codirected with Marnie Manicad, but three years to finish postproduction. He cited problems in story development and the cast members’ hectic schedules. “Major script changes had to be made. In the end, we decided to focus on the character Mando, a former dance instructor. He introduced dance to the inmates.”
“Steel Bars” is battling “Man of Steel,” latest installment of the Hollywood “Superman” franchise, at the box office this week. Dantes didn’t seem too happy about this, but remained undaunted. “We took time to release the movie, partly because we wanted a date that had meaning to Filipinos—Independence Day. I’m a Superman fan, but I’ll watch that some other day.”
Apolinario said the film was initially scheduled for screening in May. “We moved the play date because it was election time. We didn’t want politics read into it,” he elaborated. “But aside from this week, there were no more available slots for local films. It seems no other film project is courageous enough to go against a Hollywood giant.”
He added: “We did everything we could for ‘Steel Bars.’ It is the result of our blood, sweat and tears. We hope Filipinos will embrace it.”
“Steel Bars,” a coproduction of GMA Films and Portfolio Films, also features Hollywood actor Patrick Bergin, as well as local thespians Joey Paras, Mon Confiado, Ricky Davao, Thou Reyes, Gabe Mercado and Kathleen Hermosa.