Filipino films flourish at Tribeca Film Festival
It is that time of the year again, when filmmakers and film-lovers from around the globe converge in New York City to attend the much-awaited Tribeca Film Festival.
This year is promising to Filipino and Filipino-American filmmakers and performers as there are various films that feature (or were megged by) them.
On top of that list is director Ramona Diaz and her documentary Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, which will be having its world premiere this week. It is the story of Arnel Pineda, a charismatic Filipino singer from the slums of Manila whose videos of his cover band are posted on the video-sharing site YouTube, and soon he’s fronting an iconic rock band.
Indeed, it sounds like a dream, a fairy tale even. It sounds crazy, but it is how Pineda achieved his dream as the new lead singer of the iconic band Journey. The pressure’s on Pineda as this rocking documentary follows Journey’s dizzying world tour — can a man who has already overcome so many obstacles deal with the demands of his newfound fame?
Then there’s Graceland, directed and written by Ron Morales. Morales graduated from Parsons with a photography degree and from NYU film school. He directed his award-winning debut feature Santa Mesa, starring Melissa Leo, at age 29. He has gone on to create a number of short films, commercials, and promotional and music videos.
Graceland is the story of a family man, Marlon Villar, a longtime chauffeur of prominent politician Manuel Chango. While he and his daughter accompany his boss’ preteen daughter home, Marlon is ambushed and the wrong girl is kidnapped.
Suddenly the unassuming driver is propelled into a horrifying downward spiral and, as events in his life unravel, Marlon, Chango, and their families become entangled in a game of deceit and betrayal that will leave no one innocent.
For the short narrative, there’s Prima, written and directed by Miguel Calayan. The film, which is part of the ‘Escape Clause’ shorts program, will showcase a ballerina alone in a brightly lit studio, as she recalls her old choreography, leaping and spinning in front of an invisible audience.
Prima is one of 2,800 short films submitted, and only 60 were accepted. Out of those 60 short films, it will be one of 26 world premieres. “I am so proud to be able to share this very special film with the world. I hope it will inspire others like it inspired me,” shared Shannon Roberts, a real-life ballerina and star of the short film. “It was my first experience working on camera and also choreographing. I really connected with this role because it reminded me to enjoy every time I dance.”
Born and raised in the Philippines, Calayan moved to San Francisco in 2008 to study Cinematography at the Academy of Art. While his main focus is in lighting and shooting, he also directs his own short films and commercials. His work has been recognized by the Nashville Film Festival, as well as San Francisco’s Epidemic Film Festival where he won Best Documentary both in 2010 and 2011.
There’s also a short documentary called Beauty Culture and it features Filipina supermodel Anna Bayle. The film investigates our collective obsession with beauty and the influence of photographic representations on female body image. Film subjects, aside from Bayle include actress Jamie Lee Curtis and director Lauren Greenfield, hail from diverse points on the beauty landscape. “Fashion photographers, child pageant stars, bodybuilders, teenagers, and intellectuals engage in a provocative dialogue that addresses the persistent “beauty contest” of daily life,” the press notes explain.
Director-Producer-Writer Ramona Diaz is a filmmaker whose credits include Spirits Rising, an hour-long documentary about women’s role in the 1986 People Power revolution in the Philippines. Spirits Rising received a Student Academy Award, the Ida Lupino Director’s Guild of America Award, a Golden Gate Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival, a Certificate of Merit from the International Documentary Association, and a Gold Apple from the National Educational Media Network. Spirits Rising has been screened internationally and it has been broadcast on public television stations in the United States and Australia.
Diaz’s first feature-length film, Imelda, about the former First Lady of the Philippines, garnered the Excellence in Cinematography Award for documentary at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and the ABCNews Videosource Award from the IDA. The film was released theatrically in the United States and the Philippines, screened in over fifty film festivals around the world, and was broadcast on US national public television in May 2005.
Diaz’s The Learning, a documentary film that follows several Filipino teachers in Baltimore City across two school years, chronicling the sacrifices they make as they try to maintain a long-distance relationship with their children and families, and begin a new one with the mostly African- American students whose schooling is now entrusted to them. The film was funded by ITVS, Sundance Documentary Fund and the Center for Asian American Media and was broadcast on POV in 2011.
Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, a feature length documentary film about the iconic 80’s band, Journey, and their new lead singer, Arnel Pineda is the director’s latest.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Diaz lives with her husband, Rajiv Rimal, in Baltimore, where they are raising their American-born daughter, Sabina Diaz-Rimal, who is now a ninth grader. Diaz is a graduate of Emerson College, Boston and holds an MA in Communication from Stanford University.
“It was the winter of 2008 and I had just finished shooting a documentary that took two years to film and I was facing the daunting task of sifting through 6 terabytes of footage. The Internet was a great source for avoiding what ultimately had to be done,” Diaz said, recalling how the Journey project was conceived.
As she was procrastinating, an email from a cinematographer friend from Manila caught her attention. It was titled “Best US Embassy Visa Application Story I’ve Ever Heard.”
“As a Filipino living in America, I was very familiar with these sometimes funny but mostly sad stories of trying to get to the promise land. I read it and was in stitches,” Diaz said.
The email was actually written by one of the immigration agents at the American Embassy in Manila and it was about this guy Arnel Pineda who said that the reason he was going to the US was that he was invited by the band Journey to audition for lead vocals.
“Journey? The rock band Journey?” the immigration agent asked Arnel, who nodded meekly producing some flimsy emails and correspondence from the band. In a dubious voice, the agent asks Arnel to sing “Wheel In the Sky.”
Arnel belts it out loud enough for the entire waiting room to stop and listen to an amazing rendition of an old classic.
“Look sir, there isn’t a person in this Embassy who would believe that story– going to try out for Journey! So I tell you what, I’m giving you that visa. You’re going to try out. And you’re going to make it,” the immigration agent told Arnel.
The email ends with a link to the YouTube clip of Arnel singing Faithfully.
“As I watched the clip, I got goose bumps. I googled Arnel and discovered that he DID get the gig and was now about to record and go on tour with Journey. I forwarded the email to a manager friend in Los Angeles, Peter McHugh, with a note saying someone should really make a documentary film about this,” Diaz said.
McHugh emailed her right back with “You should. I will track down their management.”
At first, the director was a little hesitant.
“After tussling with Imelda Marcos (the former first lady of the Philippines about whom I had made a film) in open court for sullying her “good name” even though she had signed an airtight personal release, I swore I would never make a film about anyone famous again,” she said. “And on top of that – Journey? The thought of music rights clearances was already making my head hurt.”
Long story short, and after multiple meetings between her team and the band, Diaz was officially on board. After filming Arnel for one day, all her doubts were put aside.
“I found him to be profoundly articulate about his inner life and a genuinely nice person with an extraordinary personal history,” Diaz shared.
The next challenge came about, and it was about the film’s funding. There was none at this point. Capella Fahoome Brogden, an established producer based in Baltimore, got in touch after seeing the sample Diaz submitted.
“She had a little put away and she was willing to gamble what she had to start the process. So with a lot of trepidation and a gigantic leap of faith – I had never made a film without funding in place – we crewed up and joined the band on tour,” the dynamic director added.
That was four years ago this summer.
“It’s been tough going all these years. With our limited resources and family members who would invest small amounts of money in the film, and armed with our mantra, yes you guessed it – don’t stop believin’ – we now find ourselves preparing for our premiere at Tribeca,” Diaz said.
(The Philippine Consulate General New York will celebrate the artistry of the Filipino filmmakers, cast and crew exhibited in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival with a cocktail reception hosted by Consul General Mario L. de Leon, Jr. on Friday, April 20, 2012 at the Philippine Center.)