From journalist to filmmaker
We at the Cinema Evaluation Board gave an “A” rating to Cesar Apolinario’s obra maestra, “Dance of the Steel Bars” (in theaters on June 12). Top-billed by Dingdong Dantes, the film explores the inner workings of prisoners’ minds. The story is told in a way to make the audience empathize with the characters.
Dingdong is all praise for Cesar as director. “Very true to the subject!” Dong gushes. “His view as a journalist is very influential in his narrative.”
Dong’s portrayal of an angst-ridden dancer/inmate is award-worthy. We all have demons to fight. “Steel Bars” will get you in the groove to break free.
Here’s my tête-à-tête with Direk Cesar:
What made you do “Dance of the Steel Bars”?
I conceptualized “Dance of the Steel Bars (DOTSB)” in late 2007 [when] the dancing prisoners of Cebu became a YouTube sensation. I got inspired when I saw a feature about them on “24 Oras.”
Later that night I wrote the first draft of “Indak ng Rehas,” the original title of DOTSB. I also came up with the sequence treatment and characters …
I was then about to complete my debut film “Banal” with Marnie Manicad as line producer… Marnie and I were talking about doing a film again and she said she wanted to direct her own film … after a few days I sat down with Marnie and two other people and developed the storyline and some dialogues …
What message did you want to impart through the film?
DOTSB for me is a different kind of film, tackling not only the change in the prisoners themselves but also the rehabilitation of the whole prison system.
As filmmakers we want to remind the audience that walang taong likas na masama … We want to show that people who commit crimes, no matter how awful, [can] change … that while they are in prison, the prison system should give them hope by treating them as people, without passing judgment. Our society needs to give ex-convicts a chance to [return to] the fold.
The film also shows that, aside from stricter rules and political will, dancing [helped] a lot in rehabilitating the 1,500 men and women accused of rape, drug offenses, murder and other crimes.
What were the truths you discovered inside the Cebu prison?
Marnie, her husband Jiggy Manicad, a fellow reporter and anchor, and I talked to the prisoners before filming started.
The exchange gave us insight on what to expect during the shoot … that, when it comes to people, we are simply going to film like in any ordinary set.
At Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center
(CPDRC), inmates embraced the art of dancing, which led them to embrace discipline and self-respect. Hats off to Gov. Gwen Garcia and Byron Garcia for the program that has become a worldwide phenomenon.
After the seven-day shoot, I was surprised to learn that they did not only dance well but they were also brilliant actors.
What was the hardest part of filming inside the penitentiary?
The only problem was the limited time to film inside the prison. It was no joke making a film in seven days.
What was it like directing Dingdong Dantes?
When I thought of Mando the character, I knew Dingdong would be perfect since he was an artist who could act, dance and deliver English lines flawlessly. We consider him one of the best actors in the business today.
What did the film teach you about yourself?
I learned that, truly, “no man is an island” and “two minds are better than one.” To perfect our craft, we need to accept that we have more to learn from others.
One of our producers, Stuart Cameron, who was a very hands-on producer, worked real hard in helping us come up with this film.
Personally the journey with Stuart was like attending a film school in a foreign land. I gained a whole new perspective with the knowledge in filmmaking he shared with me.
You’re from news and current affairs. In “Dance of the Steel Bars” you’ve sort of crossed over to show biz. How was the adjustment?
I did not really have to adjust as I had done this before when I did “Banal,” which was an entry in the 2008 Metro Manila Film Festival. One of the things I really couldn’t get used to was the fact that I was rubbing elbows with some of the best in the film industry … Imagine, directing Patrick Bergin, who is one degree away from rubbing elbows with Julia Roberts! We also had Ed White, our composer who was on the set … Ed is based in London and was mentored by Hans Zimmer and he did live performances with
Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber … then our head choreographer, Cindera Che, a Taiwanese-born, Los Angeles-raised performance coach, was Michael Jackson’s muse in his “Smooth Criminal” music video.
If you could, what would you want to change in the show biz system?
I would like to eradicate the kanya-kanya system. I hope that everyone extends a hand and help other filmmakers improve their craft.
There are a lot of independent films that have received accolades abroad and yet some of us don’t even know about them.
There is a need to embrace these films, tell the whole world that they are Philippine-made and that we have a whole lot of other things to offer that we can be proud of as Pinoys, in addition to Pacman’s boxing.
Why should people watch your film?
We have decided to release the film on June 12 in celebration of Independence Day. We thought Filipinos watching a movie about redemption, about freeing ourselves from shackles that bind our true selves will be a very appropriate way to commemorate a historical event. We will be running against “Man of Steel” (the new Superman movie) on the same day … but we are hoping Filipinos will feel more nationalistic and opt to watch “Dance of the Steel Bars.”
“Dance of the Steel Bars” was intentionally made not only for the Filipino audience but for an international audience, as well. There are plans to release it in major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, New York, Los Angeles, Dubai, Qatar and Singapore. This is a great movie to share with the rest of the world as it embodies our unique Filipino culture and the universal sentiment that everybody can change for the better.
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Personal: Birthday cheers to my dear P.L. Thanks for being life’s most wonderful surprise for me!
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