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MANILA, Philippines - “The Filipino indie scene is soaring,” enthuses young filmmaker Paolo Bitanga, a recent graduate from the prestigious New York University film program.
For rising auteurs like himself, this is good news.
The recent successes of Filipino directors in international film festivals such as the Cannes, Berlin Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival glow like beacons for young Filipino directors who wish to make their own mark in the global film scene.
His years in NYU, where “grades are secondary and experience comes first,” has helped Paolo craft his own films, some of which have already made waves in film festivals.
The film stars predominantly 7 to 14 year-old actors and tells the story of kids who pretend they’re soldiers during recess.
Although the film didn’t reap awards, it was well-received and got nods from a critic who chose the festival’s winning film and “Comrades” as the two best films of the bunch.
Here is the trailer of "Comrades":
Stories for children of all ages
On making films for and about kids, Paolo says, “I really value my childhood. I’m a firm believer in telling stories for the next generation.”
His latest film, which he and his team have just finished shooting, is also a children’s tale that audiences of all ages can appreciate.
It takes inspiration from, of all things, ube.
“Mang Abe’s Ube” is about a purple yam farmer who lives a quiet life in the province with his wife and mute son. A sudden boom in his ube jam business attracts the attention of corporate giant Mr. Fernandez, owner of Super Ube.
In an attempt to discover Mang Abe’s magical secret to success, he kidnaps the farmer’s son. Mang Abe then tracks down the cut-throat businessman in the labyrinthine mega city of Metro Manila to retrieve his son.
The entire film was shot in the Philippines, a fulfilment of Paolo’s long-time dream to shoot in his native country.
“Mang Abe’s Ube” stars Leon Miguel as Mang Abe. Though an unfamiliar name in the Philippines, Miguel has appeared in American, Italian, Japanese, and British films and has co-starred with David Hasselhoff, Dean Cain, and Hiroyuki Sanada (“The Last Samurai”).
His recent film, “Graceland,” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Filipino-American Ron Morales directed the film which ended up winning first runner-up for Audience Award.
Miguel plays a kidnapper in the film. In Brillante Mendoza’s “Captive,” he was an Abu Sayyaf terrorist. His list of “bad guy” roles goes on, having played a gangster, thief, rebel, guerrilla, and murderer at least once.
Mang Abe is his first protagonist role.
Seven-year-old acting prodigy Micko Laurente plays his mute son. He played a street urchin in “Paglaya sa Tanikala (Freedom from Chains)” which was a finalist in the recent Metro Manila Film Fest’s New Wave category.
A new folktale
With its hints of magical realism, “Mang Abe’s Ube” is a modern-day folktale inspired from our country’s own treasure chest of folklore.
Brainstorming on the plot, Paolo asked himself, what makes a folktale? He arrived at two elements: a rural setting and a magical object.
The project is the fruit of his personal search for folktales.
“I grew up in the city all my life,” says Paolo. “If I don’t get folktales, I’m going to make my own.”
“Mang Abe’s Ube” is his contribution to the pantheon of folktales which he hopes can enrich lives as the classic tales do. But like all struggling filmmakers, the most challenging aspect of the craft is finding the money for it.
Paolo and his team are still making up for the cost of their film. They’ve launched an online fundraising campaign similar to other independent films (like Marie Jamora’s “Ang Nawawala”) who have gone online for crowd-sourced funding.
With his brown skin and accommodating, friendly personality, Paolo is distinctly Pinoy, yet he confesses, “I came into the plot as a foreigner.”
Having been born in California, taught in an international school in Manila and then in a New York film school, Paolo is still trying to get to know Philippine culture.
For him, the Philippines is a magical baul (chest) full of stories any filmmaker would be proud to tell. - Rappler.com
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