Albee Benitez–pop culture patron

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TESSA MAURICIO-ARRIOLA

Fascinated by films, Negros’ 3rd district representative and gaming mogul to produce ‘Ocean’s Eleven’-inspired movie and open ‘Narnia’-like theme park in Silay City

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but its taste can be a little different.

Even as 3rd District Negros Occidental Rep. Albee Benitez’ surname is quickly associated with a prominent clan of educators in the country, his maternal side will show an inclination to arts and culture. His mother, the late Betty Bantug Benitez, was a noted arts patron of her time and served as executive director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Now Madam Benitez is surely looking down with a smile on her achiever of a son, who, besides founding a gaming corporation worth billions and pursuing public service, is also following in her footsteps—albeit in his own style and preference. For rather than preser­ving the more traditional art forms like herself, Cong. Albee, as her son is popularly known these days, is bent on making mainstream movies and exploring a host of other film related possibilities.


Rep. Albee Benitez explains his attraction to the movies PHOTO BY MICAH SEBASTIAN

Call him a pop culture patron.

An intermittent figure in showbiz circles, Cong. Albee is a long-time friend of Gabby Concepcion and Albert Martinez and has quietly invested in a number of movie productions in the past. He has also experienced being in front of the camera as host-producer of “Game Changer,” a docu-magazine program highlighting personalities who have made significant contributions to the advancement of communities and society on ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel).

Shy by nature, he chuckles when asked by the T-Zone why he seems to be drawn to show business even with Leisure & Resorts World Corporation’s (LRWC) billion-peso conquests and the never-ending demands of a life in politics.

It was on a fishing expedition with Benitez’ longtime friends Albert Martinez (left) and Gabby Concepcion (center) that they first thought about gathering an all-star cast to pull off a casino heist, Philippine-style

“I guess my fascination for showbiz came from a need to relax from all my other obligations. Besides doing sports, I watch a lot of movies to destress and unwind, and at some point, the process of making one just appealed to me,” says the 51-year-old trojan.

Basically, Cong. Albee likes to make sense of things. The same reason that drew him to take up BS Mathematics at The College of Williams & Mary in Williamsburg Virginia, USA.

“I like how equations always lead you to a particular number,” he smiles a little sheepishly.

Given that context, the appeal of movie production—with all its complications—will seem up the alley of a mathematician after all.

But, Albee being Albee—whose primary business went from opening mall-based bingos to developing casino hotels and entire gaming resorts—he will naturally produce movies in a big way.

With some of the stars of the planned ‘Oceans Eleven’-inspired production (from left) Piolo Pascual, Sharon Cuneta, Albert Martinez and Richard Gomez PHOTO FROM ALBEE BENITEZ’ WEBSITE

In fact, an “Ocean’s Eleven”-inspired film is on top of his list, which, like the Hollywood blockbuster will gather an all-star cast of Filipino actors. On board are Gabby and Albert, along with Aga Muhlach, Albert Martinez, William Martinez, Richard Gomez, Piolo Pascual and Sharon Cuneta.

“It was Gabby, Albert and myself who thought up the project when we went fishing one time,” Cong. Albee shares. “Yung concept, bata palang sila, marami na silang mga kalokohan na ginagawa, tapos, pagtanda nila, magiging modern-day Robin Hood sila.”

Recalling the story that Hollywood bigwigs George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia and Julia Roberts took to the big screen, the movie fan excitedly goes on, “In Ocean’s Eleven they went on a casino heist di’ba? With this one, they will do something similar but for a good cause. We have a casino in Cagayan na puwedeng gamitin for the shoot.”

And just like solving a mathematical equation where one has to slow down in figuring out the more complicated parts, Cong. Albee and his partners have hit a temporary bump.

“We already had a meeting. Sharon, Piolo, Albert, William and Richard were there but Gabby and Aga weren’t able to make it…” he goes through the cast. “We got as far as discussing the script, the casting… and then when I started talking about signing contracts, doon nagkagulo!” he adds with a laugh.

Confident the project will push through once the stars figure out schedules and other details—includes billing issues, according to the rumor mill—Cong. Albee and his investors are ready to roll.

“Sana matuloy kasi ang ganda ng concept—lalo na para sa ‘80s generation,” he reckons, referring to his own era and the height of Gabby et. al.’s popularity. (Save for Piolo, of course, who made it big toward the late 1990s).

While waiting, another pop culture project, many times larger in scale than the all-star movie, is the ongoing construction of a theme park in Negros’ Silay City.

A five-hectare development called Magic Land, it was also the movies that inspired Cong. Albee to venture into is poised to become the Philippines second major theme part following the 22-year-old Enchanted Kingdom.

“We’ve been very creative in fantasy movies, so I thought baka puwede nating dalhin ‘yon sa isang theme park. Parang ‘Narnia’ ang concept,” he dishes out another blockbuster, “where children will travel to a magical land of adventure.”

Tapping into theme park spin offs of Hollywood’s most successful film franchises (think the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Disneyland’s Iron Man Experience and Toy Story Land to name a few, and of course the entire idea of Universal Studios), Cong. Albee believes Magic Land will be very effective in boosting the movie industry.

“A script is being developed right now for the concept of Magic Land, which will become the first feature film for the theme park,” he reveals.

Besides gathering local investors from Negros for the P1-billion project, Cong. Albee has also commission director Peque Gallaga of the “Shake, Rattle and Roll” fame to develop characters for the theme park. The same characters who will eventually cross over to the big screen.

Moreover, the project will not only boost the movie industry and tourism in the Visayas, but it has already given over a thousand workers jobs in the congressman’s district and raised the value of property of small home owners in the area.

“Of course, I never forget my responsibility to give back,” says the third term congressman.

Now how’s that for a patron of pop culture?

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