LAST December, a simple yet moving documentary that featured the lives of our overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong made it to the Metro Manila Film Festival. The film entitled, “Sunday Beauty Queen,” had a difficult time getting enough theaters to screen it, and those that did show the movie, wasted no time in pulling it out even before the film festival was over.
Well, last Friday, “Sunday Beauty Queen,” directed by Babyruth Villarama and produced by her husband, Chuck Gutierrez, took center stage as one of four documentaries shown at the Good Pitch Southeast Asia 2017 event in Jakarta, Indonesia. The best picture in the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival continues to astound film lovers with its quiet grace, authentic portrayals, and powerful message.
Good Pitch is a film-maker’s dream event, where “influencers” in business, civil society, the film industry, and other diverse fields congregate in order to support the very best documentary films from across the region. Good Pitch seeks to forge new partnerships between filmmakers and change-makers from across civil society and fuel the very best independent documentary filmmaking in the world. Attendance in this prestigious event is by invitation only. Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, a broadcast journalist and documentarian, is Good Pitch’s outreach director in the Philippines.
“Sunday Beauty Queen” is about the lives of Hazel Perdido, Mylyn Jacobo, Cherry Bretania, Leo Selomenio and Rudelie Acosta, and how they converge on Sundays when beauty queen pageants were held. The documentary is unique because it also features the side of the Hong Kong employers who value their domestic workers. Leo organizes the Sunday beauty pageants in behalf of his organization, Global Alliance Hong Kong. Contestants show how hard they prepare for the pageant despite the many demands on their time as domestic workers. The pageant itself provides a “Cinderella” theme in the lives of its contestants as they try to win while making sure they get home before the customary 9 p.m. curfew set by their employers.
The Good Pitch event follows a specific format: only the trailers of the chosen documentaries are shown, then the director and producer are invited to the stage where they must “pitch” the film, its needs, and impact goals. A roundtable discussion ensues with different “influencers” weighing in and also pledging their support for the movie.
In her “pitch,” director Babyruth Villarama said: ”This film is personal. My mother was a domestic worker. She joined the ranks of 2.5 million Filipino workers who left their families to serve others. Together, these workers contribute almost $30 billion to the nation’s GDP. My mother left to give me a better chance to shed light on the hidden lives of these women. Women who deserve to be in the spotlight.”
“We are looking for local and global distribution opportunities on all appropriate screening platforms to get this film out as widely as possible. This is a story beyond Hong Kong and the Philippines. The number of domestic workers has reached 50 million, employed from Europe to Northern America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Can you help us get the movie out in your region?”
In response to Babyruth’s pitch, an Australian film enthusiast said that he traveled all the way from Sydney to Jakarta just to meet the people behind “Sunday Beauty Queen.” He offered to book theaters in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Germany to screen the film.
Liza Dino-Seguerra, the chair of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, pledged to help provide more theaters for the award-winning documentary, especially outside Metro Manila. She also promised to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs on the screening of “Sunday Beauty Queen” for OFW communities worldwide.
Juancho Robles of Pinas.com, a website dedicated to OFWs, pledged to help arrange another screening of the movie in Hong Kong. An Indonesian and Singaporean stood up to pledge $100 each, in honor of their respective domestic workers. There were other individuals and organizations that pledged to give more and do more to ensure that “Sunday Beauty Queen” reaches more audiences.
Political activist, actress, director and producer Mae Paner, also known as “Juana Change” couldn’t help but shed tears as she recounted how Mylyn “MJ” Jacobo, one of the lead actors in the film, was rudely treated by an immigration officer in Manila. MJ was led to a room for questioning despite offering to show her written invitation to the Good Pitch event. Witnessing the incident first-hand bolstered Paner’s belief in the importance of having the film viewed by a wider audience.
We are not known as a nation that supports and appreciates documentaries. Yet, here is a fine documentary about our OFWs directed by a talented daughter of a former domestic worker, which has caught the attention of prestigious film organizations worldwide. I hope our own local theater owners could give this award-winning film a chance to be seen, especially in provinces where OFW families long to see it the most.
The Philippines can easily be the documentary capital of Asia, given the talents and stories we have. Let us support our creative filmmakers, so they can share our stories with the world.