The 42nd Metro Manila Film Festival is indeed treading the path of major changes. As moviephiles know by now, one of the biggest surprises in the selection of finalists to the festival is the inclusion of the first-ever documentary in MMFF history.
The film is titled, Sunday Beauty Queen, and is described by the festival’s selection committee as a “precious [documentary that is]well-researched, well-crafted, insightful and engaging.” The committee further noted that the material possesses “as much power as a feature film to move [the]audience”
At a news conference at Kamuning Bakery on December 20, Sunday Beauty Queen director and writer Babyruth Villarama said the inclusion of her work in the MMFF is a boost for all documentary filmmakers who hope to show their work on the big screen.
“This isn’t for me anymore—I am just a vehicle for change. This is really a big deal for all the documentary filmmakers here in the Philippines that finally there’s a chance for them to share their story. With this, we were able to widen our market, which is very good for our industry.”
Villarama continued, “I am more excited to contribute [to this development]because some say this is a game changer for a documentary film to be included among the eight finalists this year. So let’s see… All the same, we are just here to support Philippine cinema and this is our contribution to the industry.”
Four years in the making, Sunday Beauty Queen follows the real life stories of Hazel Perdido, Mylyn Jacobo, Cherry Bretania, Leo Selomenio, and Rudelie Acosta—five women among thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) in Hong Kong who work as domestic helpers. Every Sunday, this large community of Filipino maids transform themselves into dazzling beauty queens in a pageant, entertaining their fellow Filipinos in a foreign land, while and raising funds for those among them in need of help.
“We took four years to make this because we really waited for different moments in the subjects’ lives. We are also grateful to the Hong Kong community because they allowed us to enter their homes to and share with us the realities of having Filipinos working for them,” Villarama elaborated.
“This documentary is heart-warming because this is a real story of our Overseas Filipino Workers, and there is no better way to appreciate them and all they have been through [than in documenting their lives]. They inspired us when we were shooting because of this Filipino spirit that is highlighted. You cannot stage these kinds of moments.”
Beside Villarama during the Q&A was Mylyn Jacobo who came home from Hong Kong to support promotions for Sunday Beauty Queen. Said the balikbayan, to be in the documentary has given them a means to pay tribute to their fellow OFWs as well as inspire other domestic helpers—including their bosses—to respect one another.”
Jacobo hopes that by seeing how they go about their lives as overseas workers, other Filipinos abroad can build also their self-esteem and stop “lowering themselves,” thinking they are “just domestic helpers.”
“We should all be proud of who we are and what we are; we should not let them change the image of Filipinos anywhere,” she declared.
Life for others
Giving a glimpse on her background, Jacobo revealed that she also used to work as a household helper in the Philippines. She was very lucky to work for a kind family who treated her like one of their own, even helping her finish college. She graduated with a degree in AB English.
Her bosses went as far as to offer paying for her tuition for post-graduate studies, but with a heavy heart, Jacobo declined, explaining she needed to continue working to support her family in General Santos City.
“I told them I couldn’t study anymore because my family is still depending on me. I told them I was planning to go to Hong Kong and work there. I was able to do research on the jobs and opportunities there, and even if the family I worked for here asked me to think about my decision again, they supported me in the end.”
In order not to pre-empt her story in Hong Kong before the documentary opens in cinemas on Christmas Day, Villarama hinted slight of a “special relationship” Jacobo developed with her new employers.
Currently, there are more than 190,000 documented Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong, and Jacobo said she is one with them in working hard to make an impact in the lives of others.
Believing that everyone—not just OFWs—will be inspired by the movies, Villarama related she was sad to learn of the news that there are provinces who will not carry Sunday Beauty Queen in their cinemas.
“There are many families of OFWs in the provinces who are requesting for the movie to be shown in their local cinemas. They said they came home to the Philippines to watch this film with their families, but now they have to travel far just to see it.”
Acknowledging the issue of economics, what with the lack of star-power in Sunday Beauty Queen, Villarama is nonetheless optimistic that the documentary will find its way to farther places in the country, “so long as we all help one another, just as we do in Hong Kong.”