Metro Manila rides on roller-coaster of emotions

Metro Manila rides on roller-coaster of emotions
Sean Ellis.

There is an extended nine-minute sequence in Metro Manila - Sean Ellis's Tagalog-language film about being down and out in the Philippines - where Oscar, the main character played by actor Jake Magapacal, is being plied with alcohol by his new colleagues on a boys' night out.

The scene is spliced with another showing Althea Vega, in the role of Oscar's wife Mai, dancing in a go-go bar and trying to ignore the clumsy advances of an alcohol-infused customer.

The scene resonates strongly with viewers (and also with director Ellis) because it makes a poignant statement - achieved entirely without dialogue - about the desperate plight of the couple, who have come from the provinces to the big city in hopes of a better life for themselves and their two young daughters. Instead, the indignities pile up for Oscar and Mai until they reach breaking point.

"That scene is the emotional spinal chord - a pivotal part of the film," says the Brighton-born, London-based Ellis, a former fashion photographer who co-wrote the screenplay with regular collaborator Frank E Flowers.

The scene also represented the make-or-break point for the filmmaker, who had arrived in the Philippines without securing financing for the film, investing US$60,000 of his own money to pay for the 35-day shoot.

Back home in England, he spent several weeks working on that single sequence. "I believed that if I failed to deliver on this, then I was prepared to dump the whole thing - it was important to make sure it was firing on all cylinders," says Ellis, who had hoped to raise about $250,000 in total. "I couldn't get anyone to finance it - I came back with a film but had no post-production budget. It was a big gamble but I showed a rough cut and got people excited."

The rest, as the saying goes, is history. The rough cut was convincing enough to drum up about $600,000 in additional financing, which went into sound design, special effects, music score and other technical aspects. "It was finished the same way you'd finish a Harry Potter movie," says Ellis in a telephone interview from Cognac, France, where he has a home.

Metro Manila won an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival this year and last week, it was selected as the British entry for foreign language film at next year's Academy Awards. Perhaps more significantly, Ellis, 42, will be in Manila when the film opens there on Oct 9, showing on a hundred screens.

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