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OFW film in search of PHL audience

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ANTHONY WONG and Crisel Consunji in a scene from Oliver Chan Siu-kuen’s film Still Human.

THE PRODUCERS of Still Human, a film about a Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong and her relationship with her disabled employer, are hoping to get a more widespread theatrical release in the country after its Philippine premiere in the recently concluded Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

Still Human is the debut film of Oliver Chan Siu-kuen and stars veteran Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong alongside Filipina theater actress Crisel Consunji.

The movie tells the story of a former nurse who becomes a caregiver to a paralyzed and irascible pensioner in order to earn enough money to support her family in the Philippines and in order to pay the fees to annul her marriage to her abusive husband.

Because of pensioner’s temper and the language barrier (they use a mobile phone app to translate conversations), the two get off to a rocky start but eventually forge a harmonious relationship — to the point that he begins to support his caregiver’s dream of becoming a photographer.

This mirrors the experiences of Xyza Cruz Bacani, a Filipina street and documentary photographer who was once a domestic helper in Hong Kong where she used her spare time taking street photographs around the city.

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“Our director said that she was inspired to do the film after seeing a man in a wheelchair and a lady who she presumed was his caregiver on the street. And she started wondering about the dynamics of their relationship and why they looked so close. And then she started criticizing herself for even questioning how this kind of relationship can exist,” said Ms. Consunji during a press conference on Aug. 10 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

The movie won the Best New Director, Actor, and New Performer Awards at the 38th Hong Kong International Film Festival (the island’s equivalent of the Academy Awards). Ms. Consunji’s win marked the first time a Filipino actress was nominated — and won — in the event.

The film was also shown at the Udine Far East Film Festival where it won the Black Dragon Critic’s Award and the Top Audience Award. Mr. Wong also won the Golden Mulberry Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Still Human has also been screened in Chicago, Malaysia, Taiwan, and will soon be shown in Japan.

“The distributors have been working very hard but I don’t know, for whatever reason [the Philippines has not picked it up],” Ms. Consunji said.

There have been several Filipino films in recent years whose stories revolved around OFWs in Hong Kong: Babyruth Villarama’s Sunday Beauty Queen (2016), a documentary about domestic workers who join local beauty pageants, won Best Picture at the Metro Manila Film Festival; and this year, Cathy Garcia-Molina came out with Hello, Love, Goodbye about a woman who works multiple jobs to achieve her dream of having her family migrate in Canada. The film recently breached the P800 million mark inteh box office.

But what is different about Still Human, in Ms. Consunji’s words, is how it is able to elicit feelings of remembrance from its audiences, some of whom grew up with a Filipina domestic worker. (There are more than 200,000 Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong, according to an August report by the South China Morning Post.)

“I had several occasions in the post-screening discussions where there were people who would stand up and cry and say that this film made them remember their yayas,” she said before adding that while doing the film, she talked with several domestic workers who said that their employers think of them as family. — Z.B. Chua

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