‘My First 150 Days’
Film about a Filipino family’s struggles in Toronto
By Althea Manasan
A new documentary about an immigrant Filipino family will have its world premiere in Toronto this month, highlighting the struggles and hopes of newcomers building a new life in Canada.
My First 150 Days follows single mother Melona Banico as she welcomes her three children and grandchild to Toronto after eight years apart, and then chronicles their first 150 days together. It will screen at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Feb. 23.
“It’s really a story about a family struggling,” said director and writer Diana Dai. “The story of this family mirrors the struggling, the hardships, and also joys of all immigrants in general — not just Filipinos.”
Melona’s story is a familiar one for many immigrants: she moved to Canada as a caretaker, working three jobs over several years in order to earn enough money to sponsor her children: daughters, Judelyn, 26, and Jeah, 14; her son, Jade, 24; and her grandson, Clyde, 10. Long divorced from her husband, her children were raised by her own parents in a rural part of the Philippines.
Associate producer Rita Kotzia found the Banico family through an immigration lawyer. Dai says she wanted a family spanning across several generations, so she could explore their different perspectives and challenges.
The film begins with the family’s tearful reunion at the airport. But it doesn’t take long for that honeymoon period to end and for the cracks to start showing. Life in Canada doesn’t turn out to be as easy as they were expecting, and overwhelmed by financial struggles, cultural differences and a lack of mutual understanding, the family begins to fight.
She remembers having to cancel a shoot because the children didn’t want to be filmed anymore. Melona, however, kept pushing to continue on.
“They were separated for so long, eight years…so they [the children] emotionally were not connected to Melona. They were basically strangers to each other,” Dai said.
Dai is familiar with the immigrant experience. Originally from China, she moved to the United Kingdom in 1991 to study television production at the University of Leeds.
Although she admits her journey was simpler than the Banico family’s, Dai says she could relate to what they were going through, which made it easier for her to connect with them.
“I experienced the loneliness, the hardship and the language problems,” she said. “You have to work harder than local people…An immigrant life is so hard.”
But that life also gets better. Dai says the family is now “on track.” Melona, who was a teacher in the Philippines, is set to graduate from teaching courses, and her adult children now have full-time jobs.
The most inspiring story, says Dai, is 10-year-old Clyde, who could hardly speak any English when he landed, and now is more fluent than his mother, Judelyn. He talks about wanting to be an engineer and having his own family.
“This really shows this is Canada’s future,” Dai said. “A land of young immigrants.”
After its premiere in Toronto, the film, which is produced by 90th Parallel Productions, is set to air on TVO in April as part of the network’s programming to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. It will also eventually air on the CBC Documentary Channel.
Dai hopes that immigrants will be able to relate to the Banico family’s story and be inspired to not give up.
“The hardship is a very normal period, but don’t give up,” she said. “There’s hope there. Be resilient. Canada is a great country. If you work hard and don’t give up, you will have a great life here. That’s the message I want to send.”