Film tackles OFWs’ complex world

Community News & Features Jul 26, 2019 at 3:55 pm
From left: Bolet Arevalo, Judith Gonzales, Kassandra Adajar, Anthonette Gonzales, Sam Herrera, Rod Santibanez, Bart Santos, John Alix and Damien Gulde at the screening

From left: Bolet Arevalo, Judith Gonzales, Kassandra Adajar, Anthonette Gonzales, Sam Herrera, Rod Santibanez, Bart Santos, John Alix and Damien Gulde at the screening. (Photos: MC Ramos)

Temptations of a Hero: Film Review & Interviews with director, screenwriter

By Michelle Chermaine Ramos
The Philippine Reporter

Enlightening, poignant and cathartic. This is not your typical Pinoy OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) drama. After viewing many other usual unmemorable movies depicting the lives of OFWs, I can say that Temptations of a Hero stands out with Bolet Arevalo’s solid and tightly paced script and Sam Herrera’s masterful direction. The opening crisis hooks you at the beginning and takes you to each character’s journey to the film’s unexpected conclusion.

The movie was screened on July 13, 2019 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts with the producers, cast and crew in attendance. Starring Judith Gonzales (Alona), John Alix (Andres), Kassandra Adajar (Andi), Bart Santos (Alan) and Damien Gulde (David, the doctor), it tells the very familiar tale of the challenges many migrant families face when one parent works abroad and is finally reunited with family after long years of separation.

Lead actress and executive producer Judith Gonzales

Lead actress and executive producer Judith Gonzales

Based on true stories of temptation, isolation and betrayal, it is not about a particular person’s life but everyone’s story as Arevalo intended it to be. “You view the background of what goes on with these OFWs and their families, not just what we see on the surface,” says John Alix who plays Alona’s husband, Andres. “We see OFWs at parties all smiles but there’s actually pain inside. It will drive a person mad being alone with no one else around.”

As a first-time screenwriter, Arevalo has proven to be an impressive storyteller interweaving the characters’ very real experiences. Her writing exudes a heart and a deep personal insight into the OFW family’s experience, digging deeper into the characters’ dreams, fears and motivations that young and old can relate to. Although the script tackles serious issues, the language and scenes are clean and safe for parents to watch with their children who can relate to newcomers Kassandra Adajar and Bart Santos’s excellent performance as troubled teens navigating adolescence amidst painful family and personal problems.

When asked why she decided to produce another film on caregivers, former caregiver lead actress and executive producer Judith Gonzales emphasized the current social relevance of depicting the struggles of youth which is often overlooked in other OFW films. “We looked at all angles including the experience of many youths,” she explains. “Filipino youth became the number one dropouts here in Canada in 2012 especially in Scarborough due to family issues when parents break up or spend too much time at work and most of them are the children of caregivers. Also, it’s about integration and educating newcomers about how domestic violence is not tolerated here.”

Executive  producers Ophelia Valdez, Judith Gonzales and Paul Valdez at the screening

Executive producers Ophelia Valdez, Judith Gonzales and Paul Valdez at the screening

“Kailan Tama ang Mali?” or “When does wrong become right?” asks the original theme song composed by Arnold Buena with lyrics also by Bolet Arevalo. The song which wraps up the film’s message with its perfect musical scoring.

Executive producer and director Sam Herrera accomplished the daunting task of editing the entire film by himself, unfolding each scene and setting up the audience for the emotional climax with the clever calculation of a chess master. Just when you think you have guessed the revelation building up to the final confrontation, the shocking twist blindsides you with an unusual but satisfying ending.

It has been a long time since I left a theatre feeling satisfied after watching a Filipino drama with an ending that was actually unpredictable and made me feel for the characters. I have two words for this – well-played. It packs a hard emotional punch that stands to rival bigger budgeted migrant movies in TIFF and the international film festival circuit. It is the type of film that will touch moviegoers and leave them enlightened and a little more understanding and empathetic as we all learn that even those we call heroes are human too.

Interview with Bolet Arevalo, Screenwriter

THE PHILIPPINE REPORTER: Your script reflects a keen and almost personal insight into the characters’ minds and experiences. Where did you draw that from?

Screenwriter Bolet Arevalo

Screenwriter Bolet Arevalo

BOLET AREVALO: I handled OFWs for a bank for five years as their marketing person for bank remittance products so I had a chance to go around the world and meet migrants from different countries in Europe, U.S. and Asia. I was able to immerse myself in their stories. I didn’t know at that point in time what that was leading me to. I also do language assessments for the Filipino community for the Toronto school board and I hear so many stories of mothers, caregivers who took the route via other Asian countries before they came to Canada. These are bits and pieces that I’ve been keeping in my heart for a long time and didn’t know how to get them out there, so it was such a good opportunity that I was given a chance to write it into a script. That’s why they were so surprised that I wrote it in less than three weeks. A week after we met for the first time, I gave them the synopsis and the cinematic attacks I was looking forward to. I described the 65 scenes, so after they gave the go signal, I was able to write the script in two weeks.

TPR: The story was obviously written with a heart because none of the characters are entirely bad and it shows their deeper motives and how things happen. Tell us more.

BA: I would say it’s human and divine at the same time. There are so many mistakes we can commit but on the strength of our dignity as a person and our faith, we can always turn it around. In life, sometimes we don’t have to stress out on so many things because in the end you will see how beautifully it can reverse or solve itself. And when that happens, you will be grateful that in the end people will just understand that’s how it was… One of the things we always want to keep in mind is never to judge people because you never know the path they’ve been through to get to their present. If you see them enjoying financial stability or any kind of blessing, you shouldn’t be envious because you don’t know how they came to this point.

We have a very good team. If there’s anything we can credit it to, it’s not necessarily my script, it’s not even the talents of the different actors, it’s very great teamwork knowing how limited our resources were but we were able to wade through the difficulties. Judith, of course, is our leader and she has a very genuine character. And our director Sam Herrera, I was telling him “Direk, if all directors were like you, nobody will ever be afraid to be in showbiz.” He’s very brilliant yet very even-tempered and very considerate and he always wants to hear what we want to say. He would always ask me, “Bolet, is this what you intended for this dialogue? Do you want it said this way?” It was important for me to hear the hugot lines because that reflects the substance I was trying to drive in the script.

Interview with Sam Herrera, Director

TPR: You had the challenge of directing new film actors who had to perform emotionally charged scenes. How did you draw that from them?

Executive Producer and Director Sam Herrera

Executive Producer and Director Sam Herrera

SAM HERRERA: I had a good assistant director, Tonette. When we were conceptualizing the script, when I left for the Philippines, I told Tonette to do a workshop for these guys. They did it based on the script and when I came back to do the actual film, I made minor corrections on the positioning and facial expressions and told them how to use the entire scenes. I told them to own it since they know the characters. They were actually using their own words except for those specific phrases that Bolet was telling us had to be said in specific moments. But other than that, they did a great job. They owned it because they had a say. I was fortunate because we had great teamwork. It was easy for me to direct because they’re good actors, inexperienced but good. Also, the good thing about Bolet is she allowed me to expound the script.

TPR: What convinced you to direct this movie knowing that there are already many films about OFWs?

SH: It was agreed upon in the beginning that I had full control of even the script. When we started, although Bolet started it as the writer, it was me, Judith and Bolet developing the story and twist together. I had to be involved, which I was the whole time. Many others have made films but we wanted to make a difference. With this group, we respect each other like a family to the point that we always enjoy each other’s company. My creative team. Rod, Jay and Tony…we all like how we work together. Nobody’s the boss and everybody’s on the same level.

TPR: How involved was Bolet Arevalo while shooting?

SH: She was very involved. In the beginning she was always there until she had to leave for Montreal and then she was there for the important scenes. That’s where I was impressed with Bolet, when we were doing the twist and asked her to change the dialogue and she did it. With everything that we changed or not, it was a collaboration of the team. It was me, Bolet and Judith.

TPR: What do you hope people will take away from this movie and why is it particularly relevant now?

SH: We’re not only showing how it’s not easy to go abroad. First, we showed how family separation is always a problem. Secondly, we also showed the struggle of OFWs always remitting money back home and how that often extends to extended family up to the third level which is normally what’s happening. As for people in the Philippines, most of the time they think it’s easy to earn money abroad which is not true. Maybe twenty years ago, but now it’s different. They don’t realize that when you get here, you have to deal with everything, the weather, etc. This is for them to know they should not only be thankful for the money the OFWs send but also learn to budget and save it.

There’s also the challenge of integration and finding a job and the importance of having a good education. We also exposed bullying. Also, the importance of forgiveness. It’s common for the families of OFWs who are reunited after years of separation to have issues and normally, the children also end up in trouble joining gangs and taking drugs. Here, our message is even if there’s trouble in your family life, you can still change yours. Remember why you chose to go abroad for a better life. Surrendering to God is also important.

Keanna Cerezo who sang the original duet theme song “Kailain Tama ang Mali?”

Keanna Cerezo who sang the original duet theme song “Kailain Tama ang Mali?”

From left: Oliver Baranda,  Belinda Herrera, Alec  Herrera,  director Sam Herrera, Deputy Consul  General Bernadette  Fernandez and Dennis  Escobedo.

From left: Oliver Baranda, Belinda Herrera, Alec
Herrera, director Sam Herrera, Deputy Consul General Bernadette Fernandez and Dennis Escobedo.