Dancing Inmates of Philippines Hit the Silver Screen
Filipino inmates who skyrocketed to internet fame for their dance renditions of Michael Jackson's hits debuted in a film about reforms in a corrupt prison.
The videos by the inmates of Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center earned 40-million hits on You Tube since 2007.
The inmates played themselves in the movie "Dance of the steel bars", which premiered in the Philippines on Wednesday (June 12).
American actor Patrick Bergin plays the main character of a retired U.S. fireman wrongfully convicted for killing a man.
He makes friends with an embittered fellow convict who discovers the rehabilitating nature of dance.
The plot is based on real-life reforms instituted at the Cebu jail, where a security advisor thought of teaching dance to around 1,000 inmates.
Jails in the Philippines are notorious for overcrowded cells, where gangs are at war and vices like drugs and gambling proliferate.
The filmmakers wanted to highlight the transformation of the Cebu jail, where suspects await verdicts on cases.
[Marnie Manicad, Co-Director, Dance of the Steel Bars]:
"It was very emotional for all of us, because we saw how they were rehabilitated through dance, through dance. And I think the film will show this."
Actor Joey Paras, playing a character whose idea it was to teach dance to fellow jailbirds, says she was scared of shooting inside the jail at first but her fears were quickly erased.
[Joey Paras, Actor]:
"If you're part of the audience and you see them, your hair will stand on end as they're so impressive. And all the more if you stand beside them, and you can smell them, and you can feel their energy, your sweat is the same as their sweat, you're immersed in their group. The feeling is truly unique."
Director Cesar Apolinario says the inmates showed raw emotions that worked to the film's advantage.
[Cesar Apolinario, Co-Director, Dance of the Steel Bars]:
"I did not only see them as brilliant dancers, but they are actually brilliant actors. We didn't have problems in terms of telling them how to act, 'cause it's really natural. When I say, 'you have to look sad here,' they show it."
The producers from Dubai-based Portfolio Films International are hoping that they can cash in on the You Tube fame of Cebu's dancing inmates.
They are eyeing international releases including the Middle East and the United States.
[Stu Higton, Film’s Executive Producer; Owner and Director of Portfolio Films]:
"You've already got a head start of 40 million people aware of that, that's a good start. So commercially it was very interesting. And the story line, it's got high narrative tension, the backdrop of the prison is nearly priceless, and it's got memorable characters."
One of the film's highlights is a five-minute dance sequence that seeks to do justice to the real-life inmates' talent.