Pain, joy and dignity
Even with this current push for cultural inclusivity, there are still communities whose stories are often not being told. This is the case with the Filipino community.
Local filmmaker Eva Colmers understands this and with her short narrative film Happy Birthday, Mango!, she has the intention to tell a Filipino immigrant story.
“We are surrounded by many Filipinos in Edmonton and yet we don’t see them represented,” Colmers says. “There is also a discrepancy about them being a sweet wonderful caring people, which, indeed, they are, but behind those smiles is also a fair bit of hurt.”
Happy Birthday, Mango! reveals the story of Almara (Nathania Bernabe), a young Filipino care-worker in Canada who works for the wealthy Mettler family. Almara assumes the role of the de facto ‘mother’ for the Mettler’s while trying to stay connected to her son Pepe a.k.a. “Mango” who lives in the Philippines.
On Mango’s birthday, all Almara wants is to sing happy birthday to her son, but the Mettler family’s routines make this problematic.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Wes Miron, and touches on a plethora of themes such as connectivity, family relationships, daydreaming, and reliance on technology.
Happy Birthday, Mango! was created on a small budget with a grant given by the Alberta foundation for the Arts, leading Colmers to find resourceful places to shoot.
“We had to be very clever,” Colmers says. “The background flashback scenes in the Philippines come from the Muttart Conservatory’s tropical house, the bridge scene is our Groat bridge, and the house in the film is actually my house.”
Colmers had the idea to tell Almara’s story after watching her friend’s daughter run to the home’s Filipino nanny for comfort after she had fallen.
“It made me realize the complexity for the care-worker job and also the family who has a care-worker,” Colmers says. “These parents are not necessarily bad parents, but like the Mettler’s, work in high powered jobs where it’s difficult to be a parent with such intensity.”
With the film having a run time of 13 minutes, it relies heavily on lead actress Bernabe’s ability to convey different emotions very quickly.
“She’s kind of the family’s anchor in the film,” Colmers says. “There was a reason that I cast Nathania. When you look at her as Almara, you feel her pain, her joy, her dignity, and all.”
The film also hit home for Bernabe. Being a first generation Filipino Canadian, many of her aunts and relatives have experienced the care-worker lifestyle.
“She took the role very seriously and frequently said she ‘Hopes she does a good job’ because this is the story of her family and friends and the whole community,” Colmers says.
The film does a wonderful job of balancing the chaotic with the silent. We have shots like the hectic kitchen scene where the viewer is thrown right into the action as various members of the Mettler family are beginning their days while Almara adeptly keeps up with her job; cleaning up after the grandfather Harold (Horst Fleischhauer), and making sure the Mettler daughter, Alex (Taylor Hatala) eats her breakfast.
Then we have quiet introspective reflective moments where Almara is thinking about her previous life in the Philippines.
“I knew I wanted to have those stillness shots that reflect the quiet warm tropics of the Philippines, but also the life of the family be a bit hectic,” Colmers says.
If all goes well, Colmers hopes to adapt Almara’s story into a longer work.
“I can see that the Almara story is a longer story,” Colmers says. “The film just scratches the surface of what she goes through. My ultimate goal would be to tell a longer feature story or perhaps a series.”
Sun., June 18 (4:30 pm)
Happy Birhday, Mango!
Metro Cinema , $10