FILM: Signal Rock at AWFF

JENICA ROSE GARCIA WRITES–The last week of October, Arclight theaters in Culver City held its Asian World Film Festival, showcasing filmmakers and artists from all over the Asian world.

One particular movie that stood out was Signal Rock. Directed by Chito Roño, a Filipino aficionado of film, it is a true story following a boy named Intoy, played by Christian Bables, who lives in Biri, a remote island located in the central Philippines. The storyline follows Intoy as he struggles to forge documents in order to help his sister, living abroad, win custody of her child. Through Intoy, we experience the tight-knit community that lives in this provincial town.

At first, I was nervous. Not only was it my first time going to a theater by myself, but I was sure that Signal Rock would be unrelatable. The premise of a boy attempting to forge documents for his overseas sister seemed like something I could never grasp. I went to support my Filipino-American identity. As an American, I admit that I know little about my parents’ home country, so this seemed like a good chance to begin exploring my Filipino roots. As I walked into the movie theater, I heard many waiting viewers chatting excitedly in Tagalog before the movie’s start. Just hearing the language spoken, in the room and in the film, felt oddly comforting.

Watching Signal Rock was like riding an emotional rollercoaster, with viewers in shock at every turn, from one uncomfortable reality to unrequited love, family issues, and even murder. The cast of this movie is amazing. The actor Bables, known for his award-winning work as “Barbs” in the Filipino indie film Die Beautiful (Jun Robles Lana), was breathtakingly realistic— it felt like I was there right beside him, experiencing life in the provincial town of Biri.  

Despite director Roño’s brilliance, some points about the film remain questionable. The camera work is sometimes unfocused, with scenes underlit, and there are several loose ends in the plot. For example,  Intoy’s father’s rape of his wife is unresolved.

What  hit home, though, were the larger themes of struggle still prevalent in the Philippines, like the Filipino diaspora and the dilemma of  Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) (many Filipinos, after the 1970s, left the Philippines seeking better jobs around the world such as Europe, North America, and parts of Asia, which continues today. Told from the perspective of those back in the country, Intoy, the main character of the movie, is at odds with this phenomenon of Filipino women from Biri being working as waitresses overseas,  languishing in hopes of finding a wealthy foreigner to marry. Intoy’s sister, who sends money to relatives in the Philippines, is stuck abroad in an abusive relationship with no social support. What is most haunting is that in reality, this happens all the time.

I cried watching the end credits on the black screen, I felt like I was actually in the Philippines. The movie made the struggle of those living back home tangible and brought to life the stories my parents always told me about but wasn’t there to witness. Both were born in the Philippines but emigrated to the US in the late 90s so that I could be born here.  Though I did not realize this as a child, in high school I saw that Filipinos were so underrepresented in movies. The rare times they were portrayed film they were, much to my chagrin, the butt of jokes or minor characters—as are most Asians in entertainment media.

Recently, steps have been taken to expand the representation of Filipinos, such as television shows like The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and NBC’s The Good Place, which portray them non-stereotypically. In fact, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend showcases Filipino culture and cuisine.  However, I had never seen any piece of a film or show that felt wholly from the Filipino perspective (other than my mother’s soap operas).

By the end of Signal Rock, I could think of one thing: “I am so proud to be Filipino.” If you get the chance to watch Signal Rock, see it. I already want to watch it again.

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