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Short film produced by Fil-Ams wins Oscar

By Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 17:34:00 02/28/2011

Filed Under: Cinema, The Oscars, Entertainment (general), Americas - United States

LOS ANGELES??God of Love,? directed by Luke Matheny and produced by Filipino-Americans Gigi Dement, Stefanie Walmsley and Stephen Dypiangco, won the Best Live Action Short Film in Sunday?s Academy Awards.

In his acceptance speech, Matheny thanked the Filipino-Americans who helped him make the movie about a lounge singer who acquires love-inducing darts. Matheny went to the New York University with Dement, a Baguio native who wore an Oliver Tolentino gown to the event, and Dypiangco, who was born in Los Angeles to immigrant parents. Walmsley, a former ?Eat Bulaga? co-host, met Matheny while they were performing in a music video shoot.

Dypiangco told the Inquirer, ?It felt amazing to hear ?God of Love? called. I was on the verge of tears. I am so proud of our team and thankful for all the love of my wife, parents, family and friends. My family always joked with me about taking part in the Oscars and now I have. Sunday night was an absolute dream come true.?

He said, ?All of the nominees were incredibly strong. I think it was anyone?s guess as to who was going to take home the coveted gold statuette.?

Dypiangco said that when ?God?? was nominated for an Academy Award, it suddenly changed the lives of the key talents involved. The short was Matheny?s graduate student thesis film that had won the Student Academy Awards last year and earned prizes in the film festival circuit. ?Our entire team had known that a nomination was a possibility, but we weren?t prepared for it simply because we didn?t want to jinx it. But once the nomination was official, we suddenly had a million things to do. It felt like we had been at a complete standstill and we were now suddenly sprinting.?

The filmmaker, whose parents, Lucila and Oscar Dypiangco, are from Pampanga and Laguna, respectively said, ?An Academy award is a tremendous victory for everyone involved in the project and I hope that it would open up new doors to all of us professionally.?

Dypiangco comes from a new generation of filmmakers who went to film schools and who may someday lead to more Fil-Am presence in the Academy?s major categories. The road was paved Sunday by Matthew Libatique, who went to the American Film Institute?s graduate school, and was the first Filipino to be nominated in the cinematography category. Libatique proudly wore a tux by Tolentino with an abaca bow tie.

Dypiangco is the youngest of Lucila and Oscar who met in Manila, got married, had three boys and immigrated to Los Angeles in 1969. After 10 years, Dypiangco was born. ?I?m told that I wasn?t an ?accident? but rather a blessing,? he said. He earned a BS degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University but his interest in cinema led him to enroll in NYU?s graduate film school.

At NYU, Dypiangco?s Student Academy Award-nominated documentary, ?Made in the Bronx,? focused on inner city youth. His graduate thesis film, ?All Americana,? followed an undocumented immigrant struggling to pay for college. The young filmmaker said, ?Whether writing, directing or producing documentaries, comedies, dramas or music videos, I hope to fight for social justice by showcasing minority stories with dignity and respect.?

After Sunday?s ceremonies, Dypiangco said he was thankful to his parents. ?They have always encouraged me to follow my heart and pursue my passion,? he said. ?Their love knows no bounds, and nothing makes them happier than their children?s happiness.?

He added, ?I am most grateful to my wife, Ann. She is a social worker who has worked tirelessly to help me pursue my filmmaking dreams. Making independent films can be extremely stressful and all-consuming. She pushes me to do my best, but more importantly she helps me keep perspective on what really matters most in life, family, friends and each other.?

Asked about his plans, Dypiangco said that he would concentrate on finishing ?Home Unknown,? his documentary on a trip he made with his parents to the Philippines. The documentary focuses on Dypiangco?s search for his Filipino identity. A trailer shows the Dypiangco mother, father and son as they prepare in Los Angeles for the trip home and then their visits to various relatives and places in the Philippines. The parents, especially Lucila, an LA teacher who is friendly and gregarious, appear to be the documentary?s strongest points.

?My goal is to get ?Home Unknown? done,? Dypiangco said. ?It?s the most ambitious film I?ve ever undertaken. I hope that all of this amazing Academy Awards attention as well as the film?s Philippines focus will lead to interest from Filipino investors as well as the community. I know the film will really resonate with Pinoys all over the world. I hope that some of them will help me make that possible.?

Sorting the hours of footage is a daunting task for Dypiangco. ?Editing ?Home Unknown? has been extremely challenging, especially because I?m one of the main characters in the film,? he explained. ?This has made having any sort of objectivity on the material nearly impossible. Personal documentaries can often come off as self-indulgent. That?s something I?m constantly trying to avoid. It?s my goal to make the film as funny and entertaining as possible so viewers will enjoy going on this trip to the Philippines with me and my parents.?

He cited an inspiration. ?The moment I understood the film I wanted to make was after watching Ross McElwee?s ?Sherman?s March.? It?s a personal documentary done by a lone filmmaker who blends honest emotions with unexpected humor. Although it has nothing to do with exploring your roots or understanding your parents, like ?Home Unknown? does, I feel its overall tone and approach is what I?m striving for.?

He shared his revelations during the shoot in the Philippines. ?Over the course of my life, I gradually formed the habit of ignoring most things my parents said to me,? he admitted. ?When they started talking, that was my cue to tune them out. But when I started filming them in LA and the Philippines, I had no choice but to finally listen to them. It was at this point that I realized I knew nothing about them as real people with their own hopes, dreams, regrets and imperfections.?

He said training his camera on his parents was tough for all three of them in the beginning. ?At first my parents, especially my mom, were extremely resistant to opening up to me with the camera there. But over time, they let down their guard and I was able to learn who they really are and what makes them tick.?

?Following my parents with a camera and spending countless hours poring over the raw footage has opened up a new window into our relationship,? he added. ?Now I understand what their lives were like back in the Philippines, why they came to the US and what motivates them most. I also discovered that I?m torn between following their very different lifestyles. My dad is an amazing family man who has given his very best for his wife and children. My mom is a well-loved teacher who has hundreds of adoring former students all over the world. I want to be a great father and husband like my dad, but I also want the same professional success my mom achieved. It?s this struggle to balance work and family that led me to make ?Home Unknown,? which attempts to bring both of these conflicting elements together.

?I think making this movie allowed my parents to remember parts of their lives that they had long forgotten, back when they were younger and living in the Philippines,? he explained. ?It also gave them a chance to explore how little we?ve communicated over the years, understand why they raised me as they did and finally see me as an adult. I know that making this film has made our relationship much stronger and for that I?m thankful.?

Dement told the Inquirer about her Oscar experience: ?I didn?t know what to expect. I?ve been fortunate that the Filipino community rallied round the ?God?? team. Oliver generously offered to dress me for the Oscars. I was really worried about walking in super high heels in a beaded gown. As a New Yorker with two young children, I don?t get to practice such feats.?

The triumph of the 18-minute film was especially poignant for Walmsley, who grew up in the Philippines with a father who was an expatriate businessman and a Cebuana mother. ?My father, Gerry Walmsley, passed away three years ago,? she said. ?He repeatedly said that I would one day make it to the Oscars.?

Walmsley, who wore a gown by Martin Bautista that was flown in from the Philippines, quipped, ?I fully expected to be physically extracted from the red carpet since I was planning on living on it.?



Copyright 2014 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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