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3 Docus on Pinoy teachers in US...

By Ruben V. Nepales

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:45:00 03/18/2011
Filed Under: Entertainment (general), Cinema

(Editor’s Note: is posting an expanded version of Ruben V. Nepales’ column published on the Saturday Special Section, March 19 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer upon the request of the author himself.)

LOS ANGELES – Ramona Diaz is a driven filmmaker. Even before she showed her much-awaited documentary, “The Learning,” in a special screening at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, Ramona had already announced a new project. She will direct a film adaptation of Rafe Bartholomew’s bestselling book, “Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philippines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball.”

Of course, Ramona has that other much-anticipated docu, “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey.” “I'm actually deep into editing that film about Journey and its Filipino front man, Arnel Pineda,” Ramona told us recently via e-mail. “We hope to be done by the end of the year. And I've just started development on ‘Pacific Rims…’”

In addition to these projects, Ramona is the executive producer of Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco’s “Give Up Tomorrow,” which debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival next month.

But we’re especially glad that Ramona, whose credits include the award-winning “Imelda” and “Spirits Rising,” has finally finished “The Learning,” which we first wrote about in 2006. The film follows four Filipinas, part of a group of teachers – mostly women – from the Philippines who were recruited to teach in inner-city schools in Baltimore, Maryland. Aside from Baltimore, where Ramona is based, she shot the four women in Metro Manila and in their respective hometowns in Cebu, Sorsogon, Pampanga and Cagayan de Oro.

Ramona plans to dedicate the first screening of “The Learning” in Manila to Miguel V. Fabie, who passed away last year. Miguel, the cinematographer of Lav Daz’s “Batang West Side,” did the first shoot of “The Learning” in the Philippines. Miguel, Gabriel Goodenough and Gretchen Hildebran are credited as the film’s cinematographers.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Ramona moved to the US when she was 16. Below are excerpts of our email interview with the busy filmmaker:

How was the special presentation screening of “The Learning” at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival? And what thoughts were in your mind as you finally watched the film with an audience?

The screening went very well and was very well attended, considering there was no press (on purpose) because of its special screening status. The official premiere will be in Baltimore, where the story is set. The four teachers, Angel Alim-Flores, Rhea Espedido, Dorotea Godinez and Grace Amper-Gonzales, will attend.

As I watched, I really felt that I had made the film that I set out to make – an honest, sometimes brutally so, portrait of life in America, which is not always pleasant. “The Learning” is actually my homage to the Bagong Bayani, the OFWs who toil all over the world. The film will be broadcast on “POV” on PBS in the fall. “POV” is one of the most prestigious documentary series in the US so I'm very flattered that “The Learning” was chosen out of thousands of submissions. I'm hoping that Fil-Ams across the country will tune in in droves.

What were among the interesting or surprising questions or comments during the Q and A that followed?

What surprised me most were not the questions in the Q and A but the reaction during the screening. The audience laughed so much – in a good way, in all the right places. All the things that my editor and I thought were funny, the audience got. But one of the best comments I received after the screening was, “You made us cry and laugh, and sometimes you made us laugh and cry at the same time.” And the film does that. It's a roller coaster ride.

Have the four teachers featured in the film seen it?

Yes, I made sure to show the film to them before screening it publicly. They were very moved and laughed so much at everything, but it may have been mixed with nervous laughter. It is always a strange thing to see yourself on the big screen

Can you give an update on the four teachers – Dorotea, Angel, Grace and Rhea?

All four of them are still teaching and living in Baltimore. Angel married her long-time boyfriend, Anj. Grace was joined in Baltimore by her husband and son and has since given birth to her second child. Rhea is now divorced. Dorotea has gotten tenure and was joined by her husband and three sons earlier this year.

Of the estimated 600 Filipino teachers originally hired to work in Baltimore City, about how many are still there? How many have returned to the Philippines? Is the program considered a success?

I am not sure of the exact figures but the attrition rate has been very low. I think the fact that most of the teachers are still in the city speaks to the success of the program. The Filipino teachers are treasured by the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS).

What steps have been taken to provide support to the transplanted teachers in light of two Filipino teachers who committed suicide?

I'm not sure that I can speak about this with any authority because I have not really followed closely what is being done since the two suicides. What I can say is that it may be dangerous to assume that the two teachers committed suicide because of the hardships of teaching in the US – it's inaccurate and irresponsible to assume that. I knew personally one of the two teachers, Fe Bolado, because she was one of the teachers I had filmed originally. Fe was a super smart and innovative math teacher. Why she chose to leave us so early will ultimately remain a tragic mystery.

Is the US still actively recruiting foreign teachers for its public schools?

I do not think US school districts are still actively recruiting aboad because of massive budgetary cuts that the public school educational system has had to deal with in recent years.

What’s the latest on “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”?

We wrapped production last September as the band went back into the studio to finish their album, “Eclipse,” which is coming out this May. We have also started a crowd funding campaign which is the hottest and hippest movement in independent film financing these days – going to the fans (of the band, of independent filmmaking, etc.) to raise money to finish the film. If you log onto and look up “Everyman's Journey,” you will find the details. Every donation is attached to perks so someone can give as low as $10 to as high as $10,000. Every little bit helps, of course. And to top it all, it's tax deductible!

What can you tell us about one of your next projects, a full-length docu version of Bartholomew’s “Pacific Rims…”?

I'm just at the very beginning of what is typically a marathon process. Rafe and I are collaborating to adapt his book into a film. Rafe is coming on as producer-writer, I will be the producer-director, while Marty Syjuco is a producer. It's a look at the Filipino national character through the prism of basketball. We hope to be in the Philippines sometime this year to start shooting a fundraising trailer. I am still searching for an executive producer. Do you know anyone who is into Pinoy hoops?
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