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Celebrating the princess within

Introducing Prinsesa, a short film that tells the story of a Filipino-American father who is confronted by his buddies when his young son daydreams of becoming a princess in the singkil dance. “This film is my attempt at admiring both children who may not follow ‘traditional’ gender roles, as well as the parents who support them,” says filmmaker Drew Stephens.

Prinsesa in focus

Although Drew Stephens is not Filipino, he is proud to claim to “have been part of a Filipino-American family for nearly 25 years,” he said. With a Filipino fiancé (Mano Chui Stephens), Drew said that “Philippine traditional tales, culture and customs have happily become part of my life.”

Close look at PrinsesaHaving watched many of his friends raising children, and incorporating “tradition” into their parenting, Drew said he “realized how truly difficult it must be to always do the right thing for them. For example, what about the tales we tell our children? What does it teach them about themselves, their roles?”

For instance, many cultures have princess tales, and they frequently have a brave warrior prince who “rescues” the weak and helpless princess. “Well, what if a little girl doesn’t see herself as weak or needing a man’s help to get out of trouble? And what if a little boy wants to be pretty or dance gracefully? Does that make him weak? Does it have any deeper meaning? Oh gosh! I’m not sure I could be a good parent in those situations myself. So the parents who DO get it right are like superheroes to me.”

And so Drew decided to make Prinsesa, a short film that tells the story of Rey, a Filipino-American father who is confronted by his buddies when his young son daydreams of becoming a princess in the singkil dance tale.

“This film is my attempt at admiring both children who may not follow ‘traditional’ gender roles, as well as the parents who support them,” Drew said.

Prinsesa is, by the way, also an illustrated children’s storybook.

Singkil, in particular, was chosen because “many of my friends are dancers or musicians, and the power of the kulintang and the pageantry of the singkil have always inspired me, moved me.”

The people behind Prinsesa are mostly friends, and all are volunteers. “I wrote the original story, and my talented friends Conrad Panganiban and Emmanuel Romero helped me to polish the screenplay. Award-winning artist Marconi Calindas provided the stunning artwork. My fiancé is the executive producer, and he helped me gather additional talent from Bindlestiff Studio (a Filipino American performing arts group) and talented dancers and musicians from LIKHA Pilpino Folk Ensemble. The technical resources mostly came from my colleagues in Scary Cow Film Productions, which is an amazing not-for-profit filmmaker networking collective.”

This is not Drew’s first short film to touch on the Filipino-American experience. In 2011, he directed Viewer Discretion Advised (Tape 96) (below), which provides a “peek into a crumbling romantic relationship between two Filipino-American men, as their date night derails over the discovery of a provocative videotape… Ultimately the film conveys the personal pain endured when society at large does not provide equal support to all loving couples.”

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Bringing Prinsesa to life was admittedly challenging, according to Drew. For instance, “we’ve had friends tell us that no Filipino family would allow their boy to play the lead role,” he said. Also, “our Facebook page has received awful hateful posts from anti-LGBT bigots.”

Instead of getting distracted, though, Drew believes in facing the challenges head on instead. “You know what? Those things actually confirm that we NEED to show this film.”

There is also the issue of money. “Even though ours is a short film (only 12 minutes), it costs over $10,000 to make and screen. Yes, really. But this film uses lots of animation and special effects. We rented the same stage where Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pacific Rim and Elysium effects were all shot. That requires insurance and feeding a crew of over 40 volunteers. But the biggest expense is actually distribution – getting the film seen in theaters. Film festivals charge an entry fee – typically $50 or more just to review your film for possible screening. Acceptance is very low, so we need to target dozens or more. One hundred festivals at $50 each, well… you see how it adds up. And all the money comes from our own pockets, and from donations.”

There is a Kickstarter campaign to make Prinsesa succeed. “Any amount will help. And we try to pay it back when we can. For example, sales of our children’s book on Amazon were all donated to supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) relief last December,” Drew said.

Another way for people to help out, added Drew, is “just by spreading the word… Post the Kickstarter link for your friends. Come join us on our Facebook or Twitter pages. Chat with us and let us know we have support. The real power comes from knowing we are not alone.”

Prinsesa should premiere in San Francisco in one month. It was also already invited to screen in Hawaii later this year.

“My goal is to bring the film to the Philippines and – hopefully – use it to organize a fundraiser for a local charity (Metro Manila or country-wide organization),” Drew ended.

For more information on Prinsesa, visit the short film’s Facebook page, or follow it on Twitter.

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