Roger Ebert and a Filipino American Film

Roger Ebert’s opinions, his stand-up ethics, and his kindness touched a lot of people in many different ways. Ebert even touched my life, briefly. I’ll let my friend and colleague Elizabeth H. Pisares tell it:

Back in 2002, Roger Ebert reviewed a Filipino-American feature film for which me and Jean Vengua had published a screenplay book. the Debut [directed by Gene Cajayon and John Manal Castro] was a small-scale production with city-by-city self-distribution, so there was little incentive for a renown film critic to give it attention. But he was curious about Filipino Americans (which he had recognized as a significant presence in Chicago), and his curiosity led to a generous and informed 3-star review — who would’ve thunk that Roger Ebert knew anything about “hip-hop turntabling”? His stamp of approval without a doubt gave our indie film more credibility and increased ticket sales throughout the rest of the self-distribution tour. Maraming salamat, Mr. Ebert. May you be free from suffering.

My experience with one small part of the Debut–editing and publishing the screenplay, and selling it during the theatrical openings of the film–was amazing, because the film was funded, created, and promoted through the relentless efforts of the directors, actors, with significant support of the Asian American community; and somehow “the little film that could” managed to play to sell-out crowds wherever it went. Even the first and second print editions of the screenplay sold out. It opened my eyes to what community can do when they set their minds and hearts to it. Ebert’s review really helped to raise our spirits.

* Read Roger Ebert’s review of the Debut
* Documentary on the Debut: Touring the Country: The Little Film That Could