We did it! Five and a half weeks of filming in Cebu! We held our 4 day consent retreat, filmed interviews with all eight of our protagonists, made two trips to neighboring Bohol island, filmed in a women's prison, squatter areas, offices, banca boats, boarding houses, and at a singing competition. We at a lot of pork and pinakbet, waded through sewage-tinged water, conquered two rounds of gastrointestinal distress, and made a report to the trafficking tip line.
I wrote a summary at the end of each day, and even that is too much. But I present an edited version here, in case you'd like to know a bit more about what our shoots are like.
Day 1: May 14. Arrival day : first stop is the mall for essentials: toothpaste, eggs and bread and of utmost importance: pocket WiFi.
Day 2: Dinner with the girls in our film! Everyone is late; much pork eventually eaten. The night ends at the ER with one of the girls’ sister, who is extremely dizzy and has chills. She leaves without being tested, because she's worried about the cost.
Day 3: Morning meeting with Cebu Sanctuary, a group that works with survivors to provide education and work - jewelry making. They are donating jewelry to the girls for the consent retreat!
Afternoon: filming with "Ashley" one of our protagonists who is now working for My Refuge House. She was buying office supplies for the quarter, so Hanz and I filmed her surreptitiously in department stores.
Day 4: Filming all day at My Refuge House's shelter. Today they have first aid training with the girls and staff… and then I had my own emergency, of the gastrointestinal kind. I usually try to hide any kinds of GI afflictions but I was dizzy and in a lot of pain, and the minute I asked for meds, the whole campus seemed to know. So grateful for modern medicine, hot showers and the caring and concern of everyone at MRH.
Day 5: Took the day off. In dance class, people always talk about “listening to your body” and my body was telling me to just stay put for a day. I feel a lot better, but got pretty tired when I went to the mall for white food (bread, udon, yogurt. Side note, the only real yogurt here is $16 for about 2 pints.) Still plenty of work to do --writing interview questions, prepping gear, coordinating shoots. Somehow I’ve managed to fill the day.
Day 6: filming with Hope and her siblings. She’s living in a squatter area that floods with sewage-contaminated water on a regular basis. Her neighbors run a meth den. It’s grim, yet we also found moments of joy - like the kids going crazy in a torrential downpour, jumping in puddles and turning cartwheels barefoot. On the way out, we had to wade through ankle deep water. I came back and sanitized everything. But still, my Western, soft feet broke out in a rash.
Day 7: Three hour interview with Cindy. Her life has been upended in the past three years.
Day 8: Interview with Ashley. I debated whether to interrupt her, to tell her that her tears streaked her makeup. She’s grown up so much, and for some reason, I believe that her long distance relationship is the real thing.
Discovered avocado soft serve at the mall. I want to eat this every day.
Day 9: Interview with Jonna Eleccion from Everfree, an organization that provides scholarships, job readiness training and job search counseling for survivors of domestic abuse, trafficking, and those at risk.
Jonna drew parallels between historical colonization and current efforts of people who come to "help” survivors without actually listening to them. She said that before you jump in with your ideas of what survivors need, you need to sit with them and get to know them. “You can have a conversation with a prostitute,” she pointed out.
I realized she was outlining the purpose of our film --for people to sit with these girls, get to know why they are where they are, and why your assumptions of them are probably wrong.
Day 10. Jethro arrived! He's our our creative producer and editor, and he's also doing some shooting.
Day 11: Shooting on Abigail's tiny island, we took a ferry and a banca boat to reach it. Abigail and her husband cried when recalling Typhoon Odette. Their island recently got solar panels but still has no fresh water. We brought food from the mainland but I stuck to PB&J because of my recent GI issues.
Day 12: Three people got sick, not sure if it was the food we brought from the big island. My PB&J of paranoia was justified. Abigail showed us how she harvests starfish and dries them. She has to gather 12,000 starfish to make 20 bucks.
Day 13. High anxiety all day — packing for Manila, but can we make it with the looming Super Typhoon Mawar? Will the prison cancel? Will the airline cancel? Will Hope be able to get her ID in time? Will we make it to the airport? I had to practice breathing exercises all day while doing laundry, packing, filming Ashley’s scholarship interview, anxiously awaiting Hope to go together to the airport. Long story short: by 11 PM, we are checking into our Manila hotel.
Day 14. This is the day. Since 2015 I have been wanting to interview Hope’s mom. She's in prison for trafficking her daughter. Jethro, the champion, managed to get us permission to interview her, and to bring Hope as well so she could see her mom for the first time since the pandemic.
The visit was really intense. Her mom sobbed at length, often, prompting ongoing tears from Hope as well. Later, Hope dreamed that her mom got out, but it was a dream of anxiety. “What if it happens again to my daughter?” She asked.
Day 15. Lloyd, the father of Hope’s child, died during the pandemic. She has never met his mother, never been to Manila. This was her chance. Lloyd's mother lives in Quezon City, near a spot called Smoky Mountain. It looks like a forested hill but it’s actually a trash heap that grew over.
Hope was really nervous to meet her mother in law, but the mom was welcoming and kind. She gave Hope some of Lloyd’s toys to bring back to their child.
Day 16. Travel back to Cebu today. Still some anxiety that the typhoon will change our travel plans, but we have had sunny skies and and smooth sailing. Hope was so happy to come back to Cebu. We bought Jamaican Patties in the airport and ate them on the plane.
Day 17: Today we interviewed Noemi Truya Abarientos, a lawyer from the Children’s Legal Bureau, and Leny Ocasiones, a community organizer with Gabriela and a professor of Anthropology, Sociology and History. They gave us such great context --of the socio-economic, colonial and historical environment the girls are in. My only regret is not booking a studio to record them, as we were dealing with the sounds of dog fights, hammering, yelling, roosters, saws, and of course traffic.
Day 18. A day off! Of shooting, anyway. My therapist encouraged me to schedule rest days and I was resistant, but I have to admit that it was good to recharge, workout, have a nice long lunch with Jethro. We still worked —coordinating shoots, meeting with some of the girl’s employers, planning details for the consent retreat, prepping gear, etc. but it was good to have a day without many obligations.
Day 19. B-roll day! We got up early to catch kids going to school at 7 am… then filmed on a bridge that one of the girls walked on for three days straight, contemplating suicide after her abuse.
In the afternoon I filmed Carrie, who is working at a social enterprise company that provides life skills training (budgeting, etc,) and medical care in addition to job training and experience. She was initially embarrassed to have me film in her home, saying her place is messy with lot of drug users around. I pointed out that we have gone to many places like that with other girls. Even with the job opportunity, it’s still a struggle. I'm so impressed and touched by how hard she works for her kids.
Day 20. Officially the mid point of the shoot. Our interview today was cancelled. The girl said she was sick but I found out later that she isn’t. She’s having a hard time. The book The Body Keeps The Score has really helped me understand this behavior — often it seems self sabotaging or illogical, but it is the brain’s protective mechanism after years of feeling constantly unsafe. My heart bleeds for these girls.
So it’s an admin/self care day. I actually work out!
To read about the second half of our shoot, including our consent retreat, click here to continue!