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Inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. Credit AP / Bullit Marquez
Inmates at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center. Credit AP / Bullit Marquez

From YouTube to the big screen, Filipino prisoners dance to fame

The orange-uniformed men at a Philippine jail make their big-screen debut in a movie about prison reforms.

They first gained fame on YouTube, dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Now, the orange-uniformed men at a central Philippine jail make their big-screen debut in a movie about prison reforms.

Dance of the Steel Bars was shot at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Centre, with 750 prisoners forming the backdrop to a story about an American wrongly accused of murder and the bond he forms with a fellow inmate.

“This film talks about redemption, about brotherhood,” said Cesar Apolinario, a television journalist and the film’s co-director. “I did not only see them as brilliant dancers, but they are actually brilliant actors.”

The plot revolves around the real-life reforms carried out in the Cebu jail, where a security adviser introduced daily dance routines in 2007 to instil discipline and camaraderie.

The fast-paced movie features fight scenes portraying gang wars, common in crowded Philippine prisons, juxtaposed with dance sequences in the jail courtyard.

The prisoners’ dance on YouTube has been viewed by more than 40 million people, said Stu Higton, executive producer of the Dubai-based Portfolio Films International.

The film opened in the Philippines on Wednesday and will be distributed in Asia, the Middle East and the US.

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