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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

First Philippine film shot in the UAE turns 10

Aga Muhlach, left, and John Lloyd Cruz in the Filipino film Dubai. Star Cinema / ABS-CBN
Aga Muhlach, left, and John Lloyd Cruz in the Filipino film Dubai. Star Cinema / ABS-CBN

The 10th anniversary of the first Philippine movie shot in the UAE is being marked with a special digitally restored and remastered version.

Dubai was produced by film studio Star Cinema, one of the largest production houses in the Philippines. The romantic drama, which released in 2005, starred Aga Muhlach, who was a matinée idol in the 1980s, and John Lloyd Cruz, at the time the most popular young actor in the country.

They played orphaned brothers who move to the Emirates in search of a better life. Their bonds are tested when they fall in love with the same woman, played by the famous soap actress Claudine Barretto.

Dubai was a critical and box-­office hit, with its themes of new beginnings, closure, opportunities and dreams coming true, resonating with audiences, particularly overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their ­families.

A month after its Philippine release, Dubai was screened in the UAE, where it played for three days to packed theatres in the former Al Nasr Cinema in Dubai.

‘Stories right in front of us’

In February 2005, acclaimed ­Filipino scriptwriter Ricky Lee flew to Dubai to research the project. He was accompanied by co-writer Shaira Mella Salvador, director Rory Quintos and producer Tess Fuentes.

“We were able to talk to many OFWs in Dubai,” says Lee. “That story of the two brothers, that really happened. Almost the entire film was a composite of everything we gathered in our interviews – all the hardships of those who just moved to the country, Filipinos sleeping ­under the bridge, etc. We didn’t have to invent stories because it was all right there in front of us, waiting to be told – we just had to listen.”

Two months after Lee’s visit, Quintos, the three main stars and a 13-strong skeleton crew came to Dubai to shoot the movie. It filmed at locations including Dubai International Airport, Burj Al Arab, Dubai Creek and Sheikh Zayed Road. Scenes were also set in a shopping mall, a souq and on a desert safari.

“While I don’t remember much about making Dubai, I do remember that what we wanted to show was that no matter where a Filipino is, wherever he is in the world, he will remain a Filipino,” Lee says. “That being a Filipino is not about where you are, it’s something ingrained in the heart.”

Rallying for restoration

The film’s remastered version is the result of a recent initiative by ABS-CBN – Star Cinema’s parent company – to preserve classic Philippine movies using the latest digital technology.

The ABS-CBN Film Restoration Project is a joint effort by ABS-CBN Film Archives and Central Digital Lab to remaster more than 3,000 Filipino films in full high-definition format. The first feature to be restored was Ishmael Bernal’s 1982 film Himala – also written by Lee – and it was screened at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival, as part of the celebrations for the movie’s 30th anniversary.

“Restoring classic Filipino films is really a vocation of mine,” says Manet Dayrit, the head of Central Digital Lab. “Having worked in this industry for the past 21 years as a film editor, I really feel this is my giving back to the industry that I love and that has been good to me

“Our Philippine film heritage is so unique and rich. It’s a shame if this generation of kids can’t see and appreciate the artistry and creativity of the generations that have come before them.”

The Film Restoration Project has so far restored and re­mastered more than 100 films.

“There is so much to learn from our classic films, since they are a snapshot of life, the sentiments of the people then and culture from decades past,” Dayrit says. “How can we afford not to preserve such valuable history?”

Dayrit led a team of 13 restoration artists, colourists and editors who worked on the restored version of Dubai. It was previewed in Philippine theatres in August and will be shown on free-to-air and cable-TV networks owned by ABS-CBN, including The Filipino Channel, which is available in the UAE. It will also be released on DVD and on demand through iTunes.

• Watch the trailer of Dubai here

artslife@thenational.ae