'Little Manila' tells the story of an ailing domestic worker whose dying wish was to be reunited with her sister in the Philippines.
Written and directed by up and coming Filipino filmmaker Harley Maranan, the ten-minute short film was inspired by 'My Family's Slave,' an article about a nanny who worked for a Fil-Am family in the US without pay. The article was published in “The Atlantic” in 2017 and written by Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Alex Tizon.
"It's the story that followed this yaya who grew up with this family, but unfortunately, she was very abused and this author highlighted the complicated relationship between the yaya and the parents and kind of inspired by that," Maranan noted.
The short film brought tears to many in the audience at the recent Mighty Asian Moviemaking Marathon in Vancouver.
It also won the Best Actress award for Filipino Canadian actress Lissa Neptuno for her role as yaya. Neptuno, who was born in Brunei but whose family moved to Canada later, said even non-Filipinos who watched the film were touched by its message.
"There was this Iranian woman who said 'I can't go home. I'm from Iran and I can't go home' and for her, this was a very touching story," Neptuno shared.
Actress Sigrid Pareja played the role of the employer, Ms. Castro, who didn’t want her yaya to go home, only to learn later that she was dying.
Pareja said the story hits close to home, because her mother used to work as a caregiver too.
But instead of putting herself in her mom's shoes, she imagined what her mom's employer would be like.
"My mom used to be a nanny. And so I know the struggles that my mom had gone through, and so I sort of flipped it and kind of thought, what is it like on the other side of being the employer, or someone who's just so caught up in their own world that they forget that there's a lot of people around them too?," Pareja said.
Meanwhile, Pareja's son Nolan was cast as Ms. Castro's son who wanted to make his yaya's wish come true.
"Kind of sad because like Lissa, my co-star, she was dying because of a sickness. And then in the film, we had to recreate Manila just so she could feel at home," he said.
Maranan wrote, directed and produced 'Little Manila' in just five weeks. But it was worth it for him because his film won Best Screenplay.
"It's a lot of collaboration because as much as I can do my research, I'm only 22 I have a very limited perspective on life," Maranan admitted. "Without that collaboration. I don't think we would have been able to bring out the truth from those characters."
Maranan said he would like to be able to tell more stories about the struggles of immigrants in his next projects.
'Little Manila' will be shown again during the Vancouver Asian Film Festival in November.