A film by York University Associate Professor Patrick Alcedo earned the Best Short Documentary award at the Cannes Indies Cinema Awards on July 10. The film, titled They Call Me Dax, tells the story of 15-year-old Dorothy Echipare who struggles to survive as a high-school student and ballet dancer while living alone in a poor urban district in Quezon City, Philippines.
“I was elated and surprised when I learned that my new short docu won, as it was an international online competition,” said Alcedo.
Chair of the Department of Dance in York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), Alcedo has directed, written and produced three documentary films in the past year. Two of his other documentary films – A Will To Dream and Am I Being Selfish? – also won, respectively, Best Dance Feature Documentary and Best Inspirational Short Documentary at the Silk Road Film Awards Cannes in May. This same competition singled out They Call Me Dax as Best Dance Short Documentary.
The three films put a spotlight on issues of teenage pregnancy, illegal drugs, precarity of labour and inconsistent governmental support in poverty alleviation in the Philippines. They illustrate how dance, when partnered with grit and altruistic teaching, has the potential to navigate and even overcome these social, economic and political issues.
“As a dance ethnographer, I am passionate about putting an emphasis on dance’s ability to empower the marginalized. I want to illustrate that dance, as lived in the lives of its practitioners, is an incredible embodied form in understanding the complexities of race, class, ethnicity, gender, religious practices and diasporic/transnational identities,” said Alcedo. “As a Philippine studies scholar and a Filipino, I devote my energies and resources to fleshing out who Filipinos are, whether in the Philippines or in transnational elsewhere – from the point of view of dance, from their own dancing and choreographed bodies.”
Along the same vein of marginality as Dorothy’s story, Am I Being Selfish? focuses on the life of her fellow dancer, Jon-Jon Bides. Despite the resulting financial hardship, Jon-Jon insists on supporting his wife and two young sons by teaching ballet to poor children and at-risk youth, like Dorothy.
The feature-length documentary, A Will To Dream, anchors its narrative in the life of Luther Perez, a former ballet star in the Philippines and Dorothy and Jon-Jon’s mentor and adoptive father. To give underprivileged children and youth from squatters’ areas in Quezon City and Manila a shot in life, he surrendered his U.S. green card – and with it the promise of a better life abroad – to teach them dance.
To date, these films have garnered six official selections from film festivals and award-giving bodies such as the New York Independent Cinema Awards, International Shorts, Lift-Off Online Sessions and the Chicago Indie Film Awards.
Alcedo’s latest win at the Cannes Indies has caught the attention of three television stations – DZRH News of the Manila Broadcasting Corporation, Net25 and Omni Filipino News – that together have thus far garnered more than 28,000 views.
The three films build on Alcedo’s 20-minute documentary Dancing Manilenyos, which was an official selection at the 2019 Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase and received an Award of Merit from the 2019 Global Shorts Competition and an Award of Recognition from the 2018 Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards.
These three recent films would not have been possible if not for the team that Alcedo has put together. Behind these works are cinematographer Alex Felipe, editor and colourist Alec Bell, and transcriber Paulo Alcedo – all York University alumni. Additional cinematography is from John Marie Soberano and archival footage is from both Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes. Peter Alcedo Jr. did the musical scoring.
The pre-production, production and post-production of Alcedo’s films have received support from AMPD, the York Centre for Asian Research, the government of Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards program, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's Research-Creation Grant.