Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Mount Hope Project

This week the Poverty News Blog was introduced to a film maker who was inspired to use his talent to try to make a difference. Writer/director/producer, Gerry Balasta was born and raised in the Philippines. After working as an Occupation Therapist in the United States, he turned to the art of film making. His movie not only tells a tale of a life of extreme poverty, but it also tries to to improve the lives of those depicted in the film. The film has given birth to “The Mount Hope Project” a charitable group to help the people of the slum.

The film “The Mountain Thief” takes place in Payatas, a slum built on mounds of garbage in the Philippines. The residents try to make a living out of scavenging garbage for scraps of food or for stuff that they can sell. The conditions are some of the worst in the world.

From the film's website is a synopsis of the plot.

In a world of monstrous mountains of trash, Julio and his son confront their ultimate fight for survival as they seek refuge and redemption from war and hunger. Together, they navigate territorial rivalries and intense desperation among scavengers, surviving--and finding love--despite horrific living conditions. Julio, involved in a murder incident, must prove his innocence to avoid his family’s banishment and ultimate starvation.

A story of triumph over unusual circumstances, "The Mountain Thief" reveals the unimaginable realities of people living in extreme poverty, and what happens when their tenuous hold on hope and survival is threatened.

But this story is lot more than about a movie. It's also a story about the people who live amongst the garbage. The actors in the film are not from Hollywood, rather they are people who actually live in the slum. Balasta felt that the story would be best depicted by the people who face the realities everyday. As he told us in an e-mail “I just believed that if they are given the chance to act, they will best tell their own story.” So he began an acting workshop in the garbage slum.

Balasta, along with his mom, Nina Balasta, and friend Francisco Valdez helped the people of the slum learn the art of acting by setting up an acting workshop in the village. The trio prepared the building and hired help to teach the classes. They also provided meals and transportation to those attending the workshop, even sending some food back home with them.

As quoted from his website, Balasta had trouble getting anyone to attend.

The process was a long, trial and error process. At first, it was hard to get scavengers in to attend, just because they never expect anyone will hire them as actors, they all thought it was a scam.  At that time also, we didn’t have any contacts in the community and it was really hard to break in the very secluded town. Whenever I had a lead for a scavenger who’s interested, I literally had to chase them down, running with a camera on one hand, and offer to interview them and audition to be part of the workshops. I had to see them in camera and see some potential at least before I can invite them in.

Once people began to show up to the acting workshop their attendance was sporadic because of the harsh way of life. If a family emergency came up, or if their family simply didn't have enough money for the next meal, that took presidence over attending the classes. Literacy was also a challenge, some did not know enough words to keep up with the classes.

The film is now in the post production and final editing stage. Much of the filming is done, but Balasta still needs to complete the sound mix, color correction and make a master HD copy for production. Balasta is trying to raise the funds to complete the film, about 14, 000 is still needed to complete the film.

Below is the preliminary trailer:

But the filmmakers don't want to stop there. The actors in the film have many needs and they hope to fulfill those needs through charitable fund raising called the "Mount Hope Project". The website for “The Mountain Thief” has links for donations for those who appear in the film. One of the films main characters is a boy with a vision problem. Nine-year-old Richard Casa has difficulty keeping his balance when walking amongst trails through hills of garbage. The film crew hopes to raise money to provide glasses for Richard and for a surgery to improve his condition.

Another actor in the film has a son with a foot defect. The website has a description of his condition.

“Every parent is looking for the moment when their children walk, but for Randy it would mean a miracle. Junior has a club foot deformity. His ankles are rotated and because of this he is unable to walk. He needs a surgical correction. Such surgeries are very common in the western world. However, the high cost of this surgery in the Philippines, make this procedure impossible for him..”

For more information on the town, the filmmaking or the actors and their harsh living conditions, click on “The Mountain Thief” website. Gerry Balasta has joined the Poverty News Blog Facebook group, so we hope to have continuing updates on the charitable efforts of the Mount Hope Project.


Holly said...

Thank you for spotlighting this project and the work Gerry has done and continues to do. As a result of your post I was able to get in touch with him and hope to assist him in getting help for the children.

Kale said...

That is awesome Holly, Thank you so much.

Holly said...

I am heavily involved with a small NPO providing resource and support to a school and children's home in the slums in Kenya.

We'd like to post the link to Poverty News Blog on our site so our readers can keep up on stories related to poverty around the world.

Is that okay with you?

I can send you the link to the blog if you'd like!

Kale said...

Sure, go ahead!

I think I visited your blog yesterday. I'll include it my list of links today.