Faith, Family & Filmmaking: Interview with Direktor Sigfreid Barros Sanchez

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“Money can fill your stomach with food and can give you things, but doing your art feeds your soul.  Art is always there for you, when you have only little money or few pieces of rice,” the director and screenwriter Sigfreid Barros Sanchez shared about how he became involved in film.  Growing up with relatives in the arts but still winding through the different paths of life that included basketball, law school, marriage and kids, this path of filmmaking, this is what called to him.

His recent film “Magtanggol,” is a tribute to the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), many of whom are working and being exploited in many parts of the world.  A portion of each movie ticket is going towards an OFW fund with the Philippine chapter of Migrante.  “In the Old Testament, the Israelites were the slaves and abused workers, but in today’s world, they are the Filipinos who are abused globally,” says Barros Sanchez.

Telling the story about OFWs, Direk Sigfreid crafted this film with his unique style through a first-time-ever whodunit genre.  One hallmark of his screenwriting is to include always “a tie to advocacy,” so that “people will want to respond in a different way to the topic, maybe even talk about the movie over the next week and into the next month.”  Since the story is told in a different way, there are also “characters who are not black and white” such as the college party boy who becomes the ambitious Senator advocating on behalf of the OFWs, or the socially activist college student whose definition of justice changes over time.  In the same way, all OFW employers are not abusive, because some will promote higher education and welfare for their employees.  With such a diverse array of characters, the audience can then see themselves in the characters.  Another key feature of his films is at least one character who “appears as the ever-present God-like figure.”  In this way, people have something to hold onto and cling to knowing that God is involved in their lives.  In contrast to other films about OFWs, this film arrives at a conclusion that is more hopeful, with “something to uplift the spirit” and “uplifts the stature” of the OFWs.

Click here for a preview of this film.

So what drives a man like him to make these kinds of films?  Search for his full name on IMDB, and you’ll find a sparse profile but Sigfreid claims, “It’s not about the movie ticket sales, it’s not about the positive reviews of the movie critics.”  As a husband and father of four boys ranging from 6 to 19 years old, he shares that, “My family is my foundation, and at home I am not the director.”  Since his wife and sons know him better than his critics, it is a higher compliment when one of his sons will say this is his “best” film and another son invites his friends and teachers to a film screening.

Even more motivating for him is when someone who could not otherwise have seen the movie, has a chance to watch it.  His desire for that “wider audience” comes through his analogy, “In our early Philippine history, our national heroes hid their works in Bibles, so that everyday people could get to them… [in the same way], I want people to have similar access to my films.”

Note:   As part of the National Heroes week celebration during August 24-30 in the Philippines, there will be another film screening at Rockwell.  There are ongoing efforts to provide screenings at schools.

Note for US viewers:  In order to watch this film, you may have to attend the Los Angeles Philippine International Film Festival or the Manhattan International Film Festival.  It is uncertain whether the film will be available via Netflix or Iflix.

Maybe you’re wondering how I connected with this film and this director:  Since reading about this film in the newspaper from early June, I’ve searched for a way to watch this film. Not wanting to give up after not seeing any listings at local movie theaters, I wandered around the Internet to find out more about the film.  Thanks to a Facebook page for the movie, I promptly sent a message to see if I could interview the producers.  For a while I stayed in contact with the anonymous person responding to my private messages, until I saw that the University of the Philippines Film Institute, not far from our home, was hosting a screening.  Finally I had a chance to see the film and pursue more interviews with the right people, but of course, it was the night before I was to preach my first sermon.  With good incentive to finish my sermon early, I attended the film screening and met the director, or in Filipino, Direktor.  Before the movie, I handed him our family’s prayer card and offered my “elevator speech” of an introduction, asking for an interview.  After the movie on the way out, he handed me his business card, and I promised to follow up with an interview.

After that film screening, Direk Sigfreid and I have attempted several times to find the time and space to discuss the film and his filmmaking.  From my email signature that includes the line “In partnership with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines,” we discovered that our Protestant Christian faith and UCCP link also were also points of connection.  Such a small-world connection made it less intimidating and more exciting to talk with him.

During our interview on Sunday July 31, we met in a Sunday School room of the UCCP-Cosmopolitan Church in Manila.  Later that evening the church would host a Service of Thanksgiving to honor the many elected and appointed leaders serving in national government.  Stay tuned for another blog post for another time or maybe in our next quarterly newsletter.   There Sigfreid and his wife shared how he and his family attend the UCCP-Cosmopolitan Church in Manila, starting with his grandparents, then his parents who were married there, and all 4 of his sons were baptized there.  Incidentally this was the first church that we visited after our family moved to Manila in early March.

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