Winner of three awards in the 2016 Cine Filipino Film Festival and two more awards from the Los Angeles Philippine International Film Festival, Randolph Longjas’ heartwarming comedy-drama, “Star na si Van Damme Stallone” is one of the 12 entries in the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino film festival opening in theaters nationwide on Wednesday.
The film is about a kid diagnosed with Down syndrome and whose supportive family tried to do everything to help him achieve his dream of becoming an action star after the two Hollywood stars that inspired his name, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone.
Based on real life characters and events, Direk Randolph said the film was inspired by his cousin who had Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by the presence of extra choromosomes.
“When I found out that she passed away a week before her 18th birthday, I felt that there was a need for me to show their voices in this platform especially in our country. In a way, this film is a tribute to her and for all the special parents and family taking care of a special child,” the filmmaker told InterAksyon.
Going in, Longjas knew that a project like “Star na si Van Damme Stallone” would be an extra challenge for him and his crew and not just because of the condition of the lead character but also because of other circumstances that constantly forced them to push their creativity.
For casting, Longjas was not just looking for child actors who could act like they have Down syndrome, he wanted to cast kids who actually had the condition.
“Casting was a challenge in itself. I really wanted to make this film as genuine as possible. When I saw Paolo Pingol in his McDonald’s ad, he was my first choice for the role of the older Van Damme Stallone,” he recalled.
Casting the younger VanVan as he was referred in the film, was even harder. Even with a couple of visits to a home for kids with Down syndrome, Longjas couldn’t find the younger VanVan he was looking for. Then two days into the shoot, Jadford Dilanco entered their story conference and pretty much charmed his way into the role of the young VanVan.
For the role of Nadia, Van Damme Stallone’s mother, Longjas turned to Candy Pangilinan. Just like in his previous films, “Ang Turkey Man ay Pabo Rin,” and “Buy Now, Die Later,” the director believed that a comedian would bring more humanity to the role of VanVan’s mother while injecting just the right mix of humor and sensitivity.
Furthermore, Candy, 45, was bringing a wealth of personal experience to the role, having raised an autistic son, Quentin, now 15.
“I’m so glad that Candy took this project. I knew that she had so much to give. I couldn’t imagine myself directing this without her. I was in awe of the way she handled her scenes well with Paolo and Jadford.”
And because the film is personal to him, Longjas admitted that he and his crew became emotional and cried during scenes involving Paolo and Jadford.
“Yes, most of the time we cried not because it’s difficult to shoot because of their circumstances, but because of the sense of fulfillment we get every time Jadford and Paolo accomplish something. For instance, I did not know Paolo has never buttoned an entire shirt but he finally did it during our shoot. It was the longest take I had ever done, but he did it. And that mattered to everyone in the set. We were all in tears after his little success,” he recalled.
Even with all its challenges, Longjas is very proud of what he and his team had accomplished with “Star na si Van Damme Stallone.”
“This film is full of love. This isn’t work for us but a lot of commitment because these kids have touched our lives in so many ways. It may sound cheesy but it’s true, these kids really changed our lives,” he admitted.
“I thought I was going to learn patience in this film. But I learned so much more than that. Understanding and believing that kids with Down syndrome can also do the things that we do makes them more involved in our society.”
The film also stars Sarah Brakensiek, Ebong Joson, Acey Aguilar, Mara Marasigan, and Isaac Aguirre, who won the Cine Filipino Best Supporting Actor for his role as Van Damme Stallone’s older brother, Tano.
“Star na si Van Damme Stallone” will be shown from March 16 to 22 in Philippine cinemas nationwide. For screening schedules and more information, visit the film’s Facebook page at https://web.facebook.com/VanDammeStallonePH/.
Watch the full trailer here: