Short film honors Filipino American experiences

“When We Danced” was screened for attendees at Norris Cinema Theatre.

The Asian Pacific Cinema Association, Asian Pacific Alumni Association and Troy Philippines hosted a film screening and panel. Filipino American History Month. (Alia Yee Noll / Daily Trojan)

In honor of Filipino American History Month in October, the Asian Pacific Cinema Association, Asian Pacific Alumni Association and Troy Philippines sponsored a screening of “When We Danced,” a short film directed by alum Ryan Moore at Norris Cinema Theatre Friday.

“This is such a huge event, especially during Filipino American History Month,” said Scott Castillo, a senior studying psychology and the president of Troy Philippines, as he addressed the packed theater. “It’s a huge way to celebrate our culture and celebrate our stories and our representation in the media.”

The short film tells the story of a manong, or someone from the first generation of Filipino migrant workers who moved to the United States in the early 1900s. The young man dreams of joining his local dance club but gets rejected, as someone points him to the “White Only” sign. Decades later, the man has become a grandfather, and his grandson Michael struggles socially at school. His grandfather teaches him how to dance as a way to repair his relationships with both his grandson and the art of dancing.

“It’s really about sharing that generational shift between both Michael and his grandparents, and how their passion for dancing connects them and at the same time drives them apart,” said Jace Izuno, who plays Michael in “When We Danced.” “It’s really just the dichotomy of that and trying to find a bond between them.”

Moore graduated from USC in 2004, and he worked on friends’ student films throughout college. He spoke about his experience living in the Philippines from age 14 to 19 as “the most beautiful experience” he’s ever had, giving him a lot of the inspiration behind making “When We Danced.”

“[I] learned about where I came from, found out my grandmother made ends meet by selling just anything out of a sari-sari store on the side of the street,” Moore said. ”Because my grandmother went through so much hardship, but she never said anything, I always wanted to tell [my family’s] story through her.”

The short film takes place during World War II, similar to Moore’s grandparents’ experiences.

“During the Second World War, my grandfather used to serenade [my grandmother] in soldier halls, so he would strike up the band and he would dance,” Moore said. “Although he died pretty young, I always imagined what would have happened if he was a part of the manong generation and came here.”

After the screening, APCA assistant programming director Jazmyne Aquino hosted a panel with Moore, “When We Danced” actors Izuno and Darion Basco, and special guest comedian Jo Koy to discuss the importance of Asian American and Filipino representation.

“It’s just great to finally be seen,” Koy said, “[for] my mom [to] be seen, and have lolas and lolos, their story being heard, because they’re always so silent for so long.”

The short film’s themes of resilience and family pervaded the discussion as the four panelists talked about what the film meant to them as Filipino Americans.

“In the movie, that’s my parents’ story. People understand when you’re telling the truth,” Basco said. “They get it whether you’re Filipino [or not]. It is your family because we’re human.”

The panelists also discussed the hardships of being a person of color in a white-dominated industry such as acting.

“In the early ’80s, if you go to a casting call, and it’s asking for the Asian person, they’d look at me like, ‘What’s the Mexican dude doing in this room?’” Bosco said. “We gotta do it ourselves, unfortunately … It’s a struggle. But the beauty of telling the stories and seeing ourselves out there makes it all worth it. That’s what it is, [working as] Filipino artists in this industry.”

Norris Theatre rang out with laughter and applause as multiple generations celebrated “When We Danced” as a tribute to Filipino American culture and the universality of Moore’s story.

Nicole Concepcion, a junior majoring in computer science and a member of Troy Philippines, spoke to the power of the media to “reflect the world that we see around us” in an interview before the screening.

“It’s really important to highlight all the diverse people that we have, not just on campus, but out in the world,” Concepcion said. “I remember the first time that I felt seen in media that it was extremely special to me, and I could only imagine how special that is for everyone else.”

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