December 5, 2012

The Long Dark Journey

by Philbert Ortiz Dy


Boundary is a film of tremendous ingenuity. It begins with an odd note, establishing the strangeness of the world at large. Then it moves the action to a taxi. And inside this confined space, the movie does miraculous things. It explores the treacherous ground of human connection, and builds an atmosphere of tension that consumes every single inch of the frame. The story ends up in familiar territory, but the trip there is more than worth it.

Limuel (Ronnie Lazaro) is a taxi driver. On a busy night in the Christmas season, he picks up Emmanuel (Raymond Bagatsing). Limuel drives Emmanuel through the city traffic to the other side of Metro Manila, and on the way, the two get to know each other. But not everything is at it seems. Both of them are hiding secrets, and before the night is through, those secrets will force both of them to the edge of their humanity.

The main action starts when those secrets are revealed, and that’s better left to the audience to discover on their own. But even before that action sets off, there are already plenty of indicators of the turmoil that follows. The film largely takes place within the confines of Limuel’s festively lit taxi, practically every frame suggesting claustrophobia. Furtive glances belie the openness of their conversation, building an atmosphere of paranoia even as trust is supposedly being built. This movie drips with tension, the cab a powder keg of possibility, simply waiting for either passenger to light the fuse.

A lot of the credit has to go to the direction. It is amazing how much movement the movie gets inside the cramped space of a taxi. The camera lets in the night, letting the darkness seep into the metal carriage, welcoming the odd luster of Manila after dark. The scenes inside the taxi are so well done that it’s almost a disappointment when the characters step out. The business outside the car isn’t really as interesting or as menacing as the quiet terror evoked by the confines of the vehicle. It results in a climax that doesn’t quite feel as satisfying as the buildup.

Two actors anchor this movie, and one of them happens to be Ronnie Lazaro. There is no movie in existence that Lazaro does not make better. And when he is at the center of the action, the result is often mesmerizing. Lazaro wears the story on his face, the tension embedded in his eyes, the struggle of his character etched plainly on the side of his mouth. Ronnie Lazaro is one of the finest actors in the country, and this movie is just more proof of that. Raymond Bagatsing steps up as well, matching Lazaro with a layered performance that plays with shifting identities.

Boundary is a serious pleasure. It is a film that transcends the limits of space and time, turning a taxi into a vast landscape of darkness, and transforming a single night into an endless ordeal of secrets, lies and unbroken tension. The revelations end up feeling a bit underwhelming, but it was never about the destination. As is often the case, the real joy is in the journey. This particular journey takes the audience down dark paths, even as it depicts the strange bonds that can be formed between complete strangers. That’s a remarkable thing.

My Rating:


June 7, 2012

New Filipino Cinema at YBCA spotlights Philippines

by G. Allen Johnson


The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,100 islands, so it’s no surprise there’s a lot going on there – such as: a child Christ, gay zombies, a rock ‘n’ roll band going for the big time, a taxi driver on the ride of his life and a Vietnam War vet with a vast harem.

Those are some of the stories in a major retrospective at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts series New Filipino Cinema, which serves as a frontlines report of what’s going on in what Center programmer Joel Shepard calls the most underrated independent film region in the world.

“It’s still shocking to me how much quality and talent there is, and how little of it is recognized,” said Shepard, who has made about a half-dozen trips to the Philippines in recent years and has returned with 29 films, 25 of which are U.S. premieres. “It’s wide open.”

It says something about the commitment to the underserved of Shepard and series co-curator Philbert Ortiz By, a critic from Manila, that there are no films by the most internationally recognized Filipino director, Brillante Mendoza (the first director from the Philippines to win best director at the Cannes Film Festival, for “Kinatay” in 2009). Another goal of the series was to expand beyond the cliche of films set in garbage dumps and crushing poverty.

“That is not the Philippines,” Shepard said. “That stuff exists, but there’s this whole other aspect of society.”

Thursday night’s opener, “Niño,” is a touching portrait of an aristocratic family who, with debts piling up, pray for a miracle and dress up a young boy as the child Christ, or Santo Niño. (The film will be preceded by a performance by Alleluia Panis of San Francisco Kularts, which presents contemporary and tribal Filipino arts.)

Popular cinema is not ignored, either: Saturday’s program includes a documentary portrait of horror film character actress Lilia Cuntapay and two films that played in shopping mall multiplexes: “Rakenrol,” a love story set amid the Manila rock scene, and “Remington and the Curse of the Zombardings,” a gay zombie movie that uses comedy horror to tackle homophobia.

“The stories are all over the place,” said director Benito Bautista, who will present his feature narrative debut, “Boundary,” on Friday night with an actor in the film, Edwin Nombre. “You can go to the northern part of Manila and be in an entirely different region. … (The Philippines) are 7,100 islands, and every single place has a story, in its own genre.”

Bautista has been living in the Bay Area since 1984 but has worked on projects both in the United States and the Philippines. While he was working on a documentary in Manila, he found himself taking a lot of taxi rides.

“There’s a different landscape, a different grit (to Manila), and I wanted to express that,” Bautista said. “The taxicab experience is a very unique experience. I could feel the heartbeat of metro Manila. I could feel personal economics of the taxi drivers. And we’re listening to the radio and getting the whole city experience. … I started riding the taxi, even if I wasn’t going anywhere. I rode it on different times of the day – rush hour to see the stress, the dark hours of the night. … I would write in the back of taxis.”

In a way, the whole New Filipino Cinema series is like a taxi ride through the cinematic landscape of a fascinating corner of the world. Look out the window – you’ll see what’s happening.

Through June 17. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., S.F. (415) 978-2700.

G. Allen Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:

This article appeared on page G – 22 of the San Francisco Chronicle

June 1, 2012


by Michael Guillen

Source: The Evening Class

A half hour into Benito Bautista’s BOUNDARY and I’m mesmerized by Bautista’s orchestrated sense of foreboding, McCoy Tarnate’s neon-stained and vehicularly claustrophobic cinematography, and the grating disquietude of Coke Bolipata’s anxious violin score. This is Manila neo-noir, darkly beautiful and atmospheric with distrust, uncertainty, desperation and pathos.

As synopsized by Joel Shepard for YBCA’s “New Filipino Cinema” series: “Boundary is set in the crowded urban roadways of Manila during Christmas. A nervous taxi driver picks up an easy-going businessman as his last passenger for the night. Their journey together to a far-flung suburb takes a wrong turn in more ways than one, and becomes a wickedly tense portrait of urban anxiety and shifting identities.”

Winner of the NETPAC Award at the 2011 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival as well as a special mention in that festival’s South East Asian competition, it’s easy to understand how Boundary ended up on Oggs Cruz’s Top 15 Feature Length Filipino Films of 2011 at Lessons From the School of Inattention, where he praised a storyline “that unites top-level corruption with bottom-level criminality.”

That storyline bears striking similarities to the urban narrative of Amok (2011), undoubtedly because it shares John Bedia’s co-authorship. “New Filipino Cinema” provides a fantastic opportunity to experience Bedia’s burgeoning screenwriting talent, as both of his film credits to date have been programmed into the series. Whereas Chard Bolisay was referencing Amok when he wrote that the film’s denouement was a “gala of predictable outcomes and unpredictable victims”, his observation could just as easily apply to Boundary. Bedia likewise seems drawn to the interior world of vehicles, momentarily safe from but ultimately encroached upon by the menace of Manila. He scripts the permeability of this boundary.

How directors Lawrence Fajardo and Benito Bautista have stylized the mise-en-scène of Bedia’s confined vehicular sequences in their respective films is an equally fascinating consideration of the auteurial conversion of word to image. Amok‘s diurnal and sweltering visualization is in sharp contrast to Boundary‘s lustrous nocturnality, awash with vivid oranges and greens bleeding in from the city’s neon lights, as well as the Christmas lights strung up within the cab’s interior. Tarnate’s containment of so much color and movement within the constraints of the vehicle is downright masterful. I found myself frequently intrigued by his shifting camera placement and wondering how even one more person (i.e., the cameraman) could fit into an already crowded cab?

In the role of the guilt-ridden cab driver, Ronnie Lazaro—who I last saw in Affliction (Yanggaw, 2008), reviewed by both Oggs Cruz and Chard Bolisay—exudes the sweaty desperation of Manila cab drivers sympathetically described by Cruz at Lessons From the School of Inattention. His fare, the ruggedly handsome Raymond Bagatsing, suggests a different temperature of menace. Together, within the confines of the cab and the guarded limits of their conversation, they reflect in microcosm the shady ways of the outer world.

Boundary negotiates its interior and exterior spaces at YBCA’s “New Filipino Cinema” on Friday, June 8, 9:00PM, with Bautista in person to Q&A with his audience. I envy this opportunity as Boundary has emerged as one of my favorites from the YBCA series. Ticket info can be found here.

April 28, 2012

BOUNDARY garnered major nominations for the 35th Gawad Urian: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actors (Ronnie Lazaro and Raymond Bagatsing), Best Sound.  Congratulations to all the nominees!

The 35th Gawad Urian Nominees

April 28, 2012

BOUNDARY uses taxicab as metaphor for human existence

by Burl Burlingame

Source: PULSE

Benito Bautista is not just a practitioner of storytelling; it runs in his blood.

“As a young boy in Balubad, I used to lie beneath the mango tree in our yard and listen to my lolo — grandfather — tell stories,” Bautista recalled. “Stories about the war, stories about love and adventure. Stories connect us. I got it from him!”

That early inspiration sparked Bautista’s passion for movies. After a decade of filmmaking classes, internships and production jobs, Bautista created “Harana,” a feature-length documentary, and he’s now moved on to features.

His new film, “Boundary,” is making the rounds of film festivals. And it’s doing quite well, scoring awards at Cinemalaya and Cinemanila festivals. On April 28, “Boundary” will be featured as one of six films from both “acclaimed and emerging” Filipino filmmakers.

“Boundary” is an unsettling and tense tale about a nervous cabbie, his spookily unruffled passenger and a small gang of street punks. And it was born on the back seat of a taxicab.

Meeting with producers and investors, Bautista got used to scooting around Manila in cabs. As the Philippine economy improves, the taxi business is booming, beginning to fill an important space between public transportation and personal transport.

“I started talking to the cabdrivers. Each one has a story to tell!” Bautista said from his home base in San Francisco. “I was fascinated by the unusual interaction between taxi drivers and passengers. There’s nothing else like it.”

Anyone used to quick, snappy patter in movies might be put off by the uncomfortable silences in “Boundary.” “But that’s the way people talk in cabs, considering their answers first. It’s a waiting game. After all, you don’t know this person. And there’s lots of eye contact in the rearview mirror. That’s a kind of dialogue, too.”

The title comes from Manila cabbie slang for the amount of money a driver’s shift must pull in to pay for the vehicle lease. “But we all have boundaries — it’s a metaphor for existence,” Bautista said. “Basically, we work and work so we can continue to exist, to make ends meet.”

The opening scene of the film, in which the jittery — and obviously broke — cabdriver counts up pennies in his head to buy a banana from a child street vendor, sets the stage. “Boundary” is not so much about capitalism as the behavior-molding aspects of it.

Much of the film is challengingly murky in terms of story clarity. Bautista seems more interested in the silences between words than the words themselves.

“Unlike many movies — most movies — it’s not laid out for you what’s going on with each character,” he said. “You have to deal with your own reactions to them. We must all calculate. There are instances in everyone’s life where you turn a corner and have no idea who this guy is you run into.”

The cast, with the main focus on cabbie Ronnie Lazaro and mysterioso passenger Raymond Bagatsing, workshopped for several weeks before committing to the four-day shoot. Bautista coached them to slow down, to add air to their dialogue, which helped build suspense.

The set, such as it was, was primarily confined to the interior of a taxicab decorated with Christmas lights, an ironically cheerful counterpoint to the unsettling goings-on. It all takes place in the hellish glow of sodium street lamps and waves of flashing headlights.

It only took four days to shoot because Bautista pretty much had the film already composed in his imagination.

“It’s tough to shoot inside a taxi!” he admits. “We’re not a big production, so we had to use a real cab, and we were all crammed in there, camera man, sound man and me, and the actors. As an independent production, we had to keep on the run — we’re a moving picture company! — and work around everybody’s Christmas schedules.”

Like all independent films, “we’re now fishing for time and scheduling, and we always lose to big studios,” Bautista said, laughing.

Bautista will introduce his film and answer questions at the festival.


Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art

When: Saturday-April 29 (this week’s listings, page 18); “Boundary” screens at 1, 4 and 7:30 p.m. April 28

Cost: $8-$10; $12-$15 for opening-night reception, 6 p.m. Saturday

Info: 532-8700 or

February 14, 2011

When asked film critic, writer, and Asian Film Festival & Distribution Companies consultant Bastian Meiresonne his top ten list of films in 2011 in Asia, Meiresonne responded with his top ten list for each country in Asia.

BOUNDARY is honored to be included in his top ten films from the Philippines.

To see Bastian Meiresonne’s full lists, please visit:

CINEMAS of ASIAJournal of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema
BOUNDARY [review] by Neel Chaudhuri
January, 2012

It is nearing Christmas time in Metro Manila. Limuel, a beleaguered taxi driver, steers his cab through the city as it turns to dusk. A radio broadcast brings us up to date with local news: Christmas shopping, heavy traffic, the illegal dealings of cab drivers, and the disappearance of the Commissioner of Interior and Local Government. Limuel picks up a passenger outside a restaurant, a suave gentleman headed towards Antipolo.

It is a slow, jittery ride, and driver and passenger make small talk. Through their conversation we learn of the cab driver’s tribulations; the company extracts a stiff “boundary” (quota) on the fare, forcing Limuel to work a 24-hour shift to be able to support his family. As they move into the darker quarters of the city, the talk turns somber. Almost immediately, three boys from the street swoop into the car and hold the passenger hostage with ice picks. Limuel, quite evidently, is a reluctant accomplice, owing the boys a different sort of “boundary.” “I’m sorry, Sir. Just trying to make ends meet,” is all he can manage as his feeble defence. Diego, the high-strung leader of the boys, takes over the wheel as they roam around searching for an ATM. They pass a checkpoint where the passenger is recognised by the guards who choose not to blow their cover. Suspicious of his hostage’s identity, Diego stops the car and confronts him. Minutes later they are caught in the arresting beam of headlights, surrounded on all sides by a posse of SUVs…

Boundary is a remarkably tense film, with an opening that feels distinctly like something out of Beckett or Buñuel: a vagrant Limuel wanders about, fiddles with his shoe, eats a banana and then, shortly after, there is a fleeting image of a dead bird in the water. Through the rest of the film, director Benito Bautista maintains a steady hold in a drama of unsteady moments. The first half is dominated by seemingly mundane exchanges between Limuel and his passenger, and yet, I found it as unsettling as the terrifying denouement. The dialogue is sparse and there are pregnant pauses before the characters answer each other. There are hints and red herrings but you always sense – in their shifting glances and the manner in which they measure each other – that one man will betray the other. But who will betray who?

This foreboding air is accentuated, perhaps too eagerly at times, by the sound design and score. Coke Bolipata’s string arrangements pierce through in near-operatic stabs. The ambient noise of traffic pervades, but is abruptly sucked out every now and then to leave us with the hollow silence of interiors. As a visual synonym, McCoy Tarnate’s cinematography is made up mostly festishising close-ups of faces and objects, punctuated by overhead glimpses of Manila by night. And somewhat perversely, given the murky undertones of the film, everything is bathed in the tungsten glow of streetlamps and the festive interiors of Limuel’s car. Only moments before the car is invaded, Limuel is presented with a Christmas lantern by his passenger.

As the ragged Limuel, Ronnie Lazaro’s performance anchors the film in the quicksand between guilt and despair. The most enduring image of Boundary is his browbeaten face, captured in the frame of the rear view mirror, staring forth into uncertainty. Raymond Bagatsing strikes a delicate balance between candour and mystery as the passenger, Emmanuel. One is never sure what he is thinking and his unwavering composure suggests that he is always a step ahead. Indeed, the most unnerving feature of Boundary is the moral ambiguity that clouds the film. Bautista’s Manila is not heartless, but you would be hard-pressed to find a shred of innocence on its streets. In one of the more startling moments in the film, a young boy at a gas station shows Limuel a scar from a stab wound. The cab driver sympathises and offers him a few coins and a caution. “Be careful.” “You be careful”, the boy spits back. Much of the violence in Boundary occurs at the end, but long before that, you have already sensed a firm hand at your throat.

Boundary received the NETPAC Award at the 7th Cinemalaya Independent Philippine Film Festival.

About the Author:

Neel Chaudhuri is a playwright, theatre director and critic based in New Delhi, India. He was the Deputy Editor of Osian’s-Cinemaya, the Asian Film Quarterly, and a programmer with the Osian’s-Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema.

REVIEWS, 2011 – Capsules:


  • Lyndon Maburaot (Cinephiles)

“A road movie that actually devoted 95 percent of its time inside a taxi. Technically polished, well-directed, long ride but never boring performances. Raymond Bagatsing stole the show.”

  • Carl Papa (Whatever, Carl)

“Technically the movie is top notch.  The sound is great, the editing is tight and the visuals are pretty gritty.  The musical score is love.  This suspense thriller film is gripping and something that I would want to watch again.”

  •  Don Jaucian (The Almanac of Fall)

“Bautista plays with our fears, using the everyday dangers of riding a cab, and personal dynamics to wound us with his nihilistic worldview.”

  • Ian Urrutia (Pinoy Cinema)

“This is Benito Bautista’s new film, Boundary, trying to take us to a sauntering ride of mind game and suspense. He invests in our consummation of everyday fears—the paranoia of having to travel in the darkest roads, the quietest of spaces, in the comfort (or discomfort) of someone you believed you trust.”

  • Oggs Cruz (Twitch)

“In the end, Bautista has crafted a firm and suspenseful thriller whose clever twist in the end puts both perspective and pertinence to its constricting but intriguingly exciting process.”

  •  Manuel Pangaruy (Cinephiles)

“Talky s’ya pero crime/suspense movie rin. Nakuha pa rin n’yang mabuo ang terror na gusto nitong sabihin. Maliban sa visual, inalagaan din ang ibang aspeto kamukha ng tunog at musical score (na ilang distorted na violin piece). Under control ang direktor. Alam n’ya ang ginagawa n’ya at may taste s’ya sa pagkuha kay Coke Bolipata bilang musical scorer.”

REVIEW: Boundary (2011) by Vincenzo Tagle
Source: Film Misery
November 17, 2011

Boundary’s biggest strength lies in its storytelling. San Francisco-based Filipino filmmaker Benito Bautista clearly knows how to tell a compelling narrative as he has written and directed a contemporary, thrilling movie that keeps you at the edge of your seat. But more than just being a great suspense film, it also provides a sharp commentary on the underlying social issues that plague gritty Manila.

Boundary tells the story of a taxi driver working in the heart of the metropolis. On one of his nightly rounds, he picks up a well-to-do passenger, and he quickly establishes a seemingly friendly rapport with him. But as the car ride continues, there is a mysteriously tense atmosphere lingering inside the claustrophobic confines of the cab as each of them harbors dark secrets, secrets that are slowly revealed along the way.

It is very satisfying to see the balance of power shift among the different characters throughout the movie. There is a masterful restraint in Bautista’s direction – he lets his characters play a very complex mind game without it ever feeling clichéd or over-the-top. The movie’s dark cinematography and unnerving music helps in creating a persistently suffocating atmosphere, letting the movie’s paranoia and uneasiness crawl unsettlingly underneath your skin as you anticipate each player’s next move.

Bautista drew inspiration from the real stories of cab drivers, and there is a deeper sociopolitical message that the movie makes. We see how the bleak conditions of Manila compel people to make morally bankrupt decisions, and how these situations are caused by endemic forms of corruption that dictate how Philippine politics is done. Because Boundary is successful on multiple levels, Bautista has proven that he is one of the Filipino directors to watch out for.

Cinemanila 2011: BOUNDARY Review
by Oggs Cruz
Nov. 8, 2011

Confined mostly within the very small spaces provided for by the cabs, taxi drivers live lives that are well-suited for cinema. Although they are forced to interact with people of various personalities, needs and intentions, this human interaction is limited to services being offered and stories being shared in the interim. They are constantly embattled, by drowsiness when forced to drive nights, by paranoia when a particular passenger raises suspicions, by desperation when the shift’s earnings are not enough to cover the cab owner’s quota leaving them with hardly any income to live with. Within the rigid confines of their cabs and their means of livelihood, they witness, either through the endless tirades of newscasters in the radio programs they listen to or through actual experiences, the worst of what a corrupt society can deal to a person.

Boundary starts ominously. Coke Bolipata’s violin wails in the background as a dishevelled and obviously paranoia-stricken cab driver (Ronnie Lazaro) opts for a snack in what seems to be an ironically idyllic riverside park. Within the first few minutes of the film, director Benito Bautista orchestrates a view of Manila that is intriguingly unhinged. He carefully sows the seeds of suspicion, which will eventually color the atmosphere of the film. The film retreats from the temporary comforts of day as it follows the cab driver as he plies the crowded streets of Manila well into the night. At this juncture, Bautista allows a glimpse of the city from a distance and away the jaded eyes of his overworked protagonist, evoking a certain calm amidst the chaos of the city before plunging his viewers into a more intimate yet intense look of how that seemingly disconnected bigger picture finds its way into the most contained of spaces.

From then on, Bautista follows the cab driver as he picks up a well-dressed man (Raymond Bagatsing) who asks to be driven to nearby Antipolo. Beneath exteriors defined by random acts of decency and conversations marked by normalcy, both the driver and his passenger are in fact brewing plans of their own.

The action is mostly set inside the cab, with the storytelling done mostly through the conversations the cab driver has with his passenger and the characterization limited to the stories relayed, the mannerisms, gestures, and other occasional quirks. The paranoia Bautista invested in early on manages to color the prolonged sequences within the cramped interior of the cab with tremendous foreboding, carrying the film despite being constricted with its location with a sizeable portion of uneasiness and tension. From within the cab, safety from the viciousness of the street is in fact an illusion as desperation creeps into the picture, forcing the cab driver to survive amidst all odds.

Boundary falters only in logic. Bautista succeeds in establishing the dangers of uncertainty in the familiar. However, the screenplay, which Bautista co-wrote with John Bedia, is peppered with holes, raising more questions of logistics and practicality rather than answering them. This, of course, is a minor and forgivable problem considering that everything else seems so masterfully orchestrated, from Bolipata and Paolo Peralta’s unsettling score to McCoy Ternate’s aptly economic cinematography to Chuck Gutierrez’s intelligent editing. In the end, Bautista has crafted a firm and suspenseful thriller whose clever twist in the end puts both perspective and pertinence to its constricting but intriguingly exciting process.

(Boundary is showing in Cinemanila International Film Festival under the South East Asian Films in Competition section happening. Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)


US-based Filipino director wins coveted prize for film about taxicabs in Manila

by Bayani San Diego, Jr. – Philippine Daily Inquirer

It has been a heady ride so far, much like commuting in a taxicab on the chaotic streets of Manila.

Still, winning the Netpac [Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema] prize for his film “Boundary” at this year’s Cinemalaya was “heartwarming and momentarily surreal,” says Benito Bautista.

Cinching the prize was the farthest thing from his mind when he started the “physically draining” adventure that was “Boundary,” he tells Inquirer Entertainment via e-mail.

“Boundary” is about a nervous cabbie, an enigmatic passenger and a brazen thief whose paths cross one hectic night during the holidays.

Bautista, based in California, takes cabs to get around in Manila (he’s working on his next project here). “After my first few rides, I was drawn to the drivers’ stories. Before I knew it, I was researching [about] their world.” 

Biggest hurdle was gathering the cast—composed of indie faves Ronnie Lazaro, Edwin Nombre and Raymond Bagatsing—for the shoot, which predominantly took place in a cramped and gaily decorated taxicab. “We had to work out the cast and crew’s schedules for the Christmas holidays,” Bautista recounts.

But the four-day shoot went smoothly. “Working with Ronnie, Raymond and Edwin, I saw the film clearly even before the cameras started grinding,” the director relates.

Bautista’s own journey as filmmaker began as a 9-year-old kid in Balubad, Bulacan. He recalls, “My parents used to leave me with my grandparents, which I resented because I wanted to play with my cousins.”

His lolo (grandfather), Domiciano Salvador, kept him occupied with stories of war, politics, friendships and fistfights; his lola, Belen Cruz-Salvador, fed him adobo and sinigang na baboy. “Those memories left a lasting impression on me,” Bautista says.

He dedicated his Netpac award to his lolo to whom he traces his love for storytelling.


Fil-Am director probes world of the Manila taxi driver

by Benjamin Pimentel (repost – GMA News Online / May 3, 2011)

A Manila taxi ride – now, that can be an adventure. But it can also be an enlightening experience if you happen to have a driver with an engaging story to tell and who is an engaging storyteller.I’ve had many memorable chats with taxi drivers. There was one who talked about his funny misadventures as an overseas worker in the Middle East. There was another who, with pride, told me of his and his son’s dream of starting a small food stall at a local public school. And there were several who excitedly shared their views on the latest political developments in the Philippines.I’ve also had a few strange encounters, like one night when my driver pointed out that the spot where he picked me up near Pantranco was notorious for hold-up robberies.The out-of-the-blue comment quickly raised a red flag in my mind as I braced myself for a robbery. But after a few minutes, I realized I was wrong. In fact, I got it backwards: It was my driver who was worried about getting robbed, and was probing for signs if I was a bad guy.Similar encounters inspired Benito Bautista to examine the world of the Manila taxi driver. His latest film, and his first full-length feature movie, “Boundary,” was inspired by conversations with Manila taxi drivers.He was in Manila for post-production for his documentary “Harana,” featuring the classical guitarist Florante Aguilar, when he became interested in the stories of the Manila taxi drivers.“All of a sudden, I was drawn into their stories and I became a captive listener,” Benito recalls.

“The taxicab stories are often personal, touching on the experience of work and family. A good number of taxicab drivers express their emotional commentaries about the political, social, and economic issues they hear on the AM radio,” according to the film’s production notes.

“A few taxicab drivers frankly and regrettably admit to Bautista their brief experience with the criminal underworld in order to support their meager income … They really know the areas that are crime infested and dangerous and the places that are safe. And amazingly, the taxicab drivers recognize a passenger to be dangerous or harmless by their body language.”

In fact, Bautista’s exploration of the world of the Manila taxi driver is framed as a crime thriller. A taxi driver named Limuel (Ronnie Lazaro) picks up a well-dressed passenger (Raymond Bagatsing) who comes across as a middle class executive.

On the ride from somewhere near EDSA to Cubao to Antipolo, they talk and even develop a form of friendship. But there’s tension on the long ride. That’s partly because Limuel is part of a conspiracy. In a scene that many commuters, especially at night, dread, Limuel stops in an isolated part of a street to let three gang members in.

But that was not the only twist in the story.

Bautista deftly tells a tale of suspense that offers a glimpse of Manila’s urban underworld. The film is propelled forward by the nuanced performances of three veteran actors – Bagatsing, Lazaro and the gang leader Diego played by Edwin Nombre.

Lazaro, in particular, demonstrates why he is one of the best Filipino dramatic actors with a powerful performance as the struggling, conflicted taxi driver.

The role was an even bigger challenge for Lazaro. He had to learn to drive like a Manila taxi driver. “Sige let’s do this! Rock and Roll!” he quips in production notes for the film.

Like any typical indie film, funding was a major hurdle. Bautista rallied friends and got the support of post-production outfits and friends and family. But he had to work with a tight budget. He even insisted on using recyclable materials for props, though that may also be due to the fact that he’s a longtime resident of the green-conscious San Francisco Bay Area.

The film was shot shortly after the last Christmas season. Bautista said he wanted to take advantage of the odd combination of joy and tension during that time of the year in Manila, when, despite the holiday cheer, there was also the “watch-out for snatchers, robbers, fire-crackers, explosions, carnappers, etc” energy in the metropolis.

The decision paid off, I think. “Boundary” is one wild and exciting ride.


Ronnie Lazaro, Raymond Bagatsing and Edwin Nombre to star for the first time together in an urban drama independent feature film

Boundary Production Still BOUNDARY is inspired by true stories of taxicab drivers of metropolitan Manila. It is set in the urban roadways of Manila during Christmas. Limuel (Ronnie Lazaro), a middle-aged taxicab driver picks up Emmanuel (Raymond Bagatsing), a handsome businessman as his last passenger for the night. Unknown to Emmanuel is Limuel’s conspiracy to bring him to the robbery hideout of Diego (Edwin Nombre), a feisty and volatile robbery gang leader. Their journey together from Cubao to Antipolo is riddled with inescapable tension and bad luck, and the only way out is to face their damnation.

While in Manila and awaiting for finishing funds for post-production of a feature documentary film called Harana, San Francisco-based independent filmmaker Benito Bautista finds riding taxicabs around the urban roadways of the metropolis and conversing with the taxicab drivers affecting.

Soon Mr. Bautista’s taxicab rides become an experience in storytelling, “All of a sudden, I was drawn into their stories and I became a captive listener.”  The taxicab stories are often personal, touching on the experience of work and family.  A good number of taxicab drivers express their emotional commentaries about the political, social, and economic issues they hear on the AM radio.  A few taxicab drivers frankly and regrettably admit to Bautista their brief experience with the criminal underworld in order to support their meager income. “They really know the areas that are crime infested and dangerous and the places that are safe.  And amazingly, the taxicab drivers recognize a passenger to be dangerous or harmless by their body language.”Boundary behind-the-scenes photo

After a good number of taxicab rides, director Bautista decided to do his research for a story.  “I wanted to do a story that will almost encapsulate all taxicab stories that I have encountered including the important locations that were disclosed to me by the taxicab drivers.  Knowing the constraints of time and budget, and scheduling of cast and crew during the holidays, I wanted to express a tension-filled and truthful story that can be shot in a few days.”

Writer-Director Bautista immediately wrote a skeleton structure of the story and presented it to SF-based filmmaker and Casting Director Emma Francisco.  Miss Francisco created a list of actors for the main characters and with a series of hopeful emails and text messages she immediately arranged director Bautista’s meeting with Ronnie Lazaro, Raymond Bagatsing, and Edwin Nombre.  “It was a dream casting for this film. I figure if Ronnie, Raymond, and Edwin do not find the story and the characters in the story appealing, then I would just develop another one.  I got lucky that they all liked it.  This will be the first time that the three of them are going to work together in a feature film and that got me excited,” says Bautista.

“It is going to be challenging because I have to learn to drive like a taxicab driver. Sige let’s do this! Rock and Roll!” remarks Ronnie Lazaro. “The graphic instrument in the film is the actor. And when your actors show you this undeniable twinkle and enthusiasm in their eyes as they begin to process their role then you know that you will become witness to an expression that is magical. And seriously it is an honor to be working with Ronnie, Raymond and Edwin in this film,” remarks director Bautista.

“The next step was to prepare the screenplay and have my friend John Bedia co-write it with me.  It really did not take us a long time to finish the screenplay.”  Writer John Bedia was excited to co-write a genre film.  “I wanted to explore a story about a crime drama genre film and I am also excited about the line-up of main actors and their roles in the film,” said Bedia.

Almost simultaneous to the writing of the screenplay, director Bautista together with Miss Francisco, who is also the Co-Producer of the film started to organize the production and the creative team.  “One of the most challenging stages of producing a film is the acquisition of funding.  We did not have adequate funds for this project, so we had to think of a workable solution in producing an urgent story.  We gathered a collective of creative friends including production and post production companies like BigTop Production, Voyage Studios, and Optima Digital, all of which we have worked with in the past.  We developed a collective-ownership strategy so that we could immediately lock down production schedules and commitments.  Fortunately, everyone greenlighted the proposal.”

Boundary behind-the-scenes photo Director Bautista immediately approached friends and family for assistance in the form of minimal investments that will be utilized for the administrative, logistics, van rentals, pre-production workshops, permits, partial salary for the actors, catering, etc.

“Sometimes when you are passionate about something especially a creative expression like film and the only hurdle is funding then you have no other option really but to pitch the project and honestly beg for assistance in the form of investment. Then silently you pray.”

After finishing the screenplay and a series of creative meetings with the collective of award-winning collaborators and workshops with non-actors, the film Boundary was finally shot two days after Christmas.  Director Bautista wanted to utilize the joyful atmosphere and the wary and tense, “watch-out for snatchers, robbers, fire-crackers, explosions, carnappers, etc” energy that is present during Christmas time in Manila.

According to both the Director of Photography Mccoy Tarnate and Sound Recordist Raffy Magsaysay the cramped condition inside the taxicab and the lack of time helped in the telling of the story. “We were in a claustrophobic condition and continually sweating inside the taxicab as we couldn’t really turn the air-conditioning on for sound recording but we thought that the experience motivated the telling of the tense moments of the journey”. Unperturbed by the long hours and minor setbacks like unacceptable permits, cinematographer Tarnate often expresses, “Walang problema basta steady lang”.

Noticeable also in the film are the lighting and production design inside the taxicab, which are the collaboration of Cinematographer Mccoy Tarnate, Production Designer Theresa Tang and Lighting Designer Jun Mirador. According to them, “We wanted to incorporate exposure with the design and motivation of Christmas. And Director Bautista does not want to buy expensive materials and insists on using recyclable materials for props and practicals”.

The making of a film relies heavily on collaboration amongst the different creative and administrative departments. “The film Boundary is a wonderful experience of trust and collaboration amongst the departments involved. Everyone from the Production Manager Reverie Rodelas, Assistant Director Grace Simbulan, SFX Make-up Joel Cuenca, Tech Consultants Raymund and Richard Belleza, the production crew all the way to the first time actors, catering, Art Department., transportation and logistics etc. really contributed in a very big way to the making of this film. “We did it together,” proudly remarks Director Bautista.

Boundary is an urban-drama feature film inspired by true stories of taxicab drivers of metropolitan Manila written by Benito Bautista and John Bedia, directed by Benito Bautista, and starring Ronnie Lazaro, Raymond Bagatsing, and Edwin Nombre.  The film is currently in post-production.  Watch out for more updates on post-production edit, musical scoring, sound design and color grading.

Boundary behind-the-scenes photo

Photos by Emma Francisco and Bert Aricheta


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