Journalism alumna makes film fest history

Villarama. Photo by Miah Terrenz Provido

WHAT began as a simple trip to Hong Kong led to a Thomasian filmmaker’s milestone opus in the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).

“Sunday Beauty Queen,” directed by journalism alumna Baby Ruth Villarama, marked the first time a documentary was included in the MMFF and even win the Best Picture award.

The documentary, shot over a four-year period, chronicled the lives of Filipino nannies in Hong Kong who organized beauty pageants on Sundays to entertain and raise funds for their fellow Filipinos.

“[The film] reflects the Filipino value of resilience and the spirit of strength despite any struggle that they’re going through and when I talk about struggle, the struggle that’s even beyond our own struggles,” Villarama told the Varsitarian.

Though the film dealt with the harsh labor conditions abroad, Villarama made sure that the characters in her documentary were able to empower viewers.

“You don’t want your characters to be victims. They’re already victims when you look at it because they work in a system so wrong,” she said.

“For me, I want that to translate to my audience. That’s what we need – to be entertained in an inspiring and engaging way,” she added.


The film’s sudden development, “serendipity” as what Villarama calls it, was inspired the first time she attended a Hong Kong film market in 2011 with the intent to promote independent films to global festivals. As they did their courtesy call to the Philippine consulate, they were invited to do research on a “peculiar beauty pageant” that the Filipinos hold annually.

“We had our own OFW experience [and] was immersed to the lives of our kababayans in Hong Kong,” Villarama said.

Having been fascinated with the diversity of cultures shown in documentaries at a young age, Villarama knew from the start that she would pursue a degree that would hone her skills behind the scenes.

“I know from the start that I want to be a story teller. I just couldn’t define what kind, but definitely, documentary is really one of the things I want to concentrate on because not many people are into it,” she said.

Villarama is glad her team is changing the game of theannual festival.

Aside from Best Picture, “Sunday Beauty Queen” also won the Best Editing and Festival’s Children’s Choice awards.

“We didn’t really scheme ourselves to be part of it,” she said. “It had something to do with timing, serendipity and a lot of passion and commitment to get to the end point of the story.”


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