Fil-Am Movie Recommendation: Santa Mesa

As a Pinoy who watches a fair share of Filipino films which turns out to be a disappointment (2 hours of a sappy love story is not my cup of tea), it was a pleasant surprise for me to find out about Santa Mesa. Santa Mesa is a critically acclaimed film that examines a young Fil-Am’s experience of returning home to his roots in the Philippines.

For those of you Fil-Ams & Pinoys living abroad who return home and visit the Philippines, do you ever feel out of place like a fish out of water? New York-based Fil-Am filmmaker Ron Morales presents a film that captures the heart of a coming-of-age tale about a young Filipino American. For 12 year old Hector (Jacob Kiron Shalov), life isn’t easy after the death of his mother, an event that causes him to move to Manila to live with his estranged Lola (grandmother) Lita. Unable to speak Tagalog (national language) to his Lola, Hector has a hard time fitting in a country that is suppose to be his motherland and soon falls in with the wrong crowd.

Things seem to turn around for Hector as he befriends Jose, an older photographer who takes him in and begins to mentor him. Simultaneously he also finds comfort in a developing friendship and crush with Sel (Maria Lopez), as they commiserate over issues of isolation at home. His worlds begin to collide as he notices that Jose has a mysterious connection with one of his random photography subjects. His attempt to bridge their connection backfires, and begins a tragic chain of events which threaten his most important friendships in the Philippines.

“SANTA MESA” is a warm tale about family values, love and friendship. It tackles life’s biggest challenge – growing up.

USA/Philippines | 2008 | 85mins | 35mm
In English, Tagalog with English subtitles
Directed By: Ron Morales
Exec. Producers: Ellen Morales, Ray Morales
Producers: Louise Lovegrove, Karin Chien, Ron Morales
Writer: Ron Morales
Cinematographer: Yaron Orbach
Editor: Maya Stark
Sound: Lihi Orbach
Cast: Jacob Kiron Shalov, Melissa Leo, Jaime Tirelli, Maria Lopez

SANTA MESA has won numerous film festival awards, including:

Special Jury Prize for Narrative Feature at the 2008 San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festval
Best Dramatic Narrative Feature at the 2008 Philadelphia Asian-American Film Festival
Best Feature at the 2008 San Diego Asian-American Film Festival.

“A powerful debut by New York-based Filipino filmmaker Ron Morales. Morales’ premier film does a fabulous job of not burdening the audience with digressing storylines or visual effects meant to impress. Rather, Morales keeps things engaging yet simple, making Santa Mesa a delightful film that brings a fine balance of melancholy and joy, victory and defeat, and innocence and petulance”
– Annabelle Udo – Asian Week

“Director Morales’ artistic eye for depth and color is apparent from his background as a photography graduate. The multifaceted narratives of a Filipino America identity give the story depth, while Morales’ depictions of Santa Mesa points not just to poverty, but to hope”
– Asian Pacific Arts

You can purchase Santa Mesa at and please visit Santa Mesa’s website

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