New York-based Filipino filmmaker Gerry Balasta.


“The Mountain Thief,” an award-winning narrative feature film about the horrific human conditions in the Philippines’ largest landfill woven in the drama of desperation, anger, love and hope, will have a benefit screening and DVD launching at the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street in Manhattan on June 30, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Written and directed by New York-based Filipino filmmaker Gerry Balasta, the film evolves around Julio and his son as they confront their ultimate fight for survival while seeking refuge and redemption from war and hunger.

It also reveals the unimaginable realities of people living in extreme poverty, and what happens when their tenuous hold on hope and survival is threatened.

“The Mountain Thief” won the Special Jury Prize at the 2010 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, the 2010 Prix Du Public (Audience Award) at CCIIFF in Soreze, France; and the 2010 George C Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award at the DC-APA.

It also made its way into the 2011 Soho International Film Festival in Manhattan and other film festivals all over the world.

Shot entirely in the garbage mountains of Payatas in the Philippines, the actors of the film are real scavengers who were trained to act by Balasta in an acting workshop, offered for the residents of the garbage collecting town.

“The Mountain Thief” is a powerful and touching motion picture that has become an agent of philanthropy and a plea for change.

A micro-philanthropy project called Mount Hope Project was initiated by the filmmaker to set up a fund and help the scavengers who acted in the film get financial assistance and livelihood opportunities to have other options in life other than scavenging, and uplift their human dignity.

In late 2009, two of the children involved in the film received medical care, including surgery for one child with a club foot deformity.

“Growing up in a town close to the dumpsite, I am haunted by this memory, because I knew back then that people were born, lived and died in those monstrous mountains of trash,” said Balasta, who grew up in Manila.

“After I moved to the U.S., I realized that it is essential for me to share this disturbing yet ultimately hopeful story of man’s love for life and his ability to endure.”

Balasta would like to see his film directly impact the lives of the scavengers acting in his film, similar to what the film “Born Into Brothels” accomplished with its participants.

Cinematographer Francisco Valdez and composer Michael Tremante collaborated with Balasta, who completed courses at New York University-SCPS Film Production Program.

Reynaldo Padilla of Padilla & Company LLP is spearheading the New York City benefit and DVD launch.

“We are one in believing that we can alleviate our people from poverty and contribute to the building of our nation,” said Padilla.

“Together, we can uplift our people from the debilitating effects of poverty, one town, one scavenger, one heart at a time.”

During the the June 30 event, the filmmaker will also play “I Am The Mountain Thief,” a short film continuation of the full-length feature.

There will also be a live Skype discussion with the scavenger-actors direct from the Philippines.

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