STOP10 Jul 2017: 'Remittance' by Patrick Daly and Joel Fendelman

To celebrate International Domestic Workers Day, Remittance, a feature film, that's been travelling in the film festival circuit, about the struggles of a Filipino domestic worker in Singapore, will be screening next week.

Jointly, organised by 
aidha, AWARE Singapore, HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics and Singapore Committee for UN Women to celebrate #InternationalDomesticWorkersDay, the film  was screened on 18 June 2017 and will screen again on 5 July 2017, Wednesday, 7pm.

Remittance follows Marie, a woman from the Philippines, as she struggles with her daily life as a foreign domestic worker and tries to balance living for her family versus living for herself. The story explores the transformations Marie goes through as a woman dealing with conflicting obligations and aspirations.

Here is our interview with Writer/Director Patrick Daly on Remittance.

Ever since the film started screening worldwide and in the Philippines, what have been the audience reactions towards to the film?

We have had really positive audience reactions at screenings around the world. Most of our screenings to date have been at international film festivals in North America, Europe and Asia. In these venues, audiences have appreciated the way the film has captured the lived reality of migrant workers in Singapore. For people not familiar with the context of domestic labour, the film has opened a lot of eyes about the lives of men and women who leave their families behind and travel abroad to send money home. In North America, some audience members related the experiences of the men and women in the film with their own migrant experiences. So far we have not screened the film extensively in the Philippines. However, we have screened for a number of Filipino audiences in Singapore and the reaction has been very positive.

Has it been screened in Singapore before? If so, what were the reactions in Singapore?

We have screened a number of times in Singapore, mainly for organizations interested in migrant workers’ rights. We had a wonderful screening at the National Gallery sponsored by Yale-NUS College, and Aidha (an NGO that provides training courses for domestic workers in Singapore), AWARE, HOME and the Singapore Committee for UN Women are sponsoring several screenings at Shaw Lido. For these screenings, much of the audience are domestic workers, and fortunately the film has been received very well! We have heard from many migrant workers that they want their friends and family back home in the Philippines, Indonesia, India, etc. to know more about their lives, and to see how hard they work for the money they send home.

What are some of the highlights of the film viewers can look forward to?

One of the unique aspects of this film is the way that migrant workers are portrayed as people rather than just as labour. It is common for people to associate low-wage migrant workers with stories of hardship and abuse. While sadly this is part of the migrant experience for many, we wanted to focus more on them as women, and look at the challenges they have balancing supporting their families at home, dealing with a difficult work environment in Singapore, and trying to carve out a new life for themselves. People familiar with Singapore, especially domestic workers, will see lots of locations that they are familiar with, and gain some insights into how the migrant community claims little spaces for themselves in the Singapore landscape. Unlike other films that deal with the subject, we also spend a lot of time bringing the audience back to the Philippines so they can see what life is like at home, and what sorts of challenges migrant workers face when they return home.

Some of the cast members were actual domestic workers. Is this true? Any interesting stories about their involvement in the film?

Almost all of the cast in the film are non-trained actors. We made this creative decision because we felt it was essential for domestic workers to play a major role in the storytelling process. After we wrote the initial script, we spent about six months work-shopping the script scene by scene with migrant workers to customize the story to their real life experiences. During casting, we worked with NGOs in Singapore such as HOME and Aidha as we wanted many of the roles to be played by actual domestic workers. Our lead actress Angela Barotia still works in Singapore as a domestic worker. We wanted the film to have an almost documentary feel to it, and felt that women who have lived variations of this story would be best situated to convey a realistic portrayal of what is like to be a migrant worker. When we screen the film, audiences have been really inspired by the cast – and have connected emotionally with the performances.

Perhaps the biggest challenge involving domestic workers in the film was scheduling. Many of the women only get Sundays off each week and so we had to schedule all rehearsals and most of the production over a series of Sundays when they were available. We had a number of situations where women we wanted to cast were not able to participate because their employers were not supportive of the project. During one shoot, we had to stop for about an hour because one of the women was called home on her day off because her employers could not get their child to go to sleep! For us as film-makers, having domestic workers involved in the production was a tremendous life experience. They helped make the film far richer and more textured by sharing their personal experiences and perspectives. It was also personally inspiring to see how much time and effort they put into the film, given how little free time they have.

In regards to the commodification of labour, of workers from third world countries to first world nations, what are some of the most shocking things happening currently?

Unfortunately, there is widespread exploitation of workers from the developing world in almost all areas that import labour. One issue that we found shocking which is not widely discussed is the extent to which low wage migrant workers are ripped off by various middlemen in their home countries and abroad who serve as brokers. Many of the men and women who go abroad to work have to pay often exorbitant fees to agencies, leaving them and their families deep in debt. It is common that workers spend much of their first contract (often a two-year period) trying to pay back their initial debt. This leaves many working without any compensation for years - which is effectively a form of slavery. While far from perfect, the situation of migrant workers in Singapore has been gradually improving. This has come about through the efforts of foreign embassies supporting their nationals, NGOs and advocacy groups, and Singapore government policy.

Is this the only screening planned, any other plans to organise more screenings of this film in Singapore to reach a wider audience?

Now that we have finished screening on the film festival circuit we hope to have more screenings in Singapore, and to eventually make the film widely available through online platforms.

Screening details:
Date: 5 July 2017
Time: 7pm
Location: Lido
350 Orchard, Shaw House, Singapore 238868
Admission: $15 for Public
You can purchase tickets through this link.

Entry is FREE for Foreign Domestic Workers. Please see below to register:
Email or
Whatsapp +65 9118 0854
Include your name, mobile number and work permit number

The film screening will be followed by a panel discussion.
Also stay tuned to the Event Page for more details about any updates on the upcoming activities.

Interview by Christine Seow

For the full list of July 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.
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