The Cast of “The Debut” Reflect on Film’s 18th Anniversary

By Lauren Lola

18 years ago saw the release of Gene Cajayon’s independent feature film, “The Debut.” When Filipino American high schooler Ben Mercado (Dante Basco) enrolls himself in art school against the wishes of his strict immigrant father Roland (Tirso Cruz III), the ongoing feud between the two threatens to spoil the elaborate 18th birthday celebration being put on for his sister, Rose (Bernadette Balagtas). Over the course of the evening, Ben comes to terms with his identity as a Filipino American and his relationships with everyone in his life.

Many members of the cast and crew were present for the film’s 18th anniversary screening at the Cinematografo Film Festival. The fact that it has been 18 years has several of them feeling quite old.

“It’s a crazy circle,” remarked Joy Bisco (Annabelle). “When we first filmed the movie, you know, it’s the debutante. She turns 18 in our culture; a big party, a big coming out, and now that it [has been] 18 years where we could have had a baby and it would be their [debut] right now, it’s kind of crazy!”

“The Debut” is one of the first films about the Filipino American community, and while there have been other films made since then that are also set in that community, there haven’t been nearly as many.

“We continue to press on and hopefully we’ll have another ‘Debut’ and many more,” commented Dion Basco (Rommel).

For Darion Basco (Augusto), the film is also significant in that it was the first project where he both got to work alongside his family and play a Filipino American.

“My brothers and I were in the business already,” he explained. “We were already working a bit. My oldest brother Derek, he originally did the student film at Loyola where [Cajayon] went to film school. When they started to cast the feature, it was just something we all wanted to be a part of really badly. Being in the industry, especially back then 20 years ago, I played way more Latino roles – even to this day, because there was nothing to be written for Filipinos.”

“This is really a family film,” said Derek Basco (Edwin). “It was very important for me to bring my grandmother [to the screening], and my father, my aunts and uncles, just every single member of my family. I brought them because in this film, it reflects every generation of Filipinos; Filipinos that still live in the Philippines, Filipino Americans, first generation, second generation, and the culture clashes, and it puts it in a way where nobody’s really wrong. You just see that each character behind everything what they wanted was because of love, and that’s how families are.”

Asked if they have any favorite or standout memories from working on the film, and many comment on the fight scene between Augusto and Ben. According to Darion, Cajayon was surprised by just how far he took the scene; so much to where he actually hit Dante, as Dion later mentioned.

Other favorite memories include shooting the basketball scene – where, according to Dion, Darion could not make a shot – and the dance rehearsals.

“Growing up, I took traditional Filipino dance, and it was probably a good 10-15 years since I’ve done it, recalled Derek. “When I would go to the practices, [the dance crew] all welcomed us and it just brought me back to my childhood, and I kind of relished in those days practicing the dances.”

If audiences were to revisit these characters in 2018, the actors expressed their hopes for where they would be now. Derek sees Edwin as the first Filipino American governor of California, Annabelle would have her own dance company according to Bisco, and Darion and Dion hope that Augusto and Romell will have grown up and learned from the past – that is, if they’re still alive.

“Maybe [Romell’s] dead,” suggested Dion. “Maybe he was a punk and got killed. I don’t know! Sometimes that happens to people like that guy. He had the gun and everything. His cousin knocks him out at the end of the movie.”

“I would hope that [Augusto] learns and that he was able to find peace with his mom and stepfather,” said Darion. “Hopefully he is able to grow out of that bravado and that thing he is protecting. Maybe that’s a big night for him that night, and he gets to learn from himself and grow.”

For the future of “The Debut,” the cast members hope for more people to see it and enjoy it, and that it still plays a role in storytelling from the Filipino American community.

“It’s a film that people always bring up, and so I hope it continues to be something that generations can watch and identify with and learn from,” commented Darion.

“This was definitely a milestone and I think it will be a reference point for whatever progressions we make from here on out,” expressed Bisco.

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