Bessie Badilla, star of Dance of My Life and producer of Bakal Boys to Appear at Chicago Filipino American Film Festival

Dance of My Life

The Eighth Annual Chicago Filipino American Film Festival will open on November 4 with the Chicago Premiere of Dance of My Life. This very special event will be preceded by a free public reception, attended by Bessie Badilla, the star of the inspirational documentary film.

“My mother constantly told me, ‘In life, we always have a choice, so I chose to live my life always happily, especially when faced with adversity,” says Badilla, a woman who overcame poverty to become a world-class fashion model, and tackled numerous personal challenges to earn the prestigious title of Queen of Carnival— a milestone for a non-Brazilian.

As a documentary that crosses continents, the project was not without its own challenges. But, Lyca Benitez-Brown, director of Dance of My Life, is no stranger to international co-productions. She produced the first Asian co-production of “Sesame Street” with the Children’s Television Workshop (which would later become “Batibot”), and worked with the International Telecommunications Union to help set up the first private commercial TV/radio station in Tanzania.

Benitez-Brown was determined to provide the story the treatment it deserved: “When Bessie was invited to carnival she was recently widowed and faced an uncertain future having been recently diagnosed with cancer,” says Benitez-Brown. “I thought at first that her participation in Carnival would be a welcome distraction for her, but as we conducted more interviews it seemed to me that Bessie had spent her whole life preparing for this role as Carnival Queen.”

It is these qualities that inspired the film: “She has a very strong work ethic and becomes totally obsessed with whatever she is doing. Although she has faced challenges in her life, she does not think of herself as a victim. I felt these were strong messages that could be conveyed in our documentary.”

Bakal Boys

Indeed, Bessie Badilla’s talents go beyond the world of glamor and dance. Badilla also produced the acclaimed independent feature film Bakal Boys also set to make its Chicago Premiere at CFAFF. The recipient of numerous international awards, Bakal Boys sheds light on issues of children living in poverty and child labor.

“Director Ralston Jover watched an episode on ‘Eye Witness’ news about the alarming rate of children metal divers drowning in the murky waters of the Manila Bay,” says Badilla, who co-produced the film.

“Almost one child a day either drowns or is lost at sea,” Badilla says. “Ralston was compelled to tell their story for social awareness that this is happening in spite of the strict regulations in the Baseco area that children are prohibited to dive for scrap metal.”

It was these alarming conditions that motivated Badilla to get involved: “When I turned 50, I decided to give back by producing an Indie Film. Bakal Boys was the very first script I read and I immediately fell in love with the story. After its successful run in both local and international film festivals, Ralston and I decided to continue helping the 15 Bakal boys by keeping them out of the water and in school.”

Dance of My Life will screen at CFAFF on Friday, November 4 at 8 pm, preceded by a free opening night reception at 7 pm at the Portage Theater in Chicago. A repeat screening will be shown on Saturday, November 5 at 2 pm. Both screenings will be followed by a Q&A session with Lyca Benitez-Brown and Bessie Badilla.

Bakal Boys will screen at CFAFF on Saturday, November 5 at 4:30 pm, followed by a Q&A session with Bessie Badilla.

To learn more about other programs at the Chicago Filipino American Film Festival, and get information about tickets, showtimes, and special events, please visit

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