Philippines’ first football film features “futkaleros” of Tondo

In a country that is totally, inexplicably obsessed with basketball and with dreams of slam-dunking a hoop that is too high for the ordinary Filipino, it took a team named after mongrels to finally make people realize that maybe, just maybe, they were meant for another sport altogether. After the Azkals’ stunning victory over Vietnam at the Suzuki Cup semis in December 2010, Filipinos started embracing football—finally catching up with the rest of the world and understanding why this sport inspires devotion.

Happyland the Movie (official movie poster)

Before all that, however—before “Fil-fors” became a buzz word and before Younghusband became a brand name—a group of young men from Tondo were already immersed in the sport, playing football (or, more accurately, futkal as in futbol sa kalye or “street soccer”) as if their lives depended on it. Many of these players would not have had access to sports centre amenities, or even the ability to play online games, such as website or the popular soccer-based game, Football Manager. Yet many of them have still be drawn towards this sport, using what facilities they were able to get their hands on. In many ways, such was the case. For the mentors of these young footballers, it was a way to get the boys away from a life of vice, and crime; for the boys themselves, football was a way out of desperation and a way closer to hope.

This is the backdrop of filmmaker Jim Libran’s second feature film, Happyland. Set amidst Tondo’s garbage dumps, shanties, rugby sniffers, gangs, and thieves, the movie tells the story of how a group of young men discovered the value of their lives and dreams through football, under the wings of Father Jose, a Spanish missionary priest inspired by the life of Filipino football legend Paulino Alcantara (who scored 357 goals in 357 games), and Brother Pedro, played by real-life Futkaleros founder, Peter Amores.

A brotherhood with a mission

For Libiran, Amores, and everyone who made the movie possible, Happyland was more than a film: it was a brotherhood with a mission. When asked how long it took to train the young Tondo residents in the science and art of football, Amores revealed that it took two and a half years to turn the boys from a ragtag team of kids into a proper football team that was competing and winning in tournaments. Libiran shares that the project is greater than the movie itself: it is an integrated social program aimed at giving young children hope through football. For him, the Futkaleros component of the program was just as important as the movie itself. So while Libiran and his team were sourcing funds and support for the film, they were also teaching football and building a community.

At last night’s premiere of Happyland’s final version, Libiran disclosed that there were plans to bring the movie—and the program—to other parts of the country that were in need of such a program. He appealed to the audience for continued support for Happyland—“Otherwise,” he says, “this will be our last time to show it.” The film cost around Php12 million, and as of press time Libiran’s team is still sourcing funding and support to finish paying for the movie.

Beyond Happyland

The movie is based on true events, and as Libiran’s cast shared after the screening, the boys on whose lives the movie was based have moved on to better lives. One of them has finished school and is now employed and with a house of his own. A number have gotten scholarships. Beyond the movie, this is the effect that Libiran wants Happyland and the Futkaleros program to have on many more Filipinos who need it.

To those who want to support Happyland, please refer to the information below:

At a time when the Philippines is finally embracing football, it is also time to embrace its message and to show that from the dumps and mud can rise legends that the country can be truly proud of.

Niña Terol-Zialcita

Niña Terol-Zialcita is a “Communicator, Connector, idea Curator, and Changemaker” who uses the power of words and ideas to advocate causes and promote the Philippines at its best. She is’s Deputy Editor, as well as Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler, the longest-running travel magazine in the Philippines. When she is not writing, blogging, or traveling, Niña is conducting writing workshops with Writer’s Block Philippines, hanging out at art galleries and cafés, and performing poetry with her husband, percussionist and performance artist Paul Zialcita. She is also the author of the book "[r]evolutionaries: The new generation of Filipino youth and youth organizations".