22 Dec TOTO: Whatever it takes.
When a young Filipino room service attendant’s schemes to attain a U.S. visa put the lives of his loved ones in danger, he is forced to question the extremity of his actions and re-evaluate the cost of fulfilling his dreams.
ANTONIO “TOTO” ESTARES comes from Tacloban, Philippines, a place ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda. His mother has cancer. He works at a hotel in Manila, and tries every which way to get to the U.S. so he can support his family – which he’s been doing since his father died and left them penniless. His father had made it to Las Vegas to become a stage act and promised to petition his family, but he ended up a dishwasher who drank and gambled away everything. The only thing Toto inherited from his father is the obsession of the dream, which he has forged into his own, and is intent on fulfilling it, because it was also once his mother’s hope.
Toto makes one failed attempt after another to get a U.S. visa, risking friendships, his job, a lot of borrowed money, his dignity, and his heart. What he doesn’t realize is that, in a way, he’s already made it to America. The hotel is America. Its U.S. guests represent the good, the bad, and the ugly of America. After Toto meets the bad and gets ripped off, he loses hope. Yet it’s a good American that helps Toto, in a most unexpected way.
TOTO is all about the power of the dream. Although the failures of his father haunt him, it’s the power of his father’s dream that fuels him, not just for himself, but for those he loves, to help better their lives and achieve their own dreams. Some call it the American Dream, but for those beyond the U.S. it’s simply “the dream”. After all, there’s a TOTO that resides in all of us.
Director’s Statement by John Paul Su
Set in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, ‘TOTO’ is a comedy/drama about a young Filipino room service attendant whose determination to attain a U.S. visa precipitates an odyssey of universal import. Undeterred by his lack of education and scant prospects, Toto schemes relentlessly to achieve his goal. When his antics put the lives of his loved ones in danger, however, he is forced to question the extremity of his actions and to reevaluate the cost of fulfilling his dreams.
In this film, all the characters have dreams and aspirations, be it about love, career, or simply friendship. But how far will one go to reach his dream?
As an immigrant myself, I am deeply attracted to Toto’s story for the way it speaks to the tension between integrity and compromise in the journeys of all outsiders. In moments of self-doubt, do you give up or do you soldier forward in pursuit of the dream? This is a question that, as a filmmaker in a new land where I was a complete unknown, I was constantly forced to ask myself time and time again.
Despite (or perhaps because of ) the huge divide between rich and poor in the Philippines, “dreaming big” is an integral part of the cultural DNA, and ‘TOTO’ is, on one hand, a satire of the veneration of wealth and celebrity in a society where opportunity and resources are still scarce.
But it is also an allegory of the immigrant experience in general, seizing upon the luxury hotel where Toto works— with its glamorous classic Hollywood facade — as a symbol of the American Dream, and the sordid infrastructure as a persistent reminder, to Toto and to us, of the often treacherous underworld upon which that facade depends.
‘TOTO’ aims to take its audience on a fun emotional roller coaster ride that, hopefully, will leave them inspired and moved. After all, there’s a Toto that resides in all of us.