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Regional Interests

How Growing Up in Daly City Influenced Filmmaker Patricio Ginelsa

I met up with Patricio Ginelsa at his alma mater, Jefferson High School in Daly City. There’s a flagpole out front, a big box of a gymnasium, and a central courtyard where Ginelsa said “the cool kids” hung out. From the outside, it looks like a lot of Bay Area high schools. But for Ginelsa, it’s more than that. It’s where he fell in love with filmmaking.

Ginelsa pointed to a ground-level outdoor walkway at the front of the school: “We definitely shot around this area here.” Ginelsa is best known for his feature-length film “Lumpia,” filmed in 1996 when he was home for summer break from the University of Southern California’s film school.

“This is where we first meet the protagonist, when he trips,” he said. “It does bring back memories.”

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The film’s fictional Fogtown is Ginelsa’s hometown of Daly City, where about 30% of the population is Filipino, like he is. “Lumpia,” a fun action-comedy, deals with  discrimination against newer immigrants within the Filipino community.

“I’m a nerd at heart and I just felt it would be so much cooler and wackier to have a Filipino American as the central hero in this comic book world,” Ginelsa said. “And also some of the things I tackle are very serious in tone and I wanted to kind of make it more lighthearted and fun.”

A life-long comic book fan, Patricio Ginelsa featured a Filipino American hero in his first movie, making the weapon of choice the Filipino food staple lumpia. (Courtesy Kid Hero Productions)

Ginelsa said that, growing up in Daly City, he didn’t realize how special it was to be surrounded by such a large and vibrant Filipino community. All the student body officers he remembers were Filipino, and “the most popular person in high school was never the football jock — it was the Filipino deejay that would get you into the dance parties.”

It was only after Ginelsa left for film school that he understood what he’d taken for granted. At USC, he joined some Filipino student groups, something he’d never felt the need to do before, to try to build a similar community.

Ginelsa’s Filmmaking Goes Way Back

Ginelsa grew up near Hillside Park surrounded by other families with kids. He says that, more than any other place in his life, that park represents community. He and his friends would play baseball, then run to one of their houses for a snack. One summer, Ginelsa coordinated his friends to make a superhero movie they called “Kid Heroes.” Moviemaking soon became a summer tradition.

“And these superhero movies we would do during the summer started becoming popular,” Ginelsa said.

The cast and crew shot scenes at Ginelsa’s alma mater, Jefferson High School in Daly City, for both the first “Lumpia” movie and “Lumpia With a Vengeance.” (Courtesy Kid Hero Productions)

They’d premier the movie on VHS at his house at the end of the summer and then pass it around to friends once school started in the fall. Each kid who watched had to sign a “slam book” where they wrote their favorite scenes and gave feedback on how Ginelsa and his friends could improve. By the end of the school year, everyone wanted to be in the next film.

So, when Ginelsa came home from USC, he and his friends decided to create a reunion summer movie — footage that eventually became “Lumpia.”

“It started out with a bunch of Filipino kids in the neighborhood just making movies together. And now we’re playing on a playground that’s just a little bit bigger,” Ginelsa said.

Fighting for Representation

Ginelsa said that when he first showed up at USC, he felt pressure to make things that were more mainstream. It was hard to push back against critiques that no one would want to watch movies about Filipino characters.

“I didn’t find my voice until I got involved with the movie called ‘The Debut’,” he said. It’s an independent feature-length film starring Dante Basco (of “Hook” fame) and is the first Filipino American film to be released theatrically nationwide.

Working on that film, touring with it, meeting pockets of Filipino Americans around the country and selling the film to business people: “That was my real film school,” Ginelsa said. “Seeing what it takes to make a Filipino American film and getting it out there. And that gave me the confidence to put out this homemade movie I shot and to finish it.”

Without the success of “The Debut,” Ginelsa doesn’t think he would ever have finished “Lumpia.” But after seeing a film directed by and starring Filipino Americans succeed, he rewrote the third act of “Lumpia.” He reconvened his friends and neighbors to shoot the end, even though they all had aged. The official movie came out in 2003, seven years after Ginelsa shot the original scenes at Jefferson High.

Infusing Filipino Heritage Into Other Projects

“Lumpia” became a cult classic, and Ginelsa went on to work on some other big projects, including directing two music videos for the Black Eyed Peas, including “Bebot.”

“I set it in Stockton, California,” he said of “Bebot.” “There’s a whole history of this where, you know, back in the ’30s, that’s where asparagus farmers came in. I felt like even though it’s a commercial to sell music for the Black Eyed Peas, at least I feel like I did some part to shine a light on that history that you don’t normally read in history books.”

In 2013, to honor the 10-year anniversary of “Lumpia,” Ginelsa started crowdfunding to make a sequel — what would eventually become “Lumpia With a Vengeance.” He raised $50,000 to make the movie and started shooting it in 2017. Now, he’s touring the country screening it at film festivals and seeking a distributor.

On His Daly City Roots

Ginelsa has come a long way from the “Kid Heroes” summer movie project, but Daly City has left an indelible stamp on his identity and his art. He lives in Los Angeles now, but when he returns to Daly City to visit family, he revels in the fog and makes sure to visit his old stomping grounds — Hillside Park, Jefferson High, and, of course, the Serramonte mall.

“Growing up here, I just felt like it boosted my pride in terms of being Fil-Am,” Ginelsa said. “As a filmmaker, it became almost like a responsibility to use my platform to tell my stories.”

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