Thursday, June 13, 2024

‘Expats’ Star Ruby Ruiz to Lead James J. Robinson’s ‘First Light’

Multi award-winning Filipina actress Ruby Ruiz has landed her first major screen role following her appearance in Amazon’s “Expats.” She will lead “First Light,” the feature directorial debut of James. J. Robinson.

Principal photography is now underway on the Australian-Filipino co-production, which comes with funding from Screen Australia. Veteran actress Maricel Soriano (“Mother Nanny”), Rez Cortez (“Bukal”), Soliman Cruz (“Blue Room”) and Kidlat Tahimik round out the cast. 

Set in the remote mountains of the Philippines, “First Light” sees the death of a young construction worker force an elderly nun to confront the muddied ethics of an institution she has dedicated her life to. The script, also by Robinson, is a deeply personal story exploring the intersection of duty, faith and institutional power. 

“Developing ‘First Light’ over the past two years has been an incredibly profound journey into the heart of pre-colonial Filipino philosophy,” Robinson said. “To be able to tell a story by bringing together artists from Australia and Philippines, and witness this cultural exchange in real time, will be one of the most enlightening experiences of my life; and reflects a deeper journey within myself to define my identity and ancestry as a mixed-race artist.”

Supported by Screen Australia in association with the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Clou Media Productions, the Melbourne International Film Festival Premiere Fund and VicScreen, “First Light” is produced by Gabrielle Pearson through her outfit Majella Productions alongside Christelle Dychangco from Clou Media Productions and Jane Pe Aguirre (“A Prayer Before Dawn”), one of the Philippines’ most respected and longest working producers. GoodThing Productions’ Nick Batzias and Virginia Whitwell (“Nitram,” “The Australian Dream”) serve as executive producers. 

“For our first official feature production under the Majella umbrella, learning about the intersection between Filipino and Australian methods of working has been one of the myriad gems of doing an international co-production,” Pearson said. “In a future of globalist filmmaking, realizing the ways that disparate cultures across the globe can uncover the universality in their experiences further treads the pathway toward inclusive filmmaking, while offering complex insight into the deeper human condition.”

Independent Entertainment have boarded the film and will handle global sales, excluding Australia and New Zealand, where Bonsai Films will distribute the film theatrically.

Robinson is a celebrated Filipino-Australian artist with an expansive career in photography and filmmaking. His work has regularly appeared in publications such as The New York Times and Vogue Australia, where he has photographed some of the world’s biggest names including Kylie Jenner, Sydney Sweeney, Rose Byrne and Harris Dickinson. His Filipino short documentary “Inang Maynila” was acquired by Nowness and screened at the Brooklyn Film Festival in 2022, while his previous short “No Reception” was part of the 2018 TIFF x Instagram Shorts program in 2018.

“‘First Light’ is a captivating blend of Filipino and Australian creativity, delving into themes of mortality, faith and self-discovery,” said Screen Australia COO Grainne Brunsdon. “With universal resonance, this film promises an engaging journey for audiences.”  

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