By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – At age 49, there could have been so much great things way ahead for Gerry Balasta, an occupational therapist and filmmaker. But he succumbed to complications of COVID19 on April 15, 2020. A painful loss not only to his wife Leah and family, but also to the larger Filipino community here.
Balasta, as a filmmaker, did breakthrough, well-thought of projects that gave voice to the marginalized Filipinos in the Philippines. The two that I would best remember were his “Mountain Thief” and “Solar Champion” which he launched internationally in the Big Apple.
Post-production and promotions of the Mountain Thief were done in New York in 2010 and I had the opportunity to manage the promotions of the said film. The film focused on survival stories of people living in the slums of Payatas in Manila. Its breakthrough value was that Balasta tapped and trained the residents to become his actors.
He took my daughter, the late Leani Alnica Auxilio, to be part of his post-production team. The Mountain Thief was one of Nikki’s first early exposures in filmmaking.
For its message and innovation, Mountain Thief won awards in indie film categories such as the Special Jury Prize at the San Francisco International Asian-American Film Festival, Audience Award or Prix Du Public at the CCIFF, France and the George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award in Washington DC.
The Solar Champion was another heartwarming breakthrough film that starred the same actors from Payatas in 2012. It’s a comedy promoting an innovative technology using empty bottles of soda for light bulbs, with the inspiration of American inventor Steve Katsoros who made “the world’s only rechargeable solar bulb.” The film was a push for renewable energy and a social commentary as well.
Balasta co-founded the International Film Festival Manhattan with Luis Pedron while developing his own production outfit, Inspirechange.
A fellow artist Ann Constantino Beck is reeling at his demise. “Gerry was a genuine, caring and loving heart person. He made me feel that I am not just a friend, but also family. I admire his concern and care for the children mostly for those kids with special needs. He wasn’t judgmental. He was open-minded, intellectual and logical. Gerry will be greatly missed.”
In November 2019, Balasta and his wife opened an Occupational Therapy clinic in Queens called Wonderful Beginnings NY, an early child intervention program for kids aged 0-3. Earlier on, the couple developed and fully sold Inspire Kids NY, a therapy clinic for special needs children.