Famed ‘dancing inmates’ at Cebu jail featured in new Netflix documentary series

August 8, 2019 - 12:17 PM
Happy Jail
Behind the scenes of Happy Jail filmmaking (Happy Jail/Released)

A documentary series about the stories behind Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, known for its dancing inmates, will be premiere in Netflix this August 14.

The five-part series titled “Happy Jail” will feature the lives of the inmates after they made headlines for their video performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in 2007.

However, nearly a decade later, the CPDRC faced intense scrutiny when a former inmate named Marco Toral was hired to run it.

Carlo Velayo, a fellow from the San Francisco International Film Festival, also took part in this production.

Emmy award-winning Filipino-American director Michele Josue and producers Liam Mcniff and Joe Amodei explored these stories when they began filming in 2016, which was the year President Rodrigo Duterte took office.

Josue noted that it was also the start of Duterte’s bloody drug, which killed thousands of Filipinos and condemned by local and international human rights groups.

“Our cameras were there when CPDRC was suddenly thrust into this new era, and its staff was overwhelmed with an influx of inmates and the pressure of it all. Over the next three years, we witnessed the jail change in meaningful ways,” she said in an interview.

Josue’s first feature film “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine” won in the 10 Best Documentary and Audience Choice Awards from film festivals worldwide. It also won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Special in 2016.

The director said that her upcoming series was special as it was set in her home country.

“As a Filipina-American filmmaker, it’s incredibly important to me to share stories that can connect people, regardless of difference, and with the case of ‘Happy Jail,’ hopefully usher Filipino stories into the mainstream,” she said.

The seasoned filmmaker recalled that the initial plot was supposed to be about the popular dancing inmates but it soon turned into a more in-depth documentary of their lives.

Josue expressed her gratitude with the government officials of Cebu and the inmates themselves for making this show possible.

“It was an honor to bear witness to such a monumental chapter of their lives and to be entrusted with telling their story in the honest, sensitive, and respectful way it deserves to be told. We are proud of ‘Happy Jail’ and how it gives a voice to the most vulnerable section of the Philippines’ population and tells the world that these voices and these stories matter,” she said.

Who is Marco Toral

Toral was arrested in 2002 and imprisoned at the provincial jail for the next seven years for charges of selling, possessing and selling illegal drugs.

In 2009, he was released when the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of the lower court.

It was former Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III who gave him a second chance to work as consultant for the city jail in 2013.

Toral stepped down from his post in 2016 after committing a series of violations inside the prison, including firing a warning shot inside and failing to avert the escape of an inmate.