"AL ROBLES, POET LAUREATE OF THE FILIPINO COMMUNITY, chronicler of the history of the Manongs, activist, urban saint and, in Curtis Choy's documentary, a sort of archeologist, sifting through the remains of a slowly fading generation of Filipino elders. The manongs of Manilatown were mostly single men who emigrated to the United States pre-Depression Era seeking riches, but were eventually faced with harsh struggles and humiliation in their new country. Many of these men were bachelors or were forced to leave their loved ones back home. Their story is filled with loneliness and heartache, but at the same time replete with camaraderie, unity and joy. Robles, a dynamic and incomparable oral historian, guides us through San Francisco's Manilatown, past and present, along the way meeting the manongs that at one time inhabited the long shut down single roomed dwellings of the International Hotel.
A restless and idiosyncratic spirit, Robles is a friend and inspiration to many. Firmly entrenched in the city's rich literary culture, Robles, nevertheless has dedicated his life to the preservation of the history of the manongs as well as starting the Manilatown Senior Center and providing help and support to the elders in the area.
Choy has constructed a lyrical and engaging film, piecing together recent and archival footage. We see priceless footage of Agbayani Village in the '70s where we get a glimpse of Philip Vera Cruz, labor leader and former Vice President of the United Farm Workers. There are also archival interviews of the men, living in the cramped quarters of the International Hotel. Although filled with historical footage, Manilatown Is In The Heart is not merely a historical document but something of a love poem to a man who has given his heart to a community and it is in his words, Robles' poetry, that the film truly beats a rhythm to. Much like his presence in the community, his words weave through and envelops the entire film with warmth and generosity.
– Joel Quizon, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival