By Judith Salkin
As a young boy growing up in Pasig City, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines, Manuel dela Rosa always knew that he wanted to be an entertainer.
He was born May 5, 1968, and considers the day “Cinco de Manny,” he said with his typical enthusiasm. “My mother was in labor from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. and I was born on Five-five. It’s my day!”
As a child, he started exhibiting his own star qualities.
“I started to act and dance when I was very little,” he said. “Maybe three or four. I always knew that I was special!”
By the time he was a teen, dela Rosa was a famous television dancer in Manila who danced to promote new music for record companies.
“We’d dance to one song a month on television and all around the city,” dela Rosa, now the on-air film critic for KMIR 6, along with being the station’s Promotions, Marketing, and Creative Services Director, recalled recently.
Today his star shines with his critiques of upcoming films, interviews with filmmakers and coverage of film events here in the Coachella Valley that appear on KMIR Today and KMIR news at 5 p.m. Fridays. KMIR sister stations in Las Vegas (KTNV-ABC) and Omaha, Neb. (KMTV-CBS), the Filipino Channel on Balitang America on Fridays.
Locally, he’s also heard on MIX 100.5 with Bradley Ryan in the Morning at 8 a.m. Friday.
Not bad considering that dela Rosa had no idea he’d find himself back on television when he left the Philippines in 1988.
At 20, dela Rosa abandoned his career to head for the U.S., “begrudgingly,” he said, to be with his mother, Anastasia Gresser, who had struggled to send him to private schools and taught him the value of education.
“My mother was here and at 20 I was still a dependent so I could come without a visa,” he said. “If I waited until I was 21 I would have had to apply to come here.”
Always a film lover, when he came to the U.S., dela Rosa fell under the spell of film critics like Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael.
“Ebert was really the first superstar film critic,” he recalled. And in a way, dela Rosa’s mentor.
He read Ebert’s film column in the Chicago Sun-Times and watched him work fellow critic Gene Siskel in their “At the Movies” syndicated show. “Until then I didn’t know that there was such a thing as film critics. To me, with my interest in academia, it was the perfect job,” he said.
While pursuing a degree in film and television, dela Rosa was encouraged by one his instructors, “Prof. Carlisle,” who became his personal Netflix, loaning the budding critic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood to watch and study, also to begin writing critiques for the Purdue Chronicle.
He followed that up with starting his master’s program in film at the Schools of the Arts Institute of Chicago, but an internship in the promotions WLS in Chicago got him into working in television promotions.
By the late 1990s, dela Rosa was finishing up his master’s program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and working at KTNV. With his master’s degree completed, he went looking for a better position.
“California was always the goal,” he said.
Rather than move to a larger station where he wouldn’t be boss, “My boss (at KTNV) asked me if I’d consider being the promotions manager at a smaller station,” dela Rosa said. The move into management was a step he was ready to take once he and his partner Kevin landed in the Coachella Valley in 2003.
While he was working on a partnership with the MIX 100.5, the station manager offered dela Rosa the chance to do film reviews on the station, and dubbed him, “Manny the Movie Guy.”
“I told KMIR what they wanted me to do and lucky for me, they were OK with it,” he said. “It was cross promotion!”
With Manny the Movie Guy on radio, KMIR kicked his career up a notch by offering him a spot Fridays on the station’s early news show. He did his first on-air review in May 2004.
One thing dela Rosa didn’t want was to review films that had been open for a week. He began making contacts with Hollywood studios to attend press screenings, and to get on press junkets to talk to filmmakers and actors.
The one thing he wasn’t anticipating, “how long two minutes is on the air,” he said with a laugh. “But I wanted to be smart with my reviews. I wanted my personality to come through and I wanted my reviews to be interesting. I think that’s where my background in academia comes through.”
His reviews are taken seriously in the industry. He is a member of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and is a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) yearly Critics Choice Awards. His review work earned him an Emmy in 2010 for Best On-Air Talent/Host category.
Living and working in the Coachella Valley was only supposed to be a two or three year stop for dela Rosa and Kevin, but they’ve settled in for the long run by becoming involved with local charities and organizations.
In fact, dela Rosa is looking for help for the upcoming Palm Springs Pride Parade on Nov. 3. “I need people to help carry the 300-foot long Pride flag in the parade,” he said. “Anyone who wants to help, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org)!”
“I am so blessed,” he said of his where his life has taken him. “I love wearing both hats at the station because my work challenges me every day and I get to help people who need it. This place has become our home.”