Beyond Rizal: Dapitan hosts major film festival

BEST known as the place where national hero Jose Rizal spent four productive years in exile, Dapitan has now made a name for itself as a major venue for the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

Having returned to physical screenings in August after two years held online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cinemalaya traveled for the first time to Mindanao in September.

Cinemalaya was established in 2005 to help in the production Filipino independent films, discover and support young Filipino filmmakers; and promote Filipino independent films locally and internationally.

Starting out with nine full-length films and six shorts in competition, that first year the festival drew 8,000 people over five days at four screening venues in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Through the next 17 years, the festival screened an estimated 2,500 films (both full-length features and shorts), and supported 2,593 filmmakers.

CINEMALAYA IN DAPITANWith the film festival’s return to cinemas, its events branched outside Manila to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte. Cinemalaya 18 Dapitan: Festival of Winners was held from Sept. 9 to 13.

According to Festival Director and former CCP Vice-President and Artistic Director Chris B. Millado, the local government of Dapitan City, led by the office of Mayor Seth Frederick Jalosjos, expressed an interest in bringing the festival to their city.

The local government originally hoped to host this year’s Cinemalaya 18 closing ceremonies in the city, however the schedule did not allow it.

Adamant about pushing through with festivities in Dapitan, the plans for Cinemalaya 18 in Dapitan: Festival of Winners were finalized within “less than two months” from the film festival in Manila, said Mr. Millado, who spoke to BusinessWorld during the festival in Dapitan.

“[They] (The local government) wanted the filmmakers to be present instead of just having the screenings. So, we came up with the idea of Festival of Winners,” Mr. Millado explained.

The Zamboanga del Norte provincial tourism council helped in spreading the news about the film festival in the region.

“They were to reach five communities as far as six hours away from Dapitan and different school campuses. They were able to reach 800 students which they are also busing in to watch the screenings,” he said.

“The objective is to attract film production from outside of Dapitan to shoot here and develop your local young filmmaker’s capacity,” Mr. Millado said of the decision to bring the film festival outside Manila.

READY TO HOSTThe Cinemalaya 18 in Dapitan: Festival of Winners opened with a red-carpet gala on Sept. 9 at the Dapitan City Cultural and Sports Center.

The participating films were all winners at the Cinemalaya festival in August: Anna Isabelle Matutina’s 12 Weeks (which won a Special Jury Prize, NETPAC Jury Prize, and Best Actress ); Ma-an L. Asuncion-Dagñalan’s Blue Room (Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design); Carlo Obispo’s The Baseball Player (Best Film, Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Editing); T.M. Malones’ Kargo (Audience Choice Award); and Short films category winners Gabriela’s Serrano’s Dikit (Best Direction, and Special Jury Prize), and Zig Dulay’s Black Rainbow. (Best Short Film, Best Screenplay, NETPAC Jury Prize); and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay and Richard Jeroui Salvadico’s Mga Handum Nga Nasulat sa Baras (The Dreams that are Written in the Sand) which won Audience Choice Award.

There were also special screenings of Xeph Suarez’s City of Flowers, Raz Dela Torre’s Kwits; Mark Moneda’s See You George; and Martika Escobar’s Leonor Will Never Die.

The films were screened in Teatro de Dapitan, which is the only theater in the city with 2D and 3D movie projection facilities. Located at the second floor of Thea Mall, ticket prices at the cinema range from P200 to P250 for 2D films, and P300 for 3D films.

“Seven years ago, when we put up the Teatro de Dapitan, that was also a need we saw in the market,” Svetlana Jalosjos De Leon, President of the Dapitan Heritage and Arts Council and the mayor’s sister, told visiting media.

“Bakit ang mga northern Mindanaon wala man lang access to a comfortable space to watch films? Nag-invest ang pamilya Jalosjos doon at nagtayo ang Teatro de Dapitan (Why don’t northern Mindanaons have access to a comfortable space to watch films? The Jalosjos family invested in building Teatro de Dapitan),” Ms. De Leon added.

DAPITAN FILM COMMISSIONThe Dapitan City government is also working to establish a Dapitan Film Commission which Mayor Jalosjos said “will look at possible services that Dapitan can offer in the local film industry.”

“We will have to craft an ordinance creating the Film Commission of Dapitan city supported by the Film Development Council of the Philippines,” Mr. Jalosjos told visiting media.

The mayor noted that the first requirement in the list to be considered for a film council is to host a film festival in the area.

“With this I hope this inspires other film directors and writers to produce [films] with the help of city government and we can support [them] by hosting a local film festival here,” he added.

TRAVELING FILM FEST?This was the first attempt to introduce the film festival to a host destination outside of Metro Manila.

“We might do a follow through of this next year, maybe in the same place because they are all set for it,” Mr. Millado said. “This might have bigger version next year.”

As the main building of the Cultural Center of the Philippines is scheduled to close for several years to make way for renovations starting in January 2023, Cinemalaya will still be held in Manila albeit in a new, yet to be determined venue.

“Right now, there are still very general plans,” Mr. Millado said, but assured that “There will still be a Manila version due to its established audience.”

The Manila-based film festival this year reached its target and welcomed “about 25,000 to 27,000” viewers to onsite screenings at the CCP despite the closure of the Little Theater which is currently undergoing renovation.

However, Mr. Millado acknowledged that some films did not perform as well in partner commercial venues. “There were some movies that made okay, pero there were some that na nag-zero tayo sa ibang screening venues. So, it just tells you that there is still so much to be done,” he said.

Online screenings of films from the 18th Cinemalaya will be held on the CCP’s Vimeo account from Oct. 17 to 31. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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