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‘Sheer genius’: Mount Carmel School films shine at Guam International Film Festival; encore screening of films scheduled

(MCS) — “Sheer genius.” This is what Don Muña, acclaimed filmmaker and co-founder and executive director of the Guam International Film Festival, or GIFF, had to say about Mount Carmel School’s “We Drank Our Tears” film series.

All films in the series, “Francisco Babauta’s Story”, “Benjamin Abadilla’s Story”, and “Rafael Mafnas’s Story” were nominated for the festival’s Best Made in Marianas Award for two years in a row. Coming off the success of the films at GIFF, encore screenings of all three films will be held on Wednesday, October 17.

Click to enlarge
Don and Kel Muña, front, left and right, the co-founders and executive director and program director, respectively, of the Guam International Film Festival, gather with the directors of the “We Drank Our Tears” films, back, left to right, Justin Ocampo, Galvin Deleon Guerrero, and Angelo Manese. The photo was taken after the 10th anniversary special screening of the groundbreaking and internationally acclaimed “Shiro’s Head” which was written, produced, edited, scored, and directed by the Muña brothers.
Cast and crew members of the “We Drank Our Tears” films participated in a film seminar led by University of Hawai’i’s Dr. Tom Brislin at the University of Guam as part of the 2018 Guam International Film Festival. The cast and crew gathered with Dr. Brislin, back row, third from right, for a photo after the seminar.  MCS photos

In recognizing the student filmmakers, Muña said, “The maturity in the visual perspective and the historical knowledge that the students from Mount Carmel School have shared through their work is proof we can preserve, restore and perpetuate our culture by bridging the generational gap through visual communications.” Muña went so far as to say, “The film series, We Drank our Tears, is sheer genius and what I would define as a digital cultural immersion.”

Muña’s sentiments were echoed by his longtime collaborator in filmmaking, GIFF program director, and brother, Kel Muña. In a message to school president, Galvin Deleon Guerrero, Kel Muña wrote, “I just wanted to sincerely thank you and your students for attending the festival and for being such a big part of its success this year.” Kel Muña added, “Their energy onstage was priceless.”

The Muña brothers achieved international acclaim with their ground-breaking debut film, 2008’s “Shiro’s Head.” Written, produced, edited, and produced by the Muña brothers, with an original soundtrack developed by the bothers as well, “Shiro’s Head” has been recognized by dozens of film festivals worldwide. The film was nominated for major awards at the Strasbourg International Film Festival in France, the Los Angeles Asian Pacific film Festival, and Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival. The film went on to win the Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas International Film Festival and the Best Feature Film and Best of Festival awards at the Sandhills Film Festival.

After the success of “Shiro’s Head,” the Muña brothers turned their attention towards cultivating filmmakers in the Marianas and establishing a filmmaking presence in the region by launching GIFF in 2011. GIFF aims to unify, celebrate and showcase to the region and the world, the collective experience through the universal medium of film. Over the years, the Muña brothers have expended the scope of GIFF to promote community, education, and entertainment. This has included collaborations with local and international filmmakers, providing industry lectures, panels and workshops at public and private schools as well as at the university level.

This emphasis on educational outreach is one main reason the Muña brothers were so moved by Mount Carmel School’s “We Drank Our Tears” film series. As Don Muña put it, “What a dream come true it is to see youth filmmakers emerging from our Mariana Islands community.”

Likewise, Kel Muña said, “You all have helped me see that the festival’s community and education pillars are becoming strengthened.”

The Muña brothers were not alone in their praise of “We Drank Our Tears.” GIFF head juror and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at University of Hawai’i, Dr. Tom Brislin, recognized the films for telling such important stories. “The people of the islands need to tell their stories from their perspectives in their voice. That is what these students from Mount Carmel School have done.”

Some cast and crew members from the films travelled to Guam to attend the 2018 GIFF. Underwritten by the CNMI Public School System Federal Programs, ten members of the cast and crew attended the screenings of their films and other films at the GIFF. Cast and crew members also participated in filmmaker panels at the festival and a film seminar at the University of Guam led by Dr. Brislin.

Produced by the school’s Theatre Club and TRIBE Marianas, the “We Drank Our Tears” films are adapted from “We Drank Our Tears,” a 2004 oral history of the civilian experience of World War II battles on Saipan and Tinian, published by Pacific STAR Young Writers Foundation. In 1944, some of the final battles of World War II were waged on the Pacific islands of Saipan and Tinian. 933 indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch civilians did not survive the battles, and the films chronicle some of their stories.

Francisco Babauta’s story, which was written and directed by Galvin Deleon Guerrero, tells the story of Babauta’s efforts during the war to find food, shelter, and safety for his family. Benjamin Abadilla’s story, which was also written and directed by Deleon Guerrero, follows Abadilla as he is separated from his family during the battles and hides out in the jungle and then tries to find them. Rafael Mafnas’s story, which was written and directed by students Angelo Manese and Justin Ocampo, tells of Mafnas’s efforts to escape crossfire between American and Japanese soldiers by hiding in a cave with his friend.

The special one-night encore screening of “We Drank Our Tears” will be held on Wednesday, October 17 at the Regal Saipan Megaplex. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and the screening will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at Mount Carmel School. For more information, email galvin.deleonguerrero@gmail.com.