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A Saipan filmmaker’s perspective: GIFF 2016

BACK in April, I reviewed the University of Guam Film Festival 2016 Spring Local Showcase at which my short film “Ayotte’: Way of the Warrior Poet” made its festival debut. A couple of months later, “Ayotte’ ” also screened at the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts to a much larger audience which included delegates from all throughout Oceania.

Following FestPac, I once again wrote a feature detailing the experience. Each piece was dedicated to both seasoned and aspiring filmmakers of the CNMI, as a means to pique their interest and encourage future participation in similar events.

Nov. 16 to 20 marked the 6th Annual Guam International Film Festival on our sister island to the south. This year’s installment of “GIFF,” as the festival has become affectionately known, was particularly special to me for several reasons.

First, it was the third total festival appearance for “Ayotte’ ” this year, including the aforementioned festivals. “Ayotte’ ” had become an official GIFF selection by advancing from the University of Guam Film Festival.

Secondly, it was the first screening that my co-producer and “brother” in performance arts Josh Castro was able to attend since completion of the project. Josh was initially on the fence about attending as he was unfamiliar with film festival experiences in general and relatively new to the scene. According to him, it turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made — a point that I shall revisit at a later point in this feature.

Josh Castro, Ben Salas, Sarah Filush, Frank Camacho, Franklin Camacho Jr., Melvin Won Pat-Borja and Camirin Quitugua pose at the Guam International Film Festival. Contributed photoJosh Castro, Ben Salas, Sarah Filush, Frank Camacho, Franklin Camacho Jr., Melvin Won Pat-Borja and Camirin Quitugua pose at the Guam International Film Festival. Contributed photo

Thirdly, amidst a stellar lineup of 59 amazing and unique films from around the globe, “Ayotte’ ” was the lone film representing the CNMI. This is something that I hope motivates more filmmakers from Saipan, Tinian, Rota and even the Northern Islands to participate in future GIFFs and film festivals of its caliber.

Last but not least, GIFF 2016 was the first official community event to be held entirely at the brand new Guam Museum in Hagatña. In May and June, a portion of the FestPac film festival had taken place at the museum, although not in this capacity. It was truly an honor to be a part of history during such a momentous occasion for filmmaking advancement in the Marianas.

Opening night

GIFF opened on the 16th of November to an enthusiastic crowd of both new and returning festival attendees. While the majority of filmgoers filled the indoor theater of the museum, others opted to view alternate screenings at the museum’s outdoor theater.

A key development that has certainly helped in GIFF’s expansion, since its inception, is its partnering with Docomo Pacific as the festival’s primary sponsor. Through this venture, a segment known as the Docomo Pacific Shorts grew into fruition. This year’s opening showcase was highlighted by Sarah Filush’s heartwarming documentary short “Kids From Chuuk” — aptly titled after the singing youth group sensation that is currently taking Guam by storm. The film gives viewers a glance into the Kids’ humble beginnings and courageously tackles important social issues such as racial discrimination; while still maintaining a lighthearted feel.

In addition, opening night also featured critically acclaimed Hawaiian documentary “Mele Murals.” It follows the story of a community’s efforts to capture and preserve the essence of indigenous Hawaiian culture through the medium of hip hop graffiti murals.    

The next few days of GIFF featured a memorable selection of incredible international films.

To be continued