Marianas Variety

Last updateWed, 17 Jul 2019 12am







    Tuesday, July 16, 2019-12:25:13P.M.






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Our Oceania: The making of ‘The Forgotten Island’

WHEN Office on Aging Director Walter A. Manglona announced that he would be directing a movie starring members of the Manamko’ Center, no one knew quite what to expect — not even the manamko’ who signed up.

“Once he approached me with the idea, I was just wondering, ‘Well, how is he going to pull this off?’” said Vernon Lane, who took on his role as the Old Man by the Sea back in early January. “But after he presented his idea, like what he wanted to do, where he wanted to take it, and how he wanted to visualize the island, I said, ‘Ok, go ahead and count me in.’”

“I do music videos,” Manglona explained. “I’ve been doing it for years and we actually dabbled here and there with very short little segments or films for the elders. But this was the first time we wanted to do a feature film.”

For seven months, Manglona spent weekends, mornings and nights working on “The Forgotten Island” with Lane and co-stars Lito Asuncion and Emanuel Mikel. Manglona said that while writing the script, he drew a lot of his inspiration from Saipan’s scenery.

“There’s this place here on Saipan called the Mermaid Cave — it’s got a statue of a mermaid and it’s far, past Kalabera Cave,” he said. “I went there and I thought to myself, “Ok, the sacred orb was stolen from the Mermaid Cave...’”

Of course, Lane’s character was inspired by Saipan’s Old Man by the Sea.

“I started asking people, ‘Is there a story behind that rock? No? Ok, I’ll create one,’” said Manglona. “The Old Man was summoned by the oracles to look for two Kakura warriors and train them to battle Chief Maiti…”

Manglona directed and filmed while holding the camera, the boom, and his copy of the script.

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“Being able to shoot a scene, although it seems very complex at times, it’s actually a lot easier than one thinks,” Manglona assured  Variety.  He said the real challenge was “being able to train the actors so they believe in the character that they play.”

But apparently, his cast managed to get the hang of it.

“I think these two really believe that they’re Kakura warriors,” Manglona joked, pointing to Lito and Mikel, who burst out laughing.

Mikel is Chuukese and Lito is Filipino, but they play characters from the same tribe. To work around their different accents, Manglona decided to have the Kakura warriors speak their own (subtitled) language.

“They’re good — I didn’t have to tell them exactly what they had to do. I just said, ‘Talk to him in a made-up language. Action!’ and Mikel just started saying ‘Haki konoke kala.’”

“Where have you been?” reads the subtitle in the final edit.

“Oracona kola,” Asuncion responds off the top of his head. The characters speak back and forth in the Kakura language throughout the film.

According to Mikel, when he, Asuncion, and Vernon first volunteered, they were the only manamko’ interested in the project.

“I just wanted to have fun,” he said, “because some of the places where we went to shoot the movie, I had never been there, so it was really fun to have the time and opportunity to observe new places that are nice on Saipan.”

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 “Later on, when some of the manamko’ saw that this thing was very fun and interesting, they said, ‘Why did the boss only choose those people?’” said Mikel.

“They also wanted to be in the movie,” Asuncion laughed.

Eventually, the manamko’ movie developed a full cast of actors and was preceded by a string of music videos and comedy sketches. Manglona gave over 40 members of the manamko’ individual parts, and shot one music video that featured all of them (around 70).

Perhaps one of the most entertaining scenes in the movie is when the Kakura warriors fight Chief Maiti, a CGI monster of Manglona’s creation, at Tank Beach in Kagman.

“It’s funny how you guys were fighting nothing right?” Manglona asked Asuncion and Mikel. They laughed and nodded.

“They were on the beach and I was like ‘Ok, are you ready? There’s a huge monster right in front of you!’ They turned around and said, ‘There’s no monster there.’”

“I said, ‘Pretend! Pretend!’”

Manglona had Asuncion and Mikel pretend to throw stones at Maiti, but he said it took quite a few tries to get the take.

“I was reviewing the video and Mikel’s throwing one way and Lito’s throwing another way,” said Manglona. “I didn’t know where to put the monster!”

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“The Forgotten Island” debuted in July. Each of its four showings featured a different edit, but they all had one thing in common: audiences astounded by what Manglona was able to bring out of his amateur cast, his single camera, and his Saipan set.

There are many scenes in “The Forgotten Island” that are unarguably visually stunning. And Lane, Asuncion, and Mikel step up to the task of their leading roles; in many scenes, their faces, poses, and words are genuinely cinematic. And in the next moment, the movie’s home-made charm tends to kick in — a moment of gibberish or an extra in the background wearing a bad wig might trigger giggles across the crowd. And then that moment will be followed by another act of mastery, like a drone shot of Mikel and Ascension paddling a wooden canoe that is, again, unquestionably majestic. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more heart-warming experience in a movie theater.

Gov. Ralph Torres attended the fourth showing, which he praised in a subsequent radio interview and brought up a second time in his State of the Commonwealth Address. Since then, CNMI residents have been clamoring for another chance to see the film. Manglona said he has received requests to put the film online from people on the mainland and even in Japan.

“There’s probably certain segments I’ll be putting online but for the actual production, I want people to want to come to see this movie, I want them to see it in the best quality possible,” he said. “But our manamko’ will definitely have access to this film because I can make it ready and available for them here at the center.”

Manglona said theater rental costs are high, but if the Office on Aging finds sponsors, they’ll be happy to put on another showing. In fact, they may be considering making another movie. 

“What do you guys want to do? Action? Comedy?” Manglona asked Lane, Asuncion and Mikel. “You guys want to do like an action-comedy? Like a ‘Rush Hour’?”

“The Old Avengers,” Lane suggested. Manglona mimed shooting bullets from the legs of a walker. The manamko’ laughed.

“I’m appreciative to the director for allowing me the opportunity to do something special on the island,” Lane said later. “No matter where I go, I can still add this to my resume… I can put something up there and say I’ve actually done this! And it feels good, you know? It gives me a little bit of encouragement.”