Filipino celebrities

[Only IN Hollywood] Hilda Koronel, Romnick Sarmenta, and more in hectic month of LA film festivals

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Hilda Koronel, Romnick Sarmenta, and more in hectic month of LA film festivals
In the elegantly styled reception at the DGA, Filipino, Fil-Am, and Hollywood actors and filmmakers mingled, many of them meeting for the first time

LOS ANGELES, USA – In her first public event appearance since the passing of her husband, Ralph Moore Jr., last June, Hilda Koronel graced the November 2 launch in LA of the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF), where it was announced that she was the recipient of the festival’s inaugural Monty Manibog Lifetime Achievement Award.

Looking svelte in a black Alan del Rosario gown, with a becoming short do, Hilda received a bouquet from Lisa Manibog Lew, whose late dad, Gonzalo Monty Manibog, the award was named in honor of.

HILDA. Hilda Koronel, recipient of the inaugural Monty Manibog Lifetime Achievement Award at the MIFF. Sthanlee B. Mirador

In the program during the launch reception held in between screenings at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) on Sunset Boulevard, MIFF chairman Omen Ortiz announced, on behalf of MIFF, “We are announcing the recipient of the first Monty Manibog Lifetime Achievement Award. She is one of the greatest actresses of the Philippines. She has captured our hearts not only because of her beauty but also because of her tremendous acting talent and range which she displayed in many films.”

“She starred in Lino Brocka’s classics Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, which won 6 FAMAS awards in 1976 and Insiang which won both FAMAS and Gawad Urian Awards in 1977. Insiang was also the first Philippine film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. She was also the first Filipina actress to make a splash at that prestigious film festival.”

Hilda will receive the honors on the closing night of the actual MIFF on February 2 in a venue to be announced soon.

Omen also elaborated on why MIFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award was named after Monty, who passed away in 2016: “In 1976, Monty Manibog became the first Filipino American to become an elected official – and it was a landslide – in Southern California when he won a seat on the Monterey Park City Council. He also made history as the first Fil-Am mayor in the continental United States.”

“Monty was an Olympic wrestler who competed in the 1952 Summer Olympics. He was a pioneering lawyer who became the first Filipino American to pass the California bar exam. He was a great humanitarian. He helped thousands of our kababayan. I am so proud to say that I am one of those lucky ones. Maraming salamat po, Uncle Monty, wherever you are.”

Monty was like a second dad to Omen, a former actor and model in Manila, while he was a college student in LA.

Congratulations to Hilda!

In the elegantly styled reception at the DGA that spilled into the terrace where the California sun shone on the guests, Filipino, Fil-Am, and Hollywood actors and filmmakers mingled, many of them meeting for the first time.

The Manila delegation was led by Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) overall chairman, Romando “Don” Artes, and executive director, Rochelle “Che” Ona.

The actors and filmmakers of the three films from the Philippines that were screened throughout the day had the time of their lives meeting their colleagues in La La Land: Romnick Sarmenta, director Jun Robles Lana, and producer Perci Intalan (About Us But Not About Us), Enchong Dee and Kaladkaren (Here Comes the Groom), and Eisel Serrano and director JP Habac (Love You Long Time).

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MIFF ACTORS. Romnick Sarmenta, Bryan Geli, JonJon Briones, and Reggie Lee. Sthanlee B. Mirador

Star power also came from LA-based talents, including Tia Carrere, radiant in a blue David Tupaz dress, handsome father and son Jon Jon Briones and Teo Briones, Reggie Lee, Carlin James, JB Tadena, Bryan Geli, Zedrick Restauro, beautiful couple Jay R and Mica Javier, Megan Briones, Sam Morelos, John Savage (Salvador, The Deer Hunter), Peter Kwong (Big Trouble in Little China, The Golden Child), Inigo Pascual, and Djhoanna Garcia (aka Giji Kocher).

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QUEENS. KaladKaren and Tia Carrere. Sthanlee B. Mirador

Adding Hollywood Fil-Am glitz were the Basco Siblings – Arianna, Derek, and Darion – Giovannie Espiritu, Tootsie Guevarra, and Bianca Catbagan.

In the short program emceed by Janet Nepales, director Marie Jamora (The Cleaning LadyGrease: Rise of the Pink LadiesFantasy IslandFire CountryThe Resident, and many more) spoke on behalf of the Fil-Am entertainment community.

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FILIPINAS IN HOLLYWOOD. Mica Javier, Bianca Nepales, Marie Jamora, and Lea Dizon. Sthanlee B. Mirador

After the reception, truly a convivial affair of talents gathered under one roof (and sky, if you will), the guests proceeded to Theater 2 for the launch’s final screening, Jun’s About Us But Not About Us. (Chris Martinez’s Here Comes the Groom and JP Habac’s Love You Long Time, both enthusiastically received, were screened earlier in the day.)

Since the theater was packed, I stood on the side and watched the two-hander drama, rare in Philippine cinema, for the second time. I was still transfixed by the dialogue – the gradual revelations, twists, admissions, and recriminations – all deftly delivered by both Romnick and Elijah Canlas.

After the applause for the film and the last of the end credits rolled, I had the honor of moderating the Q&A with Jun, Romnick, and Perci. The filmgoers were just as engrossed as I was in the very interesting answers of Jun, Romnick, and Perci, a filmmaker himself, to my questions.

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Q&A. Ruben Nepales, Jun Robles Lana, Romnick Sarmenta, and Perci Intalan. Phillip Ner

Later, Eisel and JP joined the Q&A which fittingly capped the launch day at the DGA headquarters. Speaking of this guild that represents thousands of film and TV directors in the States and abroad, a Filipina, Faith Santilla, is one of its top executives.

Early in the morning that day, Fil-Am publicist Winston Emano organized, on behalf of MIFF, a breakfast meeting at the London West Hollywood Hotel of the Manila-based directors, Jun, JP, and Perci, and the Fil-Am filmmakers, Marie Jamora, David Maquiling, Francis dela Torre, and Anthony Francisco. Don, Che, and producer Karishma Gidwani joined the morning gathering which I heard was a fruitful encounter among the creatives.

The day before, I also moderated the MIFF launch press conference at the Panorama Ballroom of the Andaz West Hollywood Hotel. MIFF’s Lisa Lew and Omen Ortiz joined the Philippine actors, filmmakers, and MMFF officials on the panel.

After the lively exchange between the panelists and media, a welcome cocktails reception culminated in a birthday toast for Enchong Dee (an early one for the November 5 celebrant) and press conference guest, Imee Ong Maghanoy.

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BACK TO MIFF IN JANUARY? Enchong Dee next to a poster of ‘GomBurZa.’ Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

In late January next year, MIFF is scheduled to screen all 10 entries in this December’s MMFF and will give its own awards, voted by an independent jury.

These 10 films to be shown at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood are:

* Nuel Naval’s A Family of 2 (A Mother and Son Story), starring Sharon Cuneta and Alden Richards

* Jun Robles Lana’s Becky and Badette, starring Eugene Domingo and Pokwang

* Lemuel Lorca’s Broken Heart’s Trip, starring Christian Bables and Andoy Ranay

* Zig Madamba Dulay’s Firefly, starring Alessandra De Rossi, Euwenn Mikaell Aleta, and Dingdong Dantes

* Pepe Diokno’s GomBurZa, starring Enchong Dee, Dante Rivero, Piolo Pascual, and Cedrick Juan

* King Palisoc’s (K)Ampon, starring Beauty Gonzalez and Derek Ramsay

* Derick Cabrido’s Mallari, starring Piolo Pascual and Janella Salvador

* Jason Paul Laxamana’s Penduko, starring Matteo Guidicelli and Cristine Reyes

* Mae Cruz-Alviar’s Rewind, starring Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes

* Conrado Peru, Rommel Penesa, and Christopher de Leon’s When I Met You in Tokyo, starring Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon

Based on the list above, Jun and Enchong could be headed back to Hollywood in late January next year. More information on MIFF at

FilAm Creative Film Festival

On November 3, the day right after the MIFF launch, the inaugural FilAm Creative Film Festival had its opening night at Occidental College, former US president Barack Obama’s alma mater in Eagle Rock, a neighborhood in northeast LA.

FilAm Creative is a nonprofit corporation focused on the advancement and empowerment of Fil-Ams in media and entertainment.

After the arrivals on the red carpet where actress Sam Morales was the official host doing the interviews (she turned the tables on Janet and me and was the one asking us questions instead), the guests trooped inside Thorne Hall.

One of the highlights of the opening night program was the awarding of Brillante Mendoza, who attended in person to receive his trophy honoring his achievements as a filmmaker. The award was presented to the 2009 Cannes best director (for Kinatay or Butchered) by his daughter, a beaming Angel Mendoza, and FilAm Creative’s Jeff Francisco.

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BRILLANTE. Brillante Mendoza, Angel Mendoza, and Jeff Francisco. Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

A screening of Kinatay and a Q&A with Brillante were scheduled the following day.

The opening evening also featured a screening of Elisa Gambino’s Antipolo-set documentary, Every Day After, and the official entries – an array of short films and music videos.

The festival also scheduled screenings and panel discussions on November 4 and an awards gala on November 5. Cheers to FilAm Creative, its leaders Mark Labella and Jennielyn Abrot, and the entire team, for pulling off their first film festival!

Hollywood Turkish Film and Drama Days

As if this month’s schedule was not hectic enough, the Hollywood Turkish Film and Drama Days opened on November 4 at the landmark Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The two-day event, curated by my colleague, Barbaros Tapan, began with a red carpet scene featuring Turkish celebrities, a screening of Fuad Kavur’s Ataturk at the Cary Grant Theatre, and a reception.

And on November 8, the Asian World Film Festival in LA begins… –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.