film festivals

[Only IN Hollywood] Eugene Domingo steals show at Manila International Film Festival

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] Eugene Domingo steals show at Manila International Film Festival

KISS, PLEASE. Eugene Domingo jokingly asks for a kiss from Dingdong Dantes before announcing the best actor winner.

Sthanlee B. Mirador

'Nothing prepared us for Eugene’s humor and spontaneous antics that had the packed audience at Theater One of DGA roaring with laughter'

LOS ANGELES, USA – From the moment Eugene Domingo went onstage with producer Perci Intalan to accept Becky and Badette’s special jury prize in the recent Manila International Film Festival’s (MIFF) closing night awards gala at the Directors Guild of America (DGA), she was hilarious.

My wife Janet Nepales and I laughed non-stop on the side of the stage. After she and I introduced the MIFF jurors and then announced that Becky and Badette won the special jury prize “for its LGBTQIA cultural sensitivity and awareness, effectively combining these themes with humanity and humor,” nothing prepared us for Eugene’s humor and spontaneous antics that had the packed audience at Theater One of DGA roaring with laughter.

FilAm Creative executive director Mark Labella, who was also on the side (he was helping present the awards), kept chuckling, too. Eugene walked up to Mark, and was not heard on the mic when she teased him, “Bakit tawa ka nang tawa diyan – kilala ba kita (Why do you keep laughing – do I even know you)?”

Eugene walked back to the podium and continued to jokingly address Mark, this time on the mic: “Tawa ka nang tawa – para namang close tayo (You keep laughing – as if we’re even close)!”

When Eugene noticed the script printout in all capital letters and large font size on the podium, she exclaimed, “Ang laki ng font (This font is huge)!” She turned to me and quipped, “Ay, kaya pala ang laki ng font (Oh, so that’s why this font is huge)!”

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THE HILARIOUS EUGENE. Eugene Domingo and Perci Intal accepting the Special Jury Prize for ‘Becky and Badette.’ Sthanlee B. Mirador

Showing her keen observation (I also noticed this unintentionally funny bit happening onstage), Eugene humorously targeted next Secretary of Interior and Local Government Benhur Abalos’ assistant, dressed in a long dark coat, who scurried back and forth onstage, carrying and putting the Secretary’s speech printouts on the podium.

The actress mimicked the assistant running onstage and dished, “Kanina kay Chairman…Benhur, may Harry Potter pala kayong kasama (Chairman Benhur, turns out you’re with Harry Potter)! (To the assistant who was laughing) Kung tumakbo ka ganito (mimics him and runs onstage). Panalo! Kami ingat na ingat maglakad e ikaw naka boots ka pa tumatakbo ka. Galing talaga ni Harry Potter!

(This is what you look like when you run. Amazing! Here we are walking so gingerly while you’re running around in boots! Harry Potter is truly fantastic!)

With this extended acceptance speech – one of the funniest I’ve heard in my many years of covering awards nights – Eugene definitely stole the MIFF awards show. In the few times she was not joking around, Eugene, who costarred with Pokwang in Becky and Badette, thanked her director, Jun Robles Lana.

Eugene’s funny acceptance speech and antics were among the highlights of the inaugural MIFF, which began January 29 with a press conference and screenings at the TCL Chinese Theatres and an opening night reception at the Yamashiro Restaurant, both in Hollywood. The screenings, with Q&As with the filmmakers, actors, producers, and creative talents behind the 10 entries, ran through February 1.

As one of the cofounders of MIFF, and part of a small team that organized this historic first international edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), I was moved by the sight of people queuing to watch Filipino films. These 10 movies, official entries in last December’s MMFF, made their American premieres at the MIFF.

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BEST ACTORS. Best actor winners Piolo Pascual and Dingdong Dantes congratulate each other. Sthanlee B. Mirador

Working to champion Philippine cinema in America (and the rest of the world someday, who knows), this team worked so hard to make the first MIFF a success that some people thought it has been going on for years, just based on the scale of the MIFF.

I doff my cinematic hat to these individuals who became my fellow MIFF “warriors.” I start with my cofounders – Omen Ortiz (chairman), Ebradu Udarbe (president), Lisa Lew (executive producer), Celia Abaya Dy (ticketing manager), and Janet (she and I are officially listed as media relations consultants but we helped in virtually all areas).

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AND THE WINNER IS. MIFF co-founders Ruben and Janet Nepales with the winners’ envelopes. Sthanlee B. Mirador

I salute these individuals who also wholeheartedly gave their all to mount the biggest gathering of Filipino and Fil-Am film talents in Hollywood – Leo Dela Cruz (chief financial officer), Erickson Ilog (chief operations officer), Ron Ramores (chief marketing officer), and Meriden Angeles (coordinating producer).

MIFF, virtually a labor of love for Philippine cinema, was also made possible by sponsors, media, and community partners and volunteers. No task was too small for everyone who chipped in with their valuable time.

The sight of several officers of FilAm Creative, a nonprofit creative organization that had its own successful first film festival last November, carrying chairs down the dark theater stairs for the after-screening Q&As, was pure bayanihan spirit in action.

The opening day press conference at the TLC Chinese Theatre 6 was a logistical challenge. How do we fit all the filmmakers, scriptwriters, and other creatives of the 10 films who flew from Manila in such a limited space, including these actors: Becky and Badette (Eugene Domingo); Broken Heart’s Trip (Christian Bables and Marvin Yap); Family of Two (Alden Richards); Firefly (Dingdong Dantes and Ysabel Ortega); GomBurZa (Enchong Dee, Cedrick Juan, and Piolo Pascual); (K)Ampon (Beauty Gonzalez); Mallari (Piolo, Janella Salvador, and Ron Angeles); Penduko (John Arcilla); Rewind (Dingdong); and When I Met You in Tokyo (Christopher de Leon).

Not to mention the MMFF team led by Romando “Don” Artes, overall chairman; Rochelle Macapili-Ona, executive director; and Boots Anson Roa, actress, MMFF executive committee member and Mowelfund board member; and the Film Development Council of the Philippines’ (FDCP) Tirso Cruz III and Jose “Joey” Javier Reyes, chairman and consultant, respectively.

The solution? We broke them into groups so everyone was able to sit down in front of the assembled media and answer questions. Somehow, at the end of the afternoon press con, we all managed to squeeze together for a group photo.

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ALL TOGETHER NOW. The opening day press conference in Hollywood. Katie Ortiz

The after-screening Q&As were my favorite part of MIFF. For four days, Janet, Fil-Am publicist Winston Emano, ABS-CBN News North American Bureau Chief TJ Manotoc, and I took turns moderating these Q&As. Each film had a Q&A after one of its two screenings at the fest.

I ended up moderating the GomBurZa Q&As three times because the film’s delegation, led by director Pepe Diokno, volunteered to have a discussion after each of their scheduled two screenings.

Those screenings sold out so a third one had to be quickly added due to the overwhelming demand to see the historical drama about the three priests whose execution ignited the Filipinos’ revolution against Spain’s colonial rule.

Pepe, accompanied by Enchong Dee (who plays Father Zamora), also showed up early to introduce his film at each of the three screenings. So I had the pleasure of chatting with Pepe while waiting on the side. Only 37, Pepe directed three feature films before GomBurZa.

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‘GOMBURZA’ Q&A. Moderator Ruben Nepales, cinematographer Carlo Canlas Mendoza, actors Cedrick Juan, Enchong Dee, and Piolo Pascual, and director Pepe Diokno. Sthanlee B. Mirador

The GomBurZa moviegoers stayed to listen to Pepe and his group answer my questions and those of the audience. Pepe and Enchong were at each of the three Q&As with the following joining one or two of the illuminating discussions: Piolo Pascual (Father Pelaez), Cedrick Juan (Father Burgos), cinematographer Carlo Canlas Mendoza, and producers Jeffrey Remigio and Jane Basas.

I discovered Enchong’s good sense of humor in these Q&As.

Christian Bables’ star charisma shone in his Broken Heart’s Trip Q&A with costar Marvin Yap and producer Benjie Cabrera and throughout the festival.

Eugene Domingo and Perci Intalan were totally engaging in my Q&A with them for Becky and Badette.

It was fun to see and talk to producer Joji Alonso again for the (K)Ampon Q&A with her and actress Beauty Gonzalez.

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‘(K)AMPON’ Q&A. Moderator Ruben Nepales with producer Joji Alonso and actress Beauty Gonzalez. Sthanlee B. Mirador

Janet had fun moderating the When I Met You in Tokyo Q&A because Christopher de Leon gamely sang a bit of the Apo Hiking Society’s “When I Met You,” with moviegoers singing along.

Then actress Bunny Paras, who was in the audience, signaled to Janet and surprisingly, she had no less than Vilma Santos on the phone calling in live at the Q&A. So Christopher said to his co-star, “Bru (their characters’ term of endearment to each other), sana nandito ka (wish you were here)!”

To which Vilma replied, “Bru, I miss you! Thank you to our producers and everyone who supported our film! Thank you also Ms. Janet for all the support. I read and see everything you post on Facebook!”

In its goal to open communication and encourage collaboration between the Filipino film industry and Hollywood and beyond, MIFF organized various panels, including a directors-creators breakfast at Sunset Marquis Hotel’s Cavatina Restaurant; a Screen Actors Guild panel-mixer, and a “How to Awards Season Your Film/TV Show” panel with top Fil-Am awards campaign publicists, both at MIFF’s VIP lounge at the TCL Chinese Theatres.

Also held at the VIP lounge was a breakfast roundtable with an impressive list of award-winning Hollywood cinematographers: Mark Irwin (The FlyThere’s Something About MaryOld SchoolDumb and DumberRoboCop2), Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must DieSpeedLethal Weapon 4The Devil’s AdvocatePrizzi’s HonorTerms of Endearment​, Dante’s Peak), Steven Shaw (E.T. The Extra-TerrestrialTremorsThe Division), Ueli Steiger (GodzillaAustin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged MeThe Day After Tomorrow), Alexa Cha (EchoesCold Cold Man and Willy Goes Back!), and Jacek Laskus (The GuardianParting GlancesThe Caine Mutiny Court-Martial).

Michael Shugrue of Birns & Sawyer, which hosted this roundtable of leading DPs, moderated.

FDCP also hosted a roundtable on “Shooting Your Next Film/TV Series in the Philippines” at Yamashiro Restaurant.

We can’t thank enough the jurors, all accomplished Filipino American professionals, who found time in their hectic schedules to watch the entries. With the time zone differences, it was a challenge to coordinate with the 10 producers in Manila to send their screening links to the jurors, especially when there were issues with the links.

We thank Rochelle Ona, MMFF executive director, and Lisa, for quickly resolving any problems with the screening links.

Our distinguished jurors are Marie Jamora, filmmaker (head of the jury); Mari Acevedo CEO of Birns & Sawyer; Leah Anova, cinematographer; Reggie Lee, actor; David Maquiling, filmmaker and film school educator; and Sumalee Montano, actress and producer.

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MARI. MIFF juror and Filipina CEO of Birns & Sawyer Mari Acevedo. Sthanlee B. Mirador

Mari’s Birns & Sawyer awards a co-producing package to Firefly, the Best Picture awardee. The winner will get a chance to shoot a US-based feature film co-produced by Birns & Sawyer, which will give up to $100,000 worth of camera rental equipment with the support of other industry gear vendors.

The package of Birns & Sawyer is valued overall at $200,000 with the support of its industry partners, Atlas Lens Co., BlackOps Studios Asia, CMB Film Services, Inc., and Myriad Entertainment USA.

Established in 1954, Birns & Sawyer has served filmmakers in Hollywood for six decades. With Fil-Am Mari as its leader, Birns & Sawyer aims to support the next generation of Filipino content creators, filmmakers, and their stories.

On Friday, February 2, Janet and I walked into the usually plain DGA lobby transformed by Lisa and her team into a posh, elegant gala setting that can rival, even beat, the sophistication of some of Hollywood’s major awards shows.

Lisa’s multiple Emmy Award experience as a producer extended to the show itself, a fast-paced production with exciting screen visuals and a script written by veteran Ted Benito.

The hosts, presenters, and performers included Kaladkaren, Eisel Serrano, Mark Dacascos, Janella Salvador, Piolo Pascual, Alden Richards, Eugene Domingo, Dingdong Dantes, Dessa, Janice Javier, Troy Laureta, Lisa, Winston, Janet, and yours truly.

Early in the show, Faith Santilla, a top Fil-Am executive at the DGA, welcomed the audience.

It was a sweet reunion for siblings Christopher and Pinky de Leon with Hilda Koronel, who received MIFF’s inaugural Monty Manibog Lifetime Achievement Award. Pinky, who first worked with Hilda in Ishmael Bernal’s Till Death Do Us Part in 1972 and then in Orlando Nadres’ Lupang Hinirang, in 1973, presented the award to Lino Brocka’s muse.

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FIL-AM ACTORS CAME OUT IN FULL SUPPORT. Carlin James, Jason Rogel, Jon Jon Briones, and JB Tadena. Sthanlee B. Mirador

After the show, Christopher and Hilda, who co-starred in Mike de Leon’s Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising (Moments in a Stolen Dream), embraced on the red (well, it was gold actually, in keeping with the trend to use other hues) carpet. It was their first time to see each other after many years.

Metro Manila mayors, who were in Los Angeles for a study tour, also graced the gala.

Then it was time for the swanky dinner and after-party with food stations, including for dessert, laid out throughout the transformed lobby.

Jon Jon Briones, one of the Fil-Am actor guests who mingled with the visiting Manila talents, was playful as usual and pretended to bite the terno sleeve of Janet’s couture Carl Andrada Filipiniana gown as they posed for photos.

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BITE. Jon Jon Briones playfully pretends to bite the terno sleeve of Janet Nepales. With them are Reggie Lee and Imee Ong Maghanoy at the MIFF after-party. Ruben V. Nepales

Me? I just wanted to put my feet up on one of the lounge chairs, feeling very tired but happy and fulfilled that we pulled off the historic inaugural Manila International Film Festival.

Here’s the complete list of 2024 MIFF winners and honorees:

Best Picture – Firefly
Second Best Picture – GomBurZa
Special Jury Prize – Becky and Badette
Best Director – Zig Dulay (Firefly)
Best Actress – Vilma Santos (When I Met You in Tokyo)
Best Actor (tie) – Dingdong Dantes (Rewind) and Piolo Pascual (Mallari)
Best Supporting Actress – Alessandra de Rossi (Firefly)
Best Supporting Actor – Pepe Herrera (Rewind)
Best Screenplay – Angeli Atienza (Firefly)
Best Cinematography – Carlo Canlas Mendoza (GomBurZa)
Audience Award – GomBurZa
Monty Manibog Lifetime Achievement Award – Hilda Koronel
Trailblazer Awards – Mark Dacascos, Filipino American actor; Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr., the Philippines’ Secretary of the Interior and Local Government; and Romando “Don” Artes, overall chairman of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF)
Award of Recognition – Rochelle Ona, MMFF executive director


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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.