film festivals

[Only IN Hollywood] A life in film fests: On the SOHO International and Manila International Film Festivals

Ruben V. Nepales

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[Only IN Hollywood] A life in film fests: On the SOHO International and Manila International Film Festivals
'My relationship with the Metro Manila Film Festival goes way back. I have a confession to make – I was and I am still a Noranian.'

NEW YORK, USA – The surprised look on Jhett Tolentino’s face when his Asian Persuasion won the audience award for feature-length film in the recent awards night of the 14th SOHO International Film Festival (SIFFNYC) was priceless.

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SURPRISE. ‘Asian Persuasion’ director Jhett Tolentino. Ruben V. Nepales/Rappler

I missed watching Jhett’s feature directing debut, starring Dante Basco, KC Concepcion, and Paolo Montalban. But I caught Ma-an L. Asuncion-Dagñalan’s Blue Room (Philippines), an eye-opening and absorbing drama about the existence of “VIP detention areas” in police precincts where the arrested can bribe their way out.

Blue Room, represented in the awards event held at Fushimi Times Square by actor Harvey Bautista and producer Will Fredo, bagged three nominations – best world showcase feature film and best acting performance in a leading role – world feature (Nour Hooshmand and Soliman Cruz).

Harvey, whom I met for the first time, and the other Blue Room cast members – including Juan Karlos Labajo, Keoni Jin, Elijah Canlas (more about Elijah below), and Bombi Plata – were just as good.

I saw Morocco’s Triple A, Jihane El Bahhar’s drama centering on three couples and their urgent need for a functional human organ (the illegal organ trade is also an eye-opener), which won the best world showcase feature film over Blue Room, Italy’s The House That Stood, and Romania’s A Frame of Mind.

PERSUASIVE. (L-R) Jorge Ballos, KC Concepcion, Paolo Montalban, Sybil Reymundo Santiago, Celia Au. Champion Hamilton

Man of the Sea, directed by Ken Anderson (actor Gerald’s brother), about a Badjao man’s relationship with the ocean which has kept his family alive for generations, was nominated for best showcase documentary short, along with Germany’s The Walk by Jonny Stern.

The United States’ Astor Place, The American Dream, by Giuseppe Malpasso, prevailed in this category.

The best US showcase feature film honors went to Sheridan O’Donnell’s Little Brother, accepted by the film’s Philip Ettinger, who also cinched the best acting performance in a leading role – US feature.

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ALL TOGETHER NOW. The winners and nominees of this year’s SOHO International Film Festival. Troi Santos

The other film awardees were showcase documentary film, Jeremy Williams’ Sacred Dog; showcase animated film, Kevin Sharpley’s Above Ground; US showcase short film, Jordan Hidalgo’s The Auction; and world showcase short film, Abbie Lucas’ Voices.

Other acting awards went to leading role – world feature, Puiu-Mircea Lascus, A Frame; leading role – US short, Sophia Power, Cold & Sara; and leading role – world short, Victoria Dunsmore, A Song for William Bird.

Audience awards were also bagged by Heidi Miami Marshall’s S.P.I.C., feature-length film; and Erik Bloomquist’s Intermedium, exhibition films. Series awards were handed to Brad Morris’ Hank & Willow, long-form TV pilot; and David T. Wagner and David Allensworth’s Imaginary Friends, short-form TV pilot.

Anthony Rapp (Rent), lead actor nominee – US feature for Scrap and Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Amy Ryan were among the attendees in the eight-day festival, with screenings held at the historic landmark Village East by Angelika.

JK Simmons, Academy and Golden Globe winner, participated in the Q and A panel following the screening of Little Brother, where he costars, and which went on to win two prizes.

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JK AND PHILIP. JK Simmons and Philip Ettinger at the ‘Little Brother’ Q and A. Contributed photo

In the lively, informal award rites, I had the honor to be among the award presenters, along with Janet, award-winning filmmaker Jeffrey Jeturian, who was one of the jury members, and Over a Glass or Two podcast co-host Jessy Daing, among others.

It was fun to see so many old friends and make new ones that night and on the previous two evenings I attended SIFFNYC. Props to founder Jorge Ballos and executive director and head of programming Sibyl Reymundo-Santiago!

Spotted among the guests in the packed Fushimi was Reuben Uy, who costars in Velvet Sky, a short drama film entry by Charles Jon Gray, a grand-nephew of the late Dolphy; Gray didn’t make it to the fest due to flight issues.

My only regret was not being able to chat with Sybil’s mom, veteran actress Lorli Villanueva, who looked lovely at the awards bash. In the frenzied atmosphere at Fushimi, I only managed to say hi. When I looked for Lorli after the awards had been announced, she had left.

Manila International Film Festival

Back to Elijah Canlas, who is one of the best actors to emerge in the Philippines in recent years; his About Us But Not About Us is one of the three films that will launch the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF) in Los Angeles.

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TENSION. A still from Jun Lana’s ‘About Us But Not About Us.’

As the first overseas version of the popular Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), MIFF will be held in LA in late January next year. The eight official MMFF entries this December will also be screened at the MIFF where the stars and filmmakers behind the movies will be invited to grace the four-day celebration.

To launch MIFF, a one-day event will be held on November 2 at the Directors Guild of America on iconic Sunset Boulevard. Three films from MMFF’s inaugural summer edition (Metro Manila Summer Film Festival, or MMSFF) last April will be shown.

The November launch screenings will be capped by a reception where the talents and filmmakers of the three movies will be invited to attend.

These are the aforementioned Jun Lana’s About Us But Not About Us, starring Romnick Sarmenta and Elijah, winner of several MMSFF awards, including best picture; Chris Martinez’s Here Comes the Groom, starring Enchong Dee, Miles Ocampo, and Gladys Reyes, MMSFF special jury prize winner; and JP Habac Jr.’s Love You Long Time, starring Carlo Aquino, Eisel Serrano, and Ana Abad Santos.

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SHOCK. A still from Chris Martinez’s ‘Here Comes the Groom.’

I’ve seen About Us But Not About Us, a two-hander that kept me engrossed, just watching Romnick and Elijah who are evenly matched, although the latter has the meatier role. The film takes place in one setting – during a meal at a restaurant and nothing else – but the revelations by Romnick’s literary professor and his student (Elijah) and their exchanges are riveting.

I look forward to watching Here Comes the Groom and Love You Long Time at the November launch.

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APART. A still from JP Habac Jr.’s ‘Love You Long Time.’

My relationship with the Metro Manila Film Festival goes way back. I have a confession to make – I was and I am still a Noranian.

One year in the early 1970s, when MMFF’s precursor, the Manila Film Festival, had its beloved tradition, the parade of floats bearing stars of the entries, my relatives and I (a kid then) trekked to Avenida Rizal to catch a glimpse of Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III.

As we were standing there, packed like sardines, with the floats carrying Nora and Tirso passing by, heavy (and I mean really heavy) rains came pouring down. There was no place to take shelter. We all got very wet.

I came home drenched to the bone but I was very happy to see Ate Guy and Kuya Pip!

More details on MIFF here.

Full disclosure: I am one of the founders and officers of MIFF. –

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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.