NMI film wins top GIFF prize

Films now on Amazon Video
Posted on Jan 11 2019


Justin Ocampo, left, and Angelo Manese, directors of We Drank Our Tears: Rafael Mafnas’ Story,” stand by the Best of Festival crystal trophy that their film won at the 8th Guam International Film Festival. (Contributed Photo)

A made-in-the-CNMI film, We Drank Our Tears: Rafael Mafnas’s Story, has won the Best of Festival award at the 8th Annual Guam International Film Festival.

All three films in the We Drank Our Tears series are now available for rent on Amazon and that three more film will be produced with GIFF co-founders and award-winning filmmakers, Kel and Don Muña, agreeing to co-produce the next three films.

Produced by Mount Carmel School’s Theatre Club and Tribe Marianas, the films are adapted from We Drank Our Tears, a 2004 oral history of the civilian experience of World War II battles on Saipan and Tinian, published by Pacific STAR Young Writers Foundation.

In 1944, some of the final battles of World War II were waged on the Pacific islands of Saipan and Tinian. A total of 933 indigenous Chamorro and Refaluwasch civilians did not survive the battles, and the films chronicle some of their stories.

Rafael Mafnas’ story was directed by seniors, Angelo Manese and Justin Ocampo.

Best of Festival at GIFF

Rafael Mafnas’ story is the third film that the school’s Theatre Club had entered into the GIFF in the past two years, which included the first film, We Drank Our Tears: Francisco Babauta’s Story and the next film, We Drank Our Tears: Benjamin Abadilla’s Story.

All three films were nominated for Best Made in Marianas awards at the GIFF, but the Best of Festival honor is the first time any of the films won an award.

The Best of Festival Award is reserved to honor the film and filmmaker that have exhibited the most impactful effort of engagement and interactivity with the film festival and its patrons, from its festival screening to beyond the theatre walls. 

For the award deliberation, the festival directors consider all official selections and take into account multiple facets of significant filmmaker-to-audience engagement, filmmaker-to-festival engagement, story content or subject matter that is not only relative to GIFF audiences, but also resonates beyond its screening at the festival and, finally, overall festival participation of the filmmaker. 

The school learned about the award from Kel Muña, co-founder and program director for the GIFF. In his award letter, Muña wrote, “We are honored to acknowledge We Drank Our Tears: Rafael Mafnas’ Story as the newest addition to a list of significant, impactful films and filmmakers that have earned the award.”

“The GIFF Best of Festival Award is one that we as festival organizers hold in special regard,” Muña added. “Throughout the history of GIFF, all recipients of this award have risen above expectation by utilizing the medium of motion picture paired with the many components of the festival to engage audiences and our community.”

Manese and Ocampo were both stunned to learn that their directorial debut garnered such a prestigious award.

“I’m shocked,” said Manese. “I was already grateful for our film being nominated, but I never expected it to win something.”

Ocampo was equally floored. “As someone who aspires to be a filmmaker, it was amazing to get the film festival experience so close to home and to be recognized on that scale.”

School president Galvin Deleon Guerrero, who is also a producer for the films, is very proud of his students. “This proves that our students have the talent, the skill, and the passion to tell compelling stories about our islands.”

He also acknowledged that the award speaks to the resilience of the people of the Marianas, especially in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yutu. “If it’s one thing we’ve learned by telling these stories, it is that, with hope and faith and determination, we can survive any tragedy, whether they be world wars or super typhoons. The honor of receiving the Best of Festival award reinforces that underlying message.”

For his work with all three films, Deleon Guerrero was also recognized with a 2018 Governor’s Humanities Award for the Preservation of CNMI History.

Available on Amazon

In another milestone for all three films, they are now available for rent on Amazon.

“This may be one of the first times ever that filmmakers from our island have had their content featured on Amazon, a platform with millions of subscribers and a track record for featuring great films,” said Deleon Guerrero.

It took months of work with Amazon to ensure that the films met the guidelines of Amazon and fulfilled the specifications for digital content featured on streaming service. This included being approved by Amazon to offer content online, uploading high definition versions of the films, providing customized graphics for the videos’ landing pages, and designing subtitles for each film.

“Now, everyone, especially those who could not make it to the films’ screenings, can see the great work of these students and learn more about this important part of our history,” Deleon Guerrero said. “This is also an important way to enrich the ongoing narrative about the Pacific battles of the war, which most films tell from the perspectives of soldiers, but almost never from the perspectives indigenous islanders.”

Proceeds from rental revenue will be used to fund future films in the series.

Three more films

Building on the success of the first three films, the school would be working with the Muña brothers to produce three more films in the series.

In discussing the films, Don Muña said, “The maturity in the visual perspective and the historical knowledge that the students from Mount Carmel School have shared through their work is proof we can preserve, restore, and perpetuate our culture by bridging the generational gap through visual communications.”

Muña went so far as to say, “The film series is sheer genius and what I would define as a digital cultural immersion.”

The three more installments in the series will coincide with this year’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II battles on Saipan and Tinian.

Deleon Guerrero noted how the stories are coming full circle. “For the 60th anniversary, the We Drank Our Tears book was published to chronicle the experience of civilians in the war. Fifteen years later, we are keeping those stories alive by bringing them to life in film.”

The three new films are slated for premieres this summer. More information about local screenings will be announced as film production gets underway.

Local production

The films’ cast and crew included a wide range of talent from across the island. All three films were produced by Deleon Guerrero, 2005 AlumKnight Rob Travilla and his company Tribe Marianas, Frankie Eliptico and the Northern Marianas College, and the Northern Mariana Islands Council for the Humanities. 

Rafael Mafnas’ story features Derrick Atalig as Rafael, Matt Moran as his friend Juan, Seok Jun Run as Takeda, a Japanese soldier, Eric Kiser as Mike, an American soldier, and Rodrigo Castro as the older Rafael.

Benjamin Abadilla’s story features Dylan Santos as Benjamin, Aysia Adele Duenas Santos as his mother, Martha, Kalea Borja as his aunt, Mariana, and Jeremiah Diaz as his father, Ramon. The cast also includes Mark Toves as the older Benjamin, Joaquin C. Duenas as the older Ramon, and Joyce C. Santos as an older version of Benjamin’s sister.

Francisco Babauta’s story features Javon Gersonde as Francisco, Kelvin Cepeda as Francisco’s father, Keona Camacho as Francisco’s mother, and Keisuke “Kei” Yoshida as Hirokazu, a Japanese solder that interacts with Francisco and his family. The cast also includes Michitaka “Michi” Yoshida and Randy Johnson as Japanese soldiers and Elphidia “Peding” Cepeda Sanchez and Derek Gersonde as older versions of their respective characters in the film.

Rafael Mafnas’ story and Benjamin Abadilla’s story shared a crew, with Quincy Chinen as the unit production manager, Kelvin Cepeda as the first assistance director, Reica Ramirez as script supervisor, Victoria Deleon Guerrero and Joanie Paraiso as production designers, and Alvin Palacios as lead cameraman. The crew also included Aldwin Batusin and Ivy Leong assisting with production design, Kyle Bautista operating the boom microphone, and Maverick Irang serving as the crew grip.

The crew for Francisco Babauta’s story included Zeno Deleon Guerrero as production manager, Markel Toves as first assistant director, Aysia Duenas Santos as assistant production manager, Raynard Travilla as director of photography, and Victoria Deleon Guerrero as production designer. Miguel Dandan, Angelo Manese, and Joshua Sablan operated the cameras, Willam Deleon Guerrero operated the boom microphone, and Velma Deleon Guerrero and Michelle Masga assist in production design. (PR)

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