Monday, August 3, 2015

Mindanao Filmmaking: Beyond the Horizon

Pasuon (short film, Nabunturan)

The growth particularly the increase in the number of films and film festivals in Mindanao is a no longer an ominous sign but rather a stamp that the artistic movement has established a firm foothold and hopefully it would realize into a full-blown film industry.

Take for example the Mindanao Film Festival which I had headed since 2012. Three years back in my first foray as festival director we had 34 short films featured as entries, the following year we had 55 films then last year MFF screened about 70 films.

Most of the films are coming from other provinces and regions, for example Nabunturan, Socksargen (South Cotabato, Koronadal, Sarangani and General Santos), Northern Mindanao and Zamboanga filmmakers have made it a point to have their annual December pilgrimage to Davao City to have their films featured at the mecca of Mindanao filmmaking -Gaisano Mall Cinema 6.

Apasol (short film, Zamboanga City)

Aside from MFF we had a number of younger film festivals organized in the regions. We had Cinemagis in Cagayan de Oro, CineMo in Iligan City, Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition or Nabifilmex in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley Province, Salamindanaw International Film Festival  and the Lantawan Socksargen  Film Festival in Socksargen.  I am hoping that Zamboanga or Western Mindanao who also have an active filmmaking movement could organize their own film festival in that part of Mindanao.

The presence of these film festivals augurs well for these filmmakers as it provides more venues for them to show their films and expand their audience. For example Joe Bacus from Cagayan de Oro has entered his short film The End of War in the Mindanao Film Festival, The Nabifilmex, and Salamindanaw where it won the Gold Durian Prize for Best Mindanao Short Film.

BTS "The End of War" (short film, Cagayan de Oro)

Same with films from Nabunturan like Nilusak which are also entered in the MFF and the Lantawan film festival.

In 2014, we were tapped by the Mindanao Development Authority to create an international film festival focusing on the BIMP-EAGA countries (Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area), it was to be timed for the BIMP-EAGA  IMT-GT (Indonesia Malaysia Thailand Growth Triangle) Trade Fair and Business Leaders Conference held in Davao City.

We came up with the first East Asean Film Festival (EAFF) held at the Cinematheque Davao, the small film festival was participated by films from Mindanao, Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei,  border regions which also had a thriving regional filmmaking movements. There are plans of holding the second EAFF in Kota Kinabalu with our Sabahan counterparts initiating the move.

Salamindanaw International Film Festival also featured 11 Asian short films in its Asian Shorts Competition. With the exception of a short film from India most of the films entered are from Southeast Asia. The city of Makkasar in Sulawesi was represented in the film festival held in General Santos City.

Singapore based online-based film portal Viddsee has also shown interest in partnering with Mindanaoan filmmakers it recently featured the MFF Best Film winner “Pasuon” in its site.

The recent initiatives of overseas linkages particularly the neighboring filmmaking movements in the fringes of Indonesia and Malaysia will definitely be a game changer, this will be a beginning of a dream for an intra-Asean cinema, Mindanao audiences will get to watch a short film from Malaysia and Indonesian audience will get to watch a film from Nabifilmex or Cinemagis.

These are indeed exciting times for the Mindanao filmmaker.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A trip to Contra Costa; Baganga and Cateel

During the Spanish times, the eastern coast of Davao Oriental was called Contra Costa, these are the towns facing the Pacific Ocean. The provincial capital Mati (which was declared in finality by the Supreme Court as a city in 2011), Tarragona, Manay, Caraga, Baganga, Cateel and Boston are collectively called as Contra Costa or East Coast during the American period ( a term which still exists today).

Davao Oriental is said to be the last frontier of Davao Region, the SUDOPARIM (Surigao-Davao Oriental Pacific Rim) coastal highway built during the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has made traveling convenient and much easier. Thus attracting many tourists to explore the varied attractions of Davao Oriental which include beaches, waterfalls and quaint towns.

In 2012, a rare powerful typhoon visited and devastated a large swath of the contra costa particularly the towns of Baganga and Cateel. Though it has largely recovered, the place still bears the scars of that great tragedy.

I together with a group of friends from Ike Pono decided to visit Baganga and Cateel for the weekend, we came across several popular spots in the areas.

Dahican Beach


Mati is the gateway to the province, if you can spare a few hours you might as well explore the city. You can go to the famed Dahican Beach with its eight-kilometer white sand beachline is one of the city's come-ons. Recommended pit-stops include the Subangan Museum, one of the largest and most modern museums in the region and the White-House inspired Provincial Capitol perfect for photo-ops and speaking of souvenir photo-ops the view deck at Badas overlooking the sleeping dinosaur formation is considered a de rigueur for visitors.

Subangan Museum Mati City

The Provincial Capitol


Three towns away from Mati City is the coastal town of Baganga. Our weekend group decided to use the town as the base for our trip since this is the hometown of our travel companion Tito Frine Fuentes. We stayed at Balyan Beach Resort situated in Barangay Lambajon. The resort has clean and decent accommodations, (rooms with toilet and bath)

Balyan Beach Resort

Contra-Costa is known for their abundant sea food.

One popular attraction in Baganga is Carolina Lake, a tidal lagoon situated in Barangay Salingcamot, 15 minutes away from the town proper. A popular picnic spot for locals, it is still underdeveloped with a few rickety cottages perched on one side of the lagoon. The cool clean brackish water is a perfect place to dip during harsh summer days. Typhoon Pablo has destroyed much of the lush vegetation surrounding the lagoon.

Locals consider Carolina Lake as their secret paradise 

With JJ and Tito Frine

San Victor Island is a three-hectare island off the coast of Barangay San Victor. There's a 5-minute boat ride from the shore of the barangay to reach the island which is owned by the Diocese of Mati. Part of the island shoreline is a white sand beach, perfect for leisure swimming, San Victor reminds you of Mati City's Waniban Island or Camiguin's Mantigue Island.

San Victor Island

The island used to be heavily vegetated until typhoon Pablo toppled most of the trees, in some parts of the beach the fallen tree-trunks provides a picture-worthy landscape. Pictorials like engagement sessions are held along its shores.

For visitors there are cottages and tents for rent, toilet and bath facilities are also available in the island.

The Baganga Sunrise Boulevard located in Barangay Dapnan about 10 minutes drive from the town proper is potent reminder of the impact of typhoon Pablo. The once lush mangrove forest now looks like a wasteland.

The provincial government shelled out P5-million to develop the area into a 750-meter linear park, there are playgrounds, concessionaires area, restaurants and coffee shop, a tourist information center and a promenade.

Must-try Dinuguan at Pakalz Place, a small eatery
located in Baganga town proper.


Adjacent to Baganga is the town of Cateel, the main purpose of our journey is the town's most famous tourist spot, Aliwagwag Falls. It is considered by hydraulic engineers as the tallest watefalls in the country with over 130 tiers of cascading falls. And I tell you the 5 hour trip is worth it once you've seen the majestic Aliwagwag which can be viewed along the highway.

Unlike some tourist spots which are found in very remote areas, the beauty of Aliwagwag is much accessible, one can view its grandeur along the highway.

Along with the Baganga Sunrise Park, the province has developed Aliwagwag into a fully-functioning eco-park.

Footbridges, stairs, tables, cottages, toilets and bathrooms, concessionaire area, adventure facilities (an 680-meter zipline and the monkey bridge) were constructed within the peripheries of the park but not obtrusive enough as to destroy the view of a pristine forested waterfalls. Again typhoon Pablo plowed into the once lush forests surrounding Aliwagwag.

Entrance fee to the Eco-Park is around P50 for adult and P10 for children, the park is dotted with tables which you can rent for P75 (large tables) or P50 (small). Fees for zipline is P300 and P200 for the money bridge. Footpaths will take you to around the park and friendly staffs will guide you to vacant tables.

Each falls has natural pool where one can go swimming, there are shallow pools fit for children and there are deep pools perfect for the more adventurous adults.

The Monkey Bridge at the upper limit of the eco-park

foot bridges for easier access
Linear footpath helps visitors access the different parts of the eco- park with ease

Cottages along the banks

The Tourism Highway

In the olden times, Contra Costa or the East Coast was remotely connected to Davao City, it used to be reached by barge plying the route from Sta Ana Wharf in Davao City to ports in East Coast towns. Then roads were built during the Marcos era. It was only recently when these roads became an concrete-all weather highway network. Former President Arroyo started the Sudoparim road during her term and was continued by President Benigno Aquino III who also initiated a convergence program of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) called TRIP (Tourism  Roads Infrastructure Program) this allowed for the construction of roads to tourist destinations, a prime example is in Dahican Beach.

To complement these roads, Davao Oriental Provincial Governor Corazon Malanyaon also initiated a tourism development program focused in key attractions such as the Aliwagwag Eco Park, Baganga Sunrise Boulevard and the Subangan Museum in Mati.

Roads and tourist facilities have attracted a growing number of visitors in the Contra Costa areas, as traveling there is safe and convenient.

A view of the Cateel River along the Sudoparim highway

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Fujifilm experience

Last month, I parted ways with my Nikon D90 which I purchased in 2011. I was a Nikon user since I started photography 6 years ago.

My first DSLR camera was a second-hand Nikon D40 bought from Mark, a bird and wildlife photographer. Since then I got hooked into the hobby until becoming a semi-professional a few years back, getting some commissioned projects which paid off my initial investments.

Last year I made a conscious effort to go mirrorless when I bought a brand new Canon EOSM which came with an adaptor where I can attach Canon EF lenses. I just found the smaller bodies of mirrorless cameras light and very convenient to bring.

Last May, after countless exhortations from street photographer Karlo Flores I purchased a pre-owned Fuji XE-1 from RJ Monsod, a fellow hobbyist I met thru our photography group MCOM. I bought a Nikon and Canon adaptors so that I could still use my Nikon and Canon prime lenses which I retained.

Fuji XE-1with a 16 megapixel
X-Trans CMOS Sensor

I had been using Fujifilm XE-1 for about two months now, what I noticed is the image quality particularly the colors and the sharpness. I love how the colors are rendered by the camera and perhaps is one of Fuji's selling points. The sharpness can be attributed to the absence of an anti-aliasing filter because of its X-Trans processor, also one of the primary reasons why I was intrigued by the Fuji camera.

As for the drawbacks, I miss the user-friendly Nikon controls. The faster focusing speed, the longer battery life of the DSLR. Despite the drawbacks, the image quality, sharpness and colors of the Fuji XE-1 is enough reason to shift.

Fujinon 27 mm 2.8

Fujinon 27 mm 2.8
Fujinon 56 mm 1.2
Fujinon 35 mm 1.4

with a Canon 50 mm 1.8 lens. The Canon lens delivers bright and vibrant colors to the photo.

using a Nikkor 35 mm 1.8 lens, Nikkor lens brings contrast and sharpness great for streetscapes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

MCOM photoshoot at the White House

The "White House" (not the US President's residence) is an old house located at a small hill overlooking the JP Laurel, Buhangin Junction. It was built during the American period and originally served as the plantation dwelling of Abaca grower Robert Ker.

Shoot at the mansion's veranda

It has since been converted into a fine dining restaurant specializing in French, Japanese and American fusion cuisine. One of the few remaining heritage structures in Davao City it has become a favored spot for photoshoots particularly engagement sessions or pre-nuptials.

Last month I asked permission from chef Cathy Binag who runs the resto if we could have our shoot at the white house. Our photography group Maniniyot Community has been looking forward for another group photoshoot together with our new members.

Things fell into place, Ms. Cathy acceded to our request plus she gamely sponsored snacks consisting of arroz caldo and bibingka, the dishes will soon be offered at her soon-to-open resto named FCF (Filipino Comfort Food).

Fujifilm Philippines led by Mr. Joel Bagas who handles Mindanao accounts supported the event by providing us with Fuji gears to use for the event. He bought in XT-1, XE-2 and XA-2 cameras together with 56 mm, 10-24 mm, 18-55 mm lenses where the group could try out while shooting. Fuji Instax evangelist April San Pedro also joined the shoot.

Joemar using the XT-1, their top of the line camera body (16.3 MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS II Sensor)

Designer Xioti Chiu of Famo Xiete Atelier lent us some dresses to be worn by our models Dewanie and Yuko. Our Hair and Make Up Artist was Ron Iyo who did the HMUA for a group photoshoot done late last year.

Yuko Imaizumi 
Dewanie Kim Sala

It was a morning of fun and learning. The photographers aside from learning techniques in portraitures from RJ Monsod were also able to try the Fuji cameras. RJ is a former MCOM member and a passionate client of Fuji. His Streetraits, a series of street portraitures using Fuji X series cameras and lens was the inspiration for the shoot.

Joel, April and Bianca trying out the XA-2

photo from Migs Lisbona
the group

Using Fuji

I am currently using a Fuji XE-1 camera, having sold my Nikon D90 a month ago. The shoot gave me the opportunity to try out the much vaunted 56 mm 1.2 lens. Got to try a few shots, it's a superb lens, sharpness is great, auto-focusing was fast. A perfect lens for portraits.

XE-1 56 mm 1.2

MCOM would like to thank Ms. Cathy Binag of White House Fusion Cuisine and Filipino Comfort Food, Bianca Binag, the chefs and staff of the White House Fusion Cuisine,  the team from Fujifilm Philippines Mr. Joel Bagas and April San Pedro, Xioti Chiu of Famo Xiete Atelier and HMUA Ron Iyo