An Interview with Sine Halaga Film Festival Director Elvert Bañares
By Rebecca Garcia Urbancik
Director Elvert Bañares is an award-winning independent Film Director, Multi-Disciplinary Artist, Film Producer and Educator. His art, designs and films were exhibited & screened in five continents, more than 70 international festivals in more than 30 countries around the world. He has been a Consultant of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Cinema Values Reorientation Program and twice served as member of the NCCA National Executive Committee on Cinema (2004-2006 and 2017-2019).
Elvert was also Festival Director and Programmer of the 1st & 2nd ASEAN Film Festival; and the pioneering festivals - eKsperim[E]nto Festival of Film & New Media and CineKasimanwa: Western Visayas Film Festival. He was the first ever Regional Manager of Cinemalaya in all of Visayas; Founder of Western Visayas Film Grants Program & Education Showcase, the first and only film grants based in the regions; and currently Festival Director of Bakunawa Young Cinema and Sine Halaga Film Festival.
I had the pleasure of meeting “Direk" (Tagalog shorthand for Director) Elvert during the first ASEAN Film Festival that took place in Prague, the Czech Republic in 2012, and consequently other film related events. Elvert and I have kept in touch over the years… And I am glad that I was able to chat with Elvert on his latest and inspiring project — the Sine Halaga Film Festival.
What is “Sine Halaga”? How did it start? Is the Film Festival an annual event?
Sine Halaga is a national film festival and educational program that features films – we have 12 for our first edition – that explore core Filipino Values. It is a project of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Negros Cultural Foundation (NCF) that springs from the NCCA Study on Filipino Values. Respondents in the said study were asked “What do the Filipinos value at present?” and the results listed 20 identified core values that Filipinos deem important. The film festival and its components explore, discuss, study and re-orient the audiences from all over the country as to the values explored by the films through its stories and characters. We plan to have it as a biennial festival with the first year for the production of the films and the second year for the implementation of its educational programs, spreading the films to as many Filipino and worldwide audiences as possible.
What sets “Sine Halaga” apart from other film festivals?
Sine Halaga is very unique, because compared to other festivals, it runs the whole year for free with its educational components. It is the only film festival in the Philippines and perhaps in Southeast Asia that has specific structured programs for educational use. While the films can be accessed by everyone for entertainment purposes, the films are clearly aimed for pedagogical use. So after our festival’s launching, we have already launched our website (sinehalaga.com) and Sine Halaga Guro Club. We are about to launch the 12-episode Sine Halaga Lecture Series with different guest lecturers and hosts and the 12-episode Weekend Show called "GOOD TAKE!" featuring the directors, actors and film artists from all the 12 films. Finally, in December and/or during the new year (2022), we will release study guides for educators. All of these are free resources courtesy of NCCA and NCF.
"Sine Halaga is very unique, because compared to other festivals, it runs the whole year for free with its educational components. It is the only film festival in the Philippines and perhaps in Southeast Asia that has specific structured programs for educational use."
That’s amazing! Could you tell us more about the films featured at this year's “Sine Halaga” Festival? The 12 stories selected by our appointed Board of Jury were filmed during the pandemic in 2020 and we’re proud to say that Sine Halaga is the only festival that was able to finish all its films – thanks to the dedication of the selected filmmakers and their teams and, of course, Team Sine Halaga. The Sine Halaga films are as follows: ■ Bakit ako Sinusundan ng Buwan directed by Richard Soriano Legaspi
■ Black Rainbow directed by Zig Madamba Dulay
■ Dandanso'y directed by Arden Rod Condez
■ Hadlok directed by Ralston Jover
■ Looking for Rafflesias and other Fleeting Things directed by James Fajardo
■ Lorna directed by Noel Escondo
■ Masalimuot Ya Tiyagew Ed Dayat directed by Jan Carlo Natividad
■ Mina's Family History directed by Christopher Gozum
■ Sa Balay ni Papang directed by Kurt Soberano
■ Salog ning Diklom directed by Jordan De la Cruz
■ Ugbos ka Bayabas directed by Manie Magbanua Jr
■ 13 Feet directed by Carlo Obispo
How are the films selected? There was a national call for storylines/sequence treatments and they were selected by an appointed Board of Jury that included film critic, author and educator, Dr. Roland Tolentino; film critic, author and anthropologist, Prof. Tito Valiente; film and television director, Director Jeffrey Jeturian; Screenwriter, director and educator, Prof. Roy Iglesias; Educators and co-authors of the NCCA Study on Filipino Values, Prof. Arvin Villalon and Prof. Joey Soliman; and filmmaker and educator, Director Sari Dalena. The jury is tasked to select the films that shall be given a full film grant to produce the winning stories. How long will the festival run?
The film festival runs the whole year as the films remain for free on our Sine Halaga website. The reason for this is to make sure that the festival will reach as many Filipinos as possible, and that the films are available online and free for any educator who would want to use our films for teaching.
Where can viewers watch the films? Our films are available on Sine Halaga’s website wherein [viewers] can also access the trailer, the featurette and the link to Sine Halaga Guro Club. Also, Sine Halaga’s website is under the NCCA Learning Hub. Here, teachers are given free access to organized lesson plans and syllabi for those who want to teach Filipino Art & Culture.
Apart from the pandemic, were there other challenges that you faced in making the festival? How did you face these challenges?
This project started its implementation before the pandemic and immediately after the last day of juror deliberations, where winners should have been announced the following day (March 16, 2020), lockdowns were imposed. It was then that the challenges [started piling] up. But as its National Project Director, I told Ms. Tanya Lopez (our Project Manager) that this should be a perfect catalyst to combat the grim nature of the pandemic which she agreed. In 2020, it was a time of anxiety, sorrow and desolation. [Each] Filipino filmmaker and artist should step up and, under strict health protocols, create something that should inspire the nation… And they did. The grant also provided work for so many Filipinos with each film employing more than twenty people each. Imagine the help this gave to the families that year. While the project may be a blessing to many, it is also an investment of the Filipinos. Educational materials are priceless. Films with these kind of stories do inspire and heal people. We are very proud of the accomplishments of our teams, our filmmakers and their teams.
As the Festival launched internationally early September 2021, what key message(s) do you hope viewers from around the world take away from each of the films?
The key message should be going back to our values — the social values that helped make us a great nation. These values must be taken collectively as they are interconnected. For example, we cannot be completely responsible if we are not honest. If we value one’s self, then it should follow that we value others too. If life and purpose are important for us, then we must value family, education, faith, health and livelihood. Science is as important as the arts because our culture puts value in a good balance between creativity and research. With the current proliferation of hate and divisiveness, Sine Halaga proves to be a timely project and one that needs to be owned by each and every Filipino.
"The key message should be going back to our values - the social values that helped make us a great nation."
Personally, how do you see the film festival’s future?
Our analytics show one of the largest reach of any film festival in the country, reaching 4.7 million in just five months and with some of the highest online views for any film-related event. These numbers break pandemic records and are very encouraging. So I go by our accomplishments and leave it to the NCCA and NCF to decide the next editions. But if we see these kind of feats during a time when everything is difficult to accomplish, I am very sure that the future is bright for Sine Halaga.
What are your hopes, dreams, wish list in the future for Sine Halaga, for film festivals and the film industry in the Philippines in general?
There’s much to cover. Our team learns from the multiple problems and challenges we face day by day – not to mention our geographical distance (I live in Manila and our team members are based in Visayas and other parts of Luzon). In the next edition, we would like to add specific sections for women and minority filmmakers and their stories. Because of our blind selection, we weren’t able to cover female filmmakers (though half of our films have strong female characters). We want to explore more indigenous stories and folklores, [and we'd like] to gear up for printed publications and textbooks. I have a long wish list…but it is not enough to just wish. Together with our team, we are already writing and preparing the templates of each of our wishes so when the time comes, all we need to do is just get the right collaborators and cultural workers to implement them. I have stopped wishing grander things for the film industry. Instead, we need to start doing our own contributions for the industry, for filmmakers/artists and for our audiences. By targeting wider access to the films and by using the films for education, we are cultivating very young audiences and affecting their tastes. As a result, we try to bring back their love for our local stories and for our values.
Congratulations to the Sine Halaga team, the filmmakers, actors, the NCCA and all participating organizations on a successful first edition of the film festival! May we continue to share our love and support for Filipino stories and values that are close to our hearts - wherever we are… Happy watching!