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  • By Jasmine Stole Weiss

11 years later, Guam International FilmFest continues to tell stories

In its 11th year, Guam International Film Festival took up the theme “New Voices,” aimed at curating work from new filmmakers and films centered around untold perspectives.

“When you think of ‘new voices,’ it is that ability to feature newer filmmakers or newer stories so that we can all add to the film industry and representation here in the Pacific,” said Lawrence Lizama, GIFF technical coordinator.

With 10 years of experience behind it, GIFF is no longer the new kid on the industry block. The project has come a long way since it was founded by local filmmakers, Don and Kel Muna, also known as The Muna Bros in October 2011.

For last year’s milestone anniversary, GIFF took a retrospective look at itself, with special attention to filmmakers in the Marianas, said Myracle Mugol, GIFF project manager.

“So this year, we wanted to focus on the growth of the industry on Guam,” Mugol added.

As GIFF grows, so has the locally grown filmmaking talent. From the beginning, GIFF organizers were clear in their intentions: to highlight and foster local talent.

“What we’re excited about is the number of films coming from our region has increased. Even though it's just like one or two, for Guam, that's like 200 percent,” Mugol said.

The early days of GIFF featured movies with local talent such as “I Heart GU” and “Mga Dayo" (Resident Aliens).” These works paved the way for the shorts and documentaries that followed.

This year, GIFF will screen 32 selected movies, including three that were made on Guam, two from the Northern Marianas, and another filmed in the states that follows a CHamoru family.

“The quality has gone up locally,” Mugol said. “It’s exciting. We're getting funded by organizations like Pacific Islanders in Communications. We're getting noticed. The humanities councils in both CNMI and Guam are realizing that film projects need to have support as well.”

Even with accomplishments made over the past decade, the creative lot still faces barriers. Many creators have day jobs and find pockets of time and space to feed their art in their free time. Mugol calls them "weekend warriors." These artists are innovating without much funding.

“I think one of the biggest things that stop people is budget,” Mugol said. “But if the passions and drive are there, the project will happen. But the budget does hurt."

Myracle Mugol

Mugol added that while it’s better now than years ago, there’s still a lack of willing mentors, people to help other people get their creations off the ground.

A lack of confidence can kill new voices too, according to Lizama, who is part of Tåhdong Marianas a collective of young CHamoru artists, activists and filmmakers.

Lizama is familiar with feelings of doubt that come with the challenge of producing something worthy and valuable. He would hesitate when an opportunity presented itself. Lizama said it was a challenge to shift his mindset, but now he has more confidence in accepting opportunities that come his way.

Lawrence Lizama

“As long as I know that my passion is in it, my heart’s in it, my confidence is there, I’m good. It doesn't matter if this is strange territory to me," Lizama said. "As long as I know that I can put my whole heart and passion into it, then that's what will carry me."

GIFF hopes this year’s festival gives birth to new voices and new viewers who find inspiration to tell their own stories.

“I think I would want them to walk away with feeling inspired and either wanting to make their own films or stories or wanting to support those filmmakers and artists in our community,” Lizama said.

Echoing Lizama’s sentiment, Mugol said she hopes viewers become entrenched in the stories and the characters. She urged viewers to reach out to the directors and creators and tell them about watching their work and ask them questions.

“I want them to want more,” Mugol said. “I want them to want more information, want more films, want more content. Because the more people want more, then the more people will drive for more of this kind of stuff.”


2021 GIFF screenings start Friday, Nov. 5

The pandemic had festival organizers incorporating remote-friendly ways to give audiences the festival experience. People in Guam and the CNMI will be able to view the GIFF selections through the PBS Video smartphone app, which is free to download.

Showings on the app will take place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday starting from Nov. 5 through Nov. 19. The films will also be televised locally on PBS Guam KGTF Channel 12, the schedule is available on

GIFF will broadcast panel discussions on their Facebook page. The 2021 winners for five out of the six categories have been announced:

● Best Narrative Feature: “Tiong Bahru Social Club” (Director Tan Bee Thiam, Singapore)

● Best Narrative Short: “Georgia” (Director Jayil Pak, Singapore)

● Best Documentary Feature “Lamafa” (Director Bon Ishikawa, Japan, Indonesia)

● Best Documentary Short: “Mawhialeo Ote Alowha / Our Love” (Director Valeriya Golovina, New Zealand)

● Best Made In The Marianas: “Kåntan Hereru - A Blacksmith's Song" (Director Sean Lizama, Guam)

Viewers will be able to virtually choose their favorite film for the sixth category, People’s Choice. GIFF will announce how to cast People’s Choice votes on their social media pages.

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