Local voices, local films
(Humanities Guahan, in partnership with Guam International Film Festival hosted a Filmmakers Roundtable at the Agana Shopping Center. The panel discussion featured local filmmakers Don and Kel Muna, Cara Flores Mays, Bernadette Provido Schumann, Clynt Ridgell, Raphael Unpingco and Michael Lujan Bevacqua. The event closed the reception for "Art + Journalism - Manny Crisostomo, 40 Years of Images).
Over the years, the local film industry has seen a growth of independently produced films across different genres — from documentary to action flicks — spawned by the efforts of predominantly young filmmakers eager to carve a creative space for themselves.
This month, the Guam International Film Festival marks its 6th year as the venue for emerging filmmakers to gain exposure to local and international cinema, as well as industry related opportunities. While the GIFF continuously promotes the potential of developing Guam as a filmmaking hub in Micronesia, the Guam Film Office, the body representing the government-side of business, has been dormant for years.
Public Law 31-159 created the Guam Film Office in 2012, under the Guam Economic Development Authority. Its provisions require an advisory body to create rules, regulations and fees governing its operations. The members of the advisory body would come from nongovernmental organizations or entities that have substantial experience in film, video and media.
As set by the law, the office has been tasked to promote local facilities and services for the production of films, videos, television programs, audio recordings, computer generated and other media-related products. The office is also expected to develop and update a resource guide of viable filming locations in Guam, available video and media production facilities, as well as permitting requirements, and tax incentives.
Bernie Provido Schumann, producer of Under the American Sun (Camp Roxas Film Project), said the film office is critical to the success of the local industry on Guam. “If you are going to work in collaboration with international filmmakers, we must make sure that there are regulations. So that when they come in here, our indigenous trees, plants and animals, and people are protected. We want to make sure that the collaboration is regulated,” she said.
Schumann, along with several local filmmakers, shared their perspectives on the industry, focusing on Guam’s position within the regional Micronesian, larger Pacific and national contexts.
“The regulations would ensure that local filmmakers are not exploited and are given proper compensation,” she said, adding that the body would also ensure financial viability of the local film industry, five to 10 years from now.
While efforts to open a fully operating film office has been delayed, Schumann said now is the right time to reactivate the body. “Guam has its own sophisticated filmmakers. We are going to lose out financially and we are never going to build a viable industry if we don't push out our regulations,” she emphasized.
Don Muna, GIFF co-founder and executive director, said the Guam Film Office was reintroduced through Sen. Tina Muna- Barnes’ legislative efforts. “But as it stands now, the Guam Film Office is a government entity under the operations of GEDA. So right now, we are currently working and when I say we, I mean GEDA in association with the GIFF. So we are looking toward creating rules and regulations not only to benefit local filmmakers but to create all the requirements, restrictions and benefits. A lot of that too is ensuring that our local filmmakers are properly represented and compensated.”
For its part, GEDA has been posting film opportunities on island on its Invest Guam page, targeting U.S. and international film markets that are on the lookout for new locations to film movies television shows and commercials. In its sale pitch, GEDA highlighted advantages to filming on island, including the “scenic locations, security, supportive service infrastructure, and business friendly-environment.” All in all, the development authority international film package describes Guam as a “modern tropical film location.”
During the Festival of the Pacific Arts, leaders from across the region discussed a 10-year strategy, which focused on investing in the development and promotion of Pacific cultures. Central to the discussion is a blueprint of goals which leaders say “acknowledges and celebrates the rich, varied and diversified cultural repertoire of the Pacific region.”
Its strategic goal of strengthening the regional cultural sector recognizes the challenges of Pacific filmmakers in accessing funding bodies that would enable them to make and produce films with local content and tell Pacific stories. A solution proffered by the plan involves establishing and maintaining a Pacific Film Production Fund to support filmmakers.
Cara Flores Mays, producer of We Are Pågat, agrees that film-making is such a potential industry for Guam. However, she cautioned that before the industry could thrive on Guam, it is important to think about protecting the local resources and culture.
“I can think of several films — not made by Chamorro filmmakers — that have focused on the Chamorro people. I don't know how much has been actually returned to our community from the making of those films. I think that sometimes we are a little willing to give ourselves away for money or even just for exposure. And I understand sometimes the reason that we do that,” she said.
Flores added that filmmaking is an avenue for storytelling and for preserving culture and language. “It is a way to empower young people; it’s a way to highlight marginalized voices,” she added.
University of Guam professor Michael Bevacqua sees films as an avenue to fill the shortcomings of history. “History is a bundle of silence,” he said, quoting Michel-Rolph Trouillot, professor of anthropology and scholar of Caribbean history. “If we look at Guam, the silence in history is there, not necessarily because of freak accidents or sort of vagaries of chance, or whatever. It is really because they disempower some and empower others.”
This is where film plays an important role, according to Bevacqua. “Where there is horrific silence, where you know that something was there but then historians tell you that well, you can’t prove anything or say anything. That is where creativity will come into play. That is where the filmmakers, the artists, the novelists, the poets have to try to give voice, to fight against that silence caused by missionaries or naval governors or senators, or presidents, whoever they were, whoever deemed that your history would be a great bundle of silences,” he added.