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  • By Johanna Salinas

Kel Muna on GIFF’s 9th year: ‘It’s the focus on quality, genuine intent and interaction that’ll keep

Kel Muna

In the digital age, with technology being more accessible, making a film seems so much easier. Today more and more aspiring filmmakers try to make it big by submitting entries to international film festivals. As YouTube essayists claim, “Any loser with a camera-phone can make a film.”

Yet, filmmaking is not a one-man piece of art. Although Sean Baker’s Tangerine and Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane prove that iPhones can create compelling stories, their success is due to experience and team effort.

While Guam’s movie industry may be on its nascent stage, Kel and Don Muna have successfully built a community for locals interested in filmmaking. With their passion project, Guam International Film Festival, local and worldly directors seek to tell their stories with the island.

“It’s GIFF’s ninth year, can you believe it? As a film fanatic myself, I always look forward to sharing some of the world’s most compelling independent films and stories with my island home,” said Kel.

“I can talk about films all day, but I love when it I see the GIFF audiences resonate with new films that they never would’ve had the chance to see on Guam otherwise. Overall, I’m still looking forward to the films, the visiting international filmmakers and the festival discussion panels. Second, I’m happy that Guam will be hosting several international award-winning filmmakers during the festival. For most, it will be their first time on Guam, and for others, they’ll be making a return trip for GIFF, which says a lot about our island hospitality and us as a people. Of course, I’m looking forward to opening night with our visiting filmmaker from Taiwan showcasing his romantic comedy, The Plastic Bags.”

Of course, starting a festival is not easy. Because the Muna Brothers were one of the original Chamoru filmmakers, they had to carve their own path. “Before GIFF, there were no resources for film here at home,” Kel said. “Where there was once no dialogue of Guam in the international film circuit, it has now become one of Pacific Asia’s most reputable film festivals with partnerships from Academy Award qualifying festivals and top tier festivals in the region, such as the Busan International Film Festival. I’m still a bit thrown aback when I hear GIFF mentioned in other countries.”

The Muna Brothers are still figuring out how to promote their platform despite it being in its ninth year. “GIFF has come quite a long way since our early years,” Kel said. “We’ve focused on the notion that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. It’s the focus on quality, genuine intent and interaction that’ll keep things moving. In terms of local filmmakers, both locally and in the region, they’ve have evolved to the next level. I’m seeing a much more intricate dedication to the craft of filmmaking and the global reach of our talent here at home via GIFF is serving its purpose of why it was started in the first place.”

Some may find it unlikely for a film industry to exist out in the Pacific, faraway from glamorous Hollywood or cosmopolitan New York. That could have been said about New Zealand in the 1970s, yet the Pacific nation experienced international breakthroughs in the 90s with Peter Jackson and in the 2000s with the Maori, Taika Waititi. GIFF may not be ready for the same renown as New Zealand; however, it is not impossible.

“When I first started as an independent filmmaker 10 years ago, I didn’t know the path that was laid out before me, I just followed by passion for better or worse, with whatever little resources I had at the time,” Kel said. “It’s been unpredictably wild. Now, I’ve evolved into an educator, a mentor, an authority and representative of the business and craft of filmmaking. But please, let me be clear - I couldn’t have followed my passion or creative journey as long as I have without the strong support of my family, friends, new mentors and the fantastic volunteers over the years.” The Muna Brothers definitely prove that any CHamoru can reach their dreams with the hard work and support.

As they continue to craft stories about Guam and Chamoru people, the brothers know to give back to the island. With community workshops and outreach programs, the Munas try to inspire and support others to create films. “The opportunities at GIFF are made for Guam, so be sure to take advantage of them. This year, we are dedicating a filmmaker forum featuring an esteemed panel of international filmmakers who have made impactful careers on this very topic,” Kel said.

“They have built their life’s work around understanding and perpetuating cultural awareness for others and for themselves. The panel is free and open to the public. It will be recorded for broadcast by PBS Guam, KGTF Channel 12. The panel will be held on Oct. 13 at 2:40 p.m. at the Guam Museum. Everyone is encouraged to attend and engage in the conversation.”

The Muna Brothers have great expectations for the upcoming GIFF. “The programming has been meticulously structured around our audience feedback that we receive each year. We’re extremely grateful for the support that we’ve received from our volunteers, the people of Guam and our island’s community and business leaders for helping us make the event possible for a ninth consecutive year,” Kel said.


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