By Myracle S. Mugol
Saipan-- On the island of Saipan, a Chamorro filmmaker with deep roots in the community, Galvin De Leon Guerrero, is set to unveil his latest film, "Isla."
The film's premiere promises to be a groundbreaking event for the region, showcasing the unique blend of Chamorro and Filipino cultures against the backdrop of Saipan's stunning landscapes.
De Leon Guerrero shared insights into the inspiration, challenges, and collaborative spirit that shaped the making of "Isla."
Growing up on Saipan, De Leon Guerrero's longing to escape the island was fueled by a complex relationship with his homeland.
"I wanted to convey the tense ambivalence I have for my islands in a series of films that showcase, in equal measure, what others may hate and love about our islands," he said.
His journey led him to appreciate the intricacies of Saipan's political landscape, cultural richness, and the transformation toward inclusivity.
Saipan's cultural background serves as a powerful influence on the film's storyline and visual elements.
"I wanted the beautiful purple hues of our sunsets to capture the film’s theme of ambivalence, blending red hate with blue joy into rich cinematic textures," De Leon Guerrero said. " The film intentionally weaves a blended cultural tapestry, incorporating both Chamorro and Filipino influences to authentically represent the diverse island community."
As the director, writer and producer, De Leon Guerrero acknowledged the challenging juggling act of these roles. He dismisses the notion of balance, stating, "No, as important as balance is, I did not strike that balance in making this film. I was too passionate about the story and its message to worry about balance. So, while I will never really know what it’s like, making this film was like giving birth: it hurt like hell, but it was a labor of love."
The casting process played a crucial role in bringing the narrative to life. De Leon Guerrero emphasizes his disdain for melodramatic overacting, preferring understated authenticity.
The cast, including John San Nicolas, Maisie B. Tenorio, Eric Atalig, and John Blanco, was carefully selected to convey the gravity of the story's themes with nuanced performances.
One of the film's most significant challenges was scheduling, with De Leon Guerrero taking on the additional role of de facto production manager. The intricate dance of coordinating everyone's busy schedules led to numerous rescheduled shoots and an extended two-year production period.
To capture the essence of the island on screen, De Leon Guerrero enlisted the help of Saipan's best photographers and videographers. Despite initial concerns about conflicting visual styles, the team's collaboration resulted in a visually stunning representation of Saipan's beauty.
The film explores the paradoxical intertwining of hope and despair in the Marianas.
De Leon Guerrero hopes audiences take away the realization that hope emerges from the depths of despair, emphasizing the thematic significance of the Spanishized Chamorro word for hope, "esperånsa."
Influenced by Terrence Malick's cinematic style, De Leon Guerrero aspires to channel the desultory nature of reality in the upcoming trilogy of films called "Isla."
The collaborative process with the film crew was a highlight for him, praising everyone's contributions and ownership in bringing the vision to life.
For aspiring filmmakers, especially those from the Marianas, Micronesia or other unique locations where indigenous film-making is rare, De Leon Guerrero advises against overthinking and encourages embracing mistakes.
"Filmmaking is a messy and imperfect art form that is best learned by doing," he says.
Reflecting on his favorite moment during the filmmaking process, De Leon Guerrero fondly recalls the first cast read-through, where the abstract ideas in his head materialized into a coherent story.
The technical aspects were vital but also spoke of both the film’s and its crew’s versatility, with the film primarily shot using a Canon EOS C200 and complemented by Sony DSLRs and iPhone 14 ProMax cameras for capturing Saipan's distinctive purple color palettes.
As "Isla" premieres on Jan. 25 at Hollywood Theaters on Saipan, De Leon Guerrero anticipates entering the film festival circuit before a streaming platform release, possibly within a year.
Looking ahead, De Leon Guerrero envisions elevating his filmmaking approach, shifting from low-budget passion projects to a more professional, compensated model for cast and crew members. With faith and love themes next in line for exploration, he remains dedicated to telling the unique stories of the Marianas.
Limited premiere screening of the film “ISLA: Isla’n Esperånsa (Island of Hope)” on Jan. 25, at 6 p.m. at Hollywood Theaters. The film is the first of a trilogy of films that explore themes of faith, hope, and love against the backdrop of the Marianas. Tickets can be purchased at Hafabean, TRIBE Marianas, and Mount Carmel School’s Business Office. Due to limited seating, advance purchase of tickets is highly recommended. Due to mature content and graphic language, adult discretion is also advised.