BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines — It’s the first of its kind in Western Visayas.
And it has – in just its third year – making fast changes in the film-making landscape.
We are talking about the Western Visayas Film Grants Program, a collaborative project between Cinekasimanwa and the Department of Tourism Region 6, the brainchild developed exclusively for WV filmmakers.
Conceptualized by multi-awarded Ilonggo filmmaker Elvert Banares and DOT 6 Regional Director Helen Catalbas, the program grants P100,000 seed money to young filmmakers after a rigid screening process. The program has been responsible for producing talents whose films have been recognized all over the globe.
The latest of this is Azucar, a short film by filmmaker Kurt Soberano, which won Best Short Feature at the Anatolia International Film Festival in Turkey.
Soberano’s Azukar is one of the four films from Bacolod that was bankrolled by Direk Elvert’s program, along with Ang Tumuluo by Aldrich Rosano, Abel’s Revolution by Julius Dela Peña, and Exorcismo by Carlo Navarrete.
The Turkey festival win of Azucar might be the latest accolade from the stable of Western Visayas Film Grants Program, but it certainly not the last.
At the rate things are going, Direk Elvert’s generous project is just starting to crank up the heat. This is definitely just the beginning.
FINDING – AND FUNDING – A VISION
We have heard of horror stories where artistic vision is stunted in favor of studio intervention. The Hollywood studio system, for instance, is notorious for stories of big honchos clamping down on a narrative, or twisting arms of would-be auteurs in an attempt to sell more tickets at the expense of an independent artistic vision.
Direk Elvert abhors the very idea. And he has witnessed that practice several times in the mainstream.
The eye-opener came when he was invited to sit as panel for grant-giving bodies like Mowelfund Film Institute, and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts which bucked the trend. Mowelfund and NCCA have shown how much easier it is for art to shine when the artist is allowed some breathing room and space to flex their talents.
He decided, then, to come up with a program that would adapt instead to the local sensibilities. He pitched the idea to Atty. Catalbas, the regional director for the tourism department, who incidentally was looking for somebody to pitch her OWN idea, and that is the promotion of spots in Western Visayas through film.
“We are of one mind, and I was quite happy because I went to her office to pitch a similar idea,” he tells DNX. Thrilled with the prospect of a partnership with DOT, he immediately drafted the proposal.
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
The year was 2015.
Now on its third year, entries from the Western Visayan Film Grants Program have been making waves, diverting people’s attention, and earning accolades from cinephiles around the globe.
And it appears that Direk Elvert’s style of management – of giving enough artistic leeway for artists to shine, and at the same time make them toe the line without cramping their style – worked.
NURTURING ARTISTS AND ARTISTRY
Direk Elvert has for years now been nurturing talents all over region. Between organizing film festivals, providing grants, and transferring what he learns through talks, lectures, and actual classes, Direk has perhaps done a LOT in re-shaping the local and regional film-making scene.
And with the Western Visayas Film Grants Program, it gives the director more elbow room to help aspiring artists put shape and form to their artistic vision.
“I’m very generous (as a producer). My role is I have to make sure that the film is done according to the vision of the artist, not mine,” he says.
What is of note is that the four – Soberano, Dela Pena, Navarrete, and Rosano – are all veterans in their own rights, having produced films in the past, with extensive resumes spanning experimental to documentary.
The minimum requirement for the Western Visayas Film Grant is just submission of a previous work, just to check if the grantees have what it takes to make a film. Not a script, as writers do not necessarily have the directorial chops to pull off a film.
And, the director says, the process from submission of requirements to the release of the budget is fast – faster than most film grants – making the program among the most ideal and the most forgiving.
“Some of those with limited experience [when it comes to grants] would complain about the tedious process, and the sheer volume of requirements, but if they have seen the Manila grants, they will realize that ours is quicker by far,” he said.
Where else can they find a venue where they can be themselves, he adds, and they have start-up funds.
The funds, Direk Elvert admits, is “not that big” but it is a start, a leg up for the filmmakers, artists raring to have the chance to flex their independence without compromising art.
And with the recognition that the Western Visayas Film Grants Program, its grantees, and entries is reaping, the local film landscape is now re-shaping into more creative, more artistic, and more thrilling paths.