Film Bait: Baguio City banks on first-ever film festival to win tourists back


As the city reels from the effects of COVID-19 Pandemic, Baguio City turns to arts and films for healing and economic recovery. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and the government imposed stringent quarantine protocols to stop the spread of the virus, the city almost turned into a ghost town, taking down its popular festivities. 

Many Baguio City residents are taking the brunt of the effects of the government lockdown due to COVID-19. After all, most businesses in the city are heavily reliant on the flow of tourism money, which has been very scarce lately.  

To help attract and encourage tourists to visit the City of Pines, the Baguio Government, together with the Department of Tourism, is planning a film tourism strategy by organizing the city’s first-ever Montañosa Independent Film Festival (MIFF).  

Ferdinand John Balanag, Montañosa Independent Film Festival (MIFF) Director, Action Officer and Secretariat of the Council for Baguio Creative City, believes that through the MIFF, people will see Baguio as a sustainable tourist destination from a different perspective. 

Behind the scene picture of Igem ni Nanang (In Mother’s Arms), one of the finalists in the Montañosa Independent Film Festival. Directed by Moises Fransisco Soriano, Igem ni Nanang tells the plight of single-mother and her cancer-patient as they smuggle their way to Baguio City in a shallow container van.
Photos by Ferdie Balanag

“During these times, there is a pressing need to explore other creative methods of promoting and marketing the Cordillera Administrative Region as a prime regional tourist destination that can be described as safe, smart, and driven by a sustainable and responsible tourism economy,” Balanag told NewsFeed 360. 

“The concept of film tourism will not only provide short-term tourism revenue – it will secure and guarantee long-term prosperity for the whole region as well,” he added. 

“The concept of film tourism will not only provide short-term tourism revenue – it will secure and guarantee long-term prosperity for the whole region as well,”

The 1st Montañosa Independent Film Festival 

According to Balanag, the MIFF is a five-day special event that will showcase exceptional narrative fiction and documentary films by budding filmmakers of the Cordillera Administrative Region.  

There are four major sections of the film festival: (1) Films in Competition; (2) International Films; (3) Regional Films (films made by notable filmmakers of the Cordillera and films from other regions of the Philippines); and (4) Workshop and Webinar Series (to be held at the UP Teatro Amianan and livestreamed for online audience). 

Banalag pointed out that the premiere screening of the films in competition will be free of charge and will be shown through live streaming. While the films in competition will be made available via Video on Demand for two days, viewers will need to give minimal donation to the festival beneficiary, Good ACTS (Artists, Craftspeople and Tourism Support).  

The MIFF director said they will also be putting up a drive-in cinema type at the Loakan Airport and one in Burnham Lake where tourists and residents can watch the films while riding the boats. Other designated screening venues for the film festival are Ili Likha (Kidlat Tahimik retrospective and art films) and hotel partners – BCC, The Manor, Holiday Inn, and Grand Sierra Pines. 

On Location. Organizers of the Montanosa Independent Film Festival hope to lure tourists and help jumpstart the local economy using film tourism strategy. Banalag believes that people are likely to visit the places they’ve seen in the movies and tv shows.
Photos by Ferdie Balanag

In choosing the finalists, Balanag said they were carefully selected by a screening panel composed of recognized filmmakers.  

The finalists, according to Balanag, were given speed mentorship by New York-based filmmaker Dean Marcial, renowned writer-producer Moira Lang (Zombadings, Patay na si Hesus), and Emmanuel de la Cruz. Kidlat Tahimik, father of Independent Philippine Cinema, also shared some words of wisdom and encouragement to the finalists. 

One of the actors of Operation Pukis: Haircut for a Cause poses before the camera after his drag performance on stage. Operation Pukis, written and directed by 2017 Aliw Awards Best Director Angelo Aurelio, depicts Baguio’s LGBT community to cross the borders of identity, profession, and financial risk during a global pandemic.
Photos by Paul Bryan Mendoza

“Hence, the film festival aims to encourage creativity, inspire and create dialogue between and among people while crossing the borders and limits of traditional communication methods,” Balanag said. 

The MIFF director said the film festival was originally scheduled to be held this February; but because Baguio City was reverted to General Community Quarantine classification, they decided to move the event to March 20-28, 2021. 

Art as vaccine of the soul 

But more than attracting tourists back to the city, Balanag hopes that the film festival will give people some respite from all the problems brought about by the pandemic. Nowadays, people forget how significant art is especially during the pandemic. 

“As Kidlat Tahimik puts it: ‘art is a vaccine for the soul,’” the MIFF director said.  

“It is a respite from the struggles and rigors of coping during difficult times. Even for just a brief moment, people are transported to a different realm by art and film, in this case easing the tediousness of anxiety during the pandemic, and therefore uplifting the spirit and bringing a sense of hope to the people,” he concluded. 

“As Kidlat Tahimik puts it: ‘art is a vaccine for the soul,’” the MIFF director said.

About the Writer
Leonard James Postrado

Leonard James Postrado is WSP Inc. Senior Manager for media relations. He is also a former Manila Bulletin reporter who covered the Police, Local Government Units, Government Agencies, and the Justice beats for nine years. He also contributed stories to several news agencies such as Agence France Presse, Xinhua, Rappler, and GMA News. He joined the PR industry as a Communications Officer of Senator Win Gatchalian in 2018.

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