WE MUST take our hats off to Ferdinand John Balanag for making the first-ever Montanosa Film Festival (MFF, March 20 to 28, 2021) happen, and in Baguio during a pandemic. Yes, of course, he got a lot of help, and the village it took must be credited, too. But to Ferdie belongs the grass crown, so to speak. Because the work, production skills, and management-savvy required to pull together such a feat equal tremendous.

But lest we be accused of playing favorite connections and writing only of Ferdie, the festival was presented by The Workshop for Infinite Media (TwiMedia), Baguio City Mayor’s Office, and Department of Tourism. Lead partners included Film Development Council of the Philippines, Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Baguio Tourism Council, Council for Baguio Creative City, and the embassies of France, India, and Czech Republic.

The village it took also included hotel partners, a string of volunteer organizations, other festival partners, and so many people that cared enough to help. Clearly, the whole world was involved. I will however have to specially mention Baguio Volkswagon Club, as their product placement at the drive-in in Loakan was just so beyond good.

I loved the venues. Of course, there was the Baguio Convention Center. Guess who was actually responsible for scheduling its renovation. Pause. But we digress. Then there was Burnham Lake, boasting of a screen at one end of it, from which the audience on all the other sides of the lake could take in the movies. Remember when the late, great Chinggoy Gil Alonso did a play on the lake itself? Many moons ago.

But the best MFF venue was the drive-in set up in Loakan, which turned the airport into an open-air movie non-house. The best.

Speaking of best, awards were given on closing night. Perhaps most on-point was Narciso Ramos’s 14 Days – which is set in this time of Covid, and took the Crossing Borders Award. The film is about a police trainee assigned to watch over a Covid-19 positive case. Also about the pandemic is Igem ni Nanang (In Mother’s Arms), which was given an Independent Spirit Award. The film tells the story of a mother named Elvira and how she must struggle to smuggle her daughter into a Baguio under lockdown so that she can get badly needed medical treatment.

Lynette Carantes-Bibal bagged the festival’s Kapwa Award with the documentary film Pengsasan, a tribute to her father, the late Geoffrey Carantes, who is remembered well for his political career, along with one as an educator, but most specially, methinks, for the one as an artist extraordinaire. This film is for Lynette also the fulfillment of a sacred duty... you’ve to sit with her to better understand that as I have and do. Congratulations, Lynette!

Congratulations, too, to all the other participant filmmakers and everyone who made the festival happen!