PUTTING up a film festival is no joke, to keep at it for 15 years shows the passion of the people behind the festival and the spirit of cooperation that it has fanned through the years.

The 15th Mindanao Film Festival (MFF) held last December 6 to 12 at the Gaisano Mall Cinema 6 had the biggest participation, so far, with 100 short and full-length films all made in Mindanao or created by Mindanaoans.

"We have promising short films particularly those from Zamboanga and Ozamiz," said festival director Rudolph Ian Alama.

"Zamboanga City has really been a powerhouse in terms of regional filmmaking, their entries have been winning our best film awards for the past few years." Alama also pointed out the films made in Ozamiz as having a strong showing.

Mati City also had two entries for the first time, a documentary on surfing entitled "Taga-Dahican" and a romance short titled "Hulagway".

"Many of the films are student or school productions one can see the potentials from these student filmmakers," he said. The festival had also received a big number of animated films, 14 of which came from Ateneo de Zamboanga, made by students of Bachelor of Science in New Media and Computer Animation course.

The other schools that sent entries were St. Mary's College of Tagum City, Colegio de San Ignacio, University of Mindanao, Ateneo de Davao University (Junior High School, Senior High School, and College), Philippine Women’s College, Davao City National High School, and the Davao Merchant Marine Academy.

The big turnout in participating films can also be attributed to the two guerilla filmathons held this year" the Araw ng Dabaw Filmathon in March 2017 and the Cinema Rehiyon Filmathon in Nabunturan in August 2017 aside from the interest on filmmaking among students.

Filmathons are 24-hour filmmaking contests that challenges participants to produce a short film in 24 hours, from shooting to the final production.

Asked how a film festival can be sustained to bring about high-quality stories and productions every year, Alama attributes this to public-private cooperation in arts and culture.

"When MFF began it was a purely private initiative and if there were no support coming from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) perhaps we cannot sustain it," he said.

"The key for our survival is our constant efforts to network with different potential collaborators," he added. Alama said that soon after FDCP chair Liza Dino took office, they immediately communicated with her to brief her about the regional filmmaking movement.

"For two years, FDCP has been an active partner with our Mindanao Film and TV Development Foundation. Aside from FDCP we also partnered with the Philippine Information Agency together with the NCCA," he said.

They also have partnerships with the Department of Agriculture-Philippine Rural Development Program, Commission on Population, the City Government of Davao, non-government organizations like the Forum ZFD, and different schools. They need to network with as many partners as possible because the MFF is but the culmination of filmmaking activities for the year and all these need resources and experts.

The MFF is organized by Mindanao Film and TV Development Foundation Inc. (MFTDFI) with Dax Canedo as President.

For this year, joining Alama in organizing the festival are Ivan Tadena, assistant festival director, with a full staff, among whom were Lucy Seniel and Luchie Ong.

"I would like to thank the FDCP led by Chair Liza Dino, the NCCA, Office of Cong. Jericho Nograles, RDL, Phil. Information Agency, Kaizen Davao, Gaisano Mall of Davao, Kusina sa Subli, VODC, Pudols Food Shoppe, Forum ZFD, DA-PRDP. I would also to thank Ngilngig Film Festival and Nabunturan Film Exhibition. Also to this year's jurors, Jay Rosas, Earl Bontuyan and Benjie Garcia," Alama said.

Fifteen years hence, there is the need to push for film financing and marketing to make this endeavor self-sustaining, if not profitable, and can thus encourage more filmmakers to produce.

Alama said that what makes MFF unique is that it simulates the bigger movie industry where they sell tickets and the revenues are shared between the cinema and the filmmakers. But, he admits that there remains the need to push the filmmakers themselves to promote and market their films.

"The MFF wants to jumpstart a sustainable movie industry, where artists earn or can have a livelihood," he said, and this can only happen with proper marketing and financing components.

This year's MFF opened with "Tu Pug Imatuy (The Right to Kill) by Arnel Barbarona, telling the story of evacuees from Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

This film already won Best Picture and Best Director in Sinag Maynila 2017, and was the lone Philippine entry to the Asian Future Section of the Tokyo International Film Festival in October 2017.

Another full-length film shown was "I Love You, Thank You" by Dabawenyo filmmaker Charliebebs Gohetia.

This year's festival was more austere in preparation and collaterals because they only had the support from the FDCP as they failed to get an NCCA grant due to a technicality.

Despite this, it is the biggest ever yet, and thus shows that awareness and knowhow on filmmaking is now prevalent, which MFF itself played a role in, now the storytellers and filmmakers are multiplying, each having their own beautiful story to tell.

"You must find where your heart is. They should put heart into their craft," Alama advised aspiring filmmakers.

The festival winners are:

- Best Original Song, Tama Na, by Francis Domic Calvo/Joarl Christian Elaco in Tagay Best Musical Score, diwa de Leon for God Bliss our Home

- Best Sound, Jeffrie Po for Ang Ikaduhang Pagbalik

- Best Production Design, Aedrian Araojo for Si Astri maka si Tambullah

- Best Editing, Carlo Miller for TFTA (Thanks for the Add)

- Best Cinematography, Arnel Barbarona, Si Astri, maka si Tambullah

- Best Technical Achievement in Animation, Out of the Paper Best Animated Film, Unos

- Best Student Film, TFTA (Thaks for the Add) Best Guerilla Filmathon Film, Mama

- Best Guerilla Worksop Film, Kaloy-i

- Best Documentary Film, God Bliss our Home

- Best Screenplay, Edmund Telmo for Redempsyon

- Best Actor, Edmund Telmo for REdempsyon

- Best Actress, Chriscel Ann Maribojoc for Redepmsyon

- Best Director, Job Nierras for Kaloy-i Special Jury Prize, God Bliss Our Home, Nawruz Paguidopon Best Film, Si Astri maka si Tambullah