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Arnie Christian Villena: Educating Young Minds and Filmmakers For Two Decades

“You have to give your students the chance to explore their creativity. Give them the freedom to extract their creative juices. You just have to guide them and unleash their creative potential. It’s 50/50. Half will come from the students and the other half will come from the teacher.”

When my former professor back in college uttered this line, I know for a fact, I am in for a treat of good conversation.

I graduated back in 2017 and I am just so lucky because at last, I can have an up close and personal conversation with one of the people I really look up to.

Meet, Dr. Arnie Christian Villena. He is the Dean of the College of Education, Arts and Sciences of Lyceum of the Philippines University-Batangas.

For 22 years of being in the academe, he remains to be that dynamic and sincere person I knew back in college. He was my college professor in most of my major subjects for almost 4 years only to find out that I have yet to discover more about his journey as an educator.

He confessed that taking up Mass Communication wasn’t really the first choice. In fact, it just so happened that he eventually developed his love towards film and storytelling.

“When I graduated high school, the trend during that time was to really study in Manila. However, my dad would only allow me if I go to UP Diliman. I was waitlisted in the AB History program, which has always been my dream course but because I am so young then, I decided to try my luck first here at LPU Batangas and see how I’ll perform.”

“During that time, LPU-Batangas offered AB English, AB Psychology and Mass Communication among other programs, and I decided to go for Mass Comm. Little did I know, I will eventually fall in love with it and enjoy my stay. I can still remember that I made a remark that I will only stay at LPU for a semester and then go to UP and pursue the dream. But fate made me stay here.”

“I was given a lot of opportunities and big breaks even if I was just a freshman student. I was able to participate in different competitions and extra-curricular activities because of LPU, and for that, I am grateful. That’s why I stayed.”

That young and energetic college student version of Arnie believed that sometimes, things really don’t go the way we planned it to be but God has prepared something even bigger for us.

As a college student, he was able to direct and produce two period films, one for school requirements and another one specifically produced for a film Festival organized by the Batangas City government.

“We won a lot of awards during that film festival including best director and best film. And what makes it even more fulfilling is the fact that I was able to work on my favorite genre, which is the period film where my special relationship with History is inclined with.”

“My love for films really grew when I was a student. There’s something about films that really make you wonder, think, observe. Whenever you create a film, it teaches and awakens your senses.”

Being the outstanding student that he was, immediately after graduation in 1999, he decided to look for jobs. He shared that even before getting his college diploma, he had already submitted his resume to different companies, especially TV stations.

“Just like any fresh graduate of mass communication, the dream is really to work on television. I submitted necessary requirements to ABS-CBN and other stations because I really want to work in TV Production.”

“However, I am really eager to get a job as soon as I graduate so while waiting for their response, I also decided to apply as a college instructor at LPU-Batangas where I also happened to be an alumnus. Because of the waiting game, and I was already asked to sign a contract with LPU, I had to let go of that opportunity and I chose LPU. Funny anecdote, that night after signing the contract, that was also the time when ABS-CBN sent me a message saying that I passed their interviews and all.”

At 21 years old, Dr. Arnie started teaching.

“When I started teaching, I was very idealistic and I was so strict. I was so young and I'm quite afraid that students may not have fully given me their trust . But as time went by, I finally earned their respect and established authority even if I am young.”

Flashback to 2004, he started teaching film production classes. He admits that it was really challenging because the technology was very limited.

“My training was really VHS and then I can still recall that I once had a student who was really fond of video editing who encouraged us to explore. That was also the time when Sony Vegas was finally making a name. It wasn’t perfect compared to the softwares we are using now, but during that time, we were already amazed with the quality. I’m happy to see the transition and how technology evolved.”

“One of the most challenging parts as a film teacher for 22 years is coming up with different stories. Every year, every convention where we usually showcase student films, we want to bring something new to the table. And as a film mentor, I am giving them direction and guidance so there are moments that I really have to pause and think. But I also believe that there are a lot of stories out there. You just really have to imagine. There are times that your storyline shouldn’t be that complicated. Let’s face it, there are a lot of viewers who really watch films because they want to be entertained. Then being educated or informed comes after. As long as you’re telling a story, you’re doing a great job.”

How amazing life turns out when you keep believing. Coupled with a lot of hard work, while teaching, Dr. Arnie never wasted any chance to continue learning at the same time. While in the academe, he was able to finish Master of Arts in History at De La Salle University-Manila, a Masters on English Language Studies at LPU-Batangas and he also studied PhD in Education major in Educational Leadership and Management at De La Salle University.

He has always been on top of his game and that is something I knew about him ever since I was just his student. He always pushes us to be the better version of ourselves, and to reach our wildest dreams.

I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to speak with him so I wouldn’t want to miss the chance to ask him what’s the most memorable film project by his students in his 22 years of service in LPU Batangas. He happily shared, “Sa Ngalan ng Ama directed by Armyr Encarnacion would always be special because that was the first film which was nominated at the Catholic Mass Media Awards.”

“And of course, Raymond Cultura’s Al Basir is one for the books. I am elated to see the output of their film and it made waves in different film competitions. It’s also a period film, so it is really very close to my heart.”

“I am very proud of that film because when we revised the script, it really underwent a lot of process. There’s a collaboration with the students, the technicalities are flawless. It was just a simple story but even up to now, I am starstruck with its quality.”

On the other hand, despite the global pandemic, Dr. Arnie Villena is hopeful to see more films come to life. In fact, he is excited to share his future plans for their college especially to the aspiring young filmmakers.

“Come next school year, we will have our first film production class again. And it's gonna be the pandemic edition. We are really planning on how we will execute it because the trend now is the lock-in taping and shoot. With the limited resources of our students, can that really be possible? So we are really taking into account every possible scenario so we could mount a safe and competitive learning experience for these young storytellers.”

What I truly admire with Dr. Arnie is his vision. Yes, he’s unstoppable, but he always has a plan. And that would probably be my biggest takeaway from him even before that I was just his student. Set a goal, and never settle for mediocrity. To some, this may sound really tough, but I have always trusted his advice because it really works.

“Continue exploring. There will be moments you’ll need to gamble for your best shot in life especially if you know that it will bring good results. Dare to take risks because we are all bound for something greater.”

I had the best two hours of catching up in recent memory with my professor back in college. I am lucky, I was once his protege. I am lucky, he is my mentor.

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