An Ilocano filmmaker is making rounds through different television and radio platforms across the Philippines as he and his works are being highlighted even outside the country. Most recently, his film “Miss You, George!” was awarded Best Short Film at the International Film Festival Manhattan Spring 2021. The said film features a boy trapped in the middle of Enhanced Community Quarantine, spending his entire time catching up with his “long-distance” friend who works in the front line.
The Film Dream is glad to once again sit down and talk via virtual interview with Cinemalaya Film Festival 2021 finalist, co-director of Ang Mga Nawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa, Mark Moneda.
The Filmmaking Awakening & The Relationship between Arts & Science
When asked to describe himself, Mark simply answered, “I am a radiologic technologist by profession, and I am a filmmaker by heart.”
As early as his childhood days and with the influence of his parents, Mark grew up watching local films and developing a deep interest and fascination with filmmaking. He even started filming when he was around 9 years old, during a time when camera phones were not yet popular. “I had this Sony Ericsson phone that had an attachable camera. The lighting was so dark, the quality was really low." Mark recalled. "That's where I started - sometimes it was just random videos. Sometimes I posed as the actor too. Anything to satisfy my hunger for filmmaking."
However, going into college, Mark prioritized his other passion - science! He studied and graduated Radiologic Technology and went on to work in the field of healthcare. On his off days, he found himself with not much to do, until one Halloween in 2015, when Ilocos Norte’s annual Semana ti Ar-aria Short Horror Film Festival seemed to call on him. Gathering enough confidence, Mark joined the competition but did not succeed in winning. "I felt hurt because somehow, I also had this expectation, the notion that I could do it. But I realized that there are so many talented filmmakers here now. I felt left behind." However, this incident only became his driving motivation and ignited his love for the craft. "When I lost, I decided that it cannot happen again. The next time I join, I really can't lose."
With a refreshed determination, he skipped the next year’s festival and instead, spent his time studying everything he can to improve his skills. "I had to bounce back stronger. I studied how to shoot from the right angles, how to adjust the lighting correctly, how to write - I made sure I was prepared. I won't allow myself not to succeed." In 2017 and on his second attempt at the contest, Mark’s film “Sinapupunan” was declared Best in Short Horror Film.
From there on out, Mark continuously joined and won competitions.
In one view from outside, people may be wondering about the contrast of what seems to be two separate identities of Mark. While it’s not that uncommon for a storyteller to be more than just one personality, we continued to ask Mark how he manages working full time as a healthcare professional and at the same time creatively working on film projects.
"Personally, I do believe that when you really love something, you will do anything to pursue it.” Simply put, Mark loves both these major parts of his life.
"I really strive to work for what makes me happy. Even if it's difficult, even for sleepless nights, even if I lose weight! It's all worth it if you know that it's what gives you life, what gives you motivation." For him, he can have more than one passion and firmly believes and executes that neither be compromised.
On the subject of the common dream of combining both career and passion, Mark explained that his reason for making films is because it’s what he enjoys doing, and that his goal is to send messages, and not to earn from it. “I don’t make films to make money. I make money to make films.” He does acknowledge that this mindset may not be for everyone, but it is for him.
When asked about his thoughts on a filmmaking course, he sincerely advises students to choose what would make them happy. "If your heart and soul is set on that one field, then choose that. Don't force yourself to take on a path or course when you know you won't be happy there because eventually, you might not excel or shine."
Mark added the importance of one’s love for their passion.
"If you truly love this one thing and do everything for it, you will achieve it. Your heart will automatically be molded for it. Our Lord will shift your heart and you'll be able to tread the path you choose, as long as you're not harming anyone, or stepping on anyone's morale. Just do what's right and proper."
The Challenges the Competition Brings
Mark officially began his filmmaking journey when he was fresh out of college, starting to gather experience when he was 21. While his hard work and faith earned him multiple awards from then on until the present, he was not exempted from experiencing some of the many struggles of young filmmakers when it came to the competitions.
"When I was younger and less mature, I sometimes compared myself with others. I would wonder, how come this other film has better cinematography? Oh, how come this other film has a better casting? There, I would have self-doubt." Mark explained that his feelings of self-doubt arose from being competitive with his own self and stemmed out to having anxiety as well. "Most especially when it comes to bigger competitions, there are sleepless nights. Even if you're not stressed, you still end up thinking too much, and even wondering if what you're doing is right."
On top of that, he also shared that he couldn’t help looking into social media and reading different kinds of comments about his films." The comments and feedback that I read sometimes hurt." Over time and continuing his journey, Mark was able to come to terms with these feelings of uncertainties. He adjusted his mindset, choosing to believe in himself, and accepting that he could not please everyone. “You have to accept it and use it as constructive criticism, so that you can improve."
With joining bigger competitions, another concern was presenting one’s self to the public as such events often require interviews and press conferences. "To be honest, I'm not exactly the type of person to be wary of how I look or dress. I don't even comb my hair!" Mark half-joked. "To be aware of looking presentable is not something I'm used to. But I understand that when facing the media, the people, you have to be nice. You have to look nice, respectable, and presentable."
As an extroverted person, Mark found that he had difficulties controlling or filtering what he says, and ended up possibly over-talking. However, this also became a reason for him making more friends.
"All I can advise to the aspiring filmmakers who would join these big competitions, just be presentable as possible. Be yourself, but also be mindful of your words and actions." He went on to explain. "You need to be cautious that you won't say anything that can offend anyone. Be yourself in the nicest way possible."
Mark strongly discourages sugar-coating or putting up a false image of one’s self.
"People will love you for who you are, but you should also love them. Have an understanding of what your viewers need."
More of Mark’s Personal Tips about Film Competitions
The Film Dream asked Mark what more he wishes to share towards young and fellow filmmakers wanting to join film festivals. He began with, “Just join and join!”
Mark encourages especially the inexperienced to just keep joining - but only if their intentions and goals are from their heart. "Sometimes, some just want to join to gain popularity. If that's your motivation, then don't do it."
He believes that the most important essences when it comes to films is expression of one’s self, and the message to be sent.
"Join because you want your message to reach the people. Because this message you want to send them can influence their perceptions, and inspire them to improve, to become better in life. That's the goal."
Ultimately he listed 3 simple enough tips derived from his own experiences.
1. Stick to your personal and internal storyboard
As aspiring storytellers, one usually already has ideas stored or running in their head. Mark urges that one sticks to it. It may not be easy to form a whole story, but it isn’t impossible either. "I believe that day by day, you'll get the inspiration and eventually form the story - sometimes even out of the blue. Just open your eyes and your heart to the universe. The universe will fill you with the inspiration you need."
2. Follow your instinct
“You should put trust in it. Don't just follow it, trust your instinct." It’s normal to doubt, to keep asking: Do I need to continue this? What if I fail? What if I’m wasting time? "Give yourself a chance, trust in yourself because no one else will give it to you other than you." Believe in yourself.
3. Start filming
“After following your instinct, start packing your things and start filming. Just start!” Nothing will be accomplished without a beginning. Mark acknowledges it sounds easier said than done, but it’s part of the process. "It is the hardest step but once you start it, everything else will follow." He encourages one to push through, never stop. Once all is set and ready to go, put one’s trust to the Lord. "He will put everything in order. In everything you do, put God in the center. Have faith." Mark added that even if you worked hard for it, you should also ask for it. "Pray for it, I believe that everything will get better if you put your whole trust in Him. For my whole journey, all that I did, I give Him all the credits."
With all of those, Mark reaped a lot of accomplishments. His most recent film, “Miss You, George!” is listed as one of the 21 short films honoree at the 6th Film Ambassador’s Night this February. The said event recognizes and celebrates filmmakers that gave pride to the country, whose films have shone globally.
What began with one competition lost, to being recognized in the whole country, turned into representing the Philippines internationally, Mark truly is an inspiration for filmmakers of any age.
Here is the list of Mark Moneda's achievements:
6th Semana ti Ar-aria Short Horror Film Festival
Best in Short Horror Film
Best Actress - Gabrielle Marie Chu
7th Semana ti Ar-aria Short Horror Film Festival
Brad (2020) (written by)
9th Semana ti Ar-aria Short Horror Film Festival
Best Short Horror Film
Best Actor - Marionne Moneda
Miss You, George (2020)
QC International Film Festival 2020
Best Short Film
International Film Festival Manhattan Spring 2021
Jury Awards Best Short Film
Best Actor, Short film (Nominee)
Best Director, Short film (Nominee)
Best Performance of the Festival (Nominee)
2021 Health For All Film Fest by the World Health Organization
Representing Philippines under Health Emergencies Category
2021 SIRIB AWARDEE
Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition 2021
Best Actor (Nominee)
Lisbon Film Rendezvous 2021
6th Film Ambassador’s Night
See You, George (2021)
6th Sorok Short Film Festival 2021
Best Performance (Nominee) - Maureen Gaile B. Mariano
2nd Sundayag Film Festival 2021
Overall Best Director
Best Narrative Director
Best Editing - Kevin Jay Ayson
Best Actor (Nominee) - Ariel John Pilar Corpuz
Best Actress (Nominee) - Maureen Gaile B. Mariano
Cinema Rehiyon 2021
Ang Mga Nawalang Pag-asa at Panlasa (2021) (co-directed & written by)
Cinema Rehiyon 2021
Tan-ok ni Ilocano Film Festival 2021
1st Runner Up
Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2021