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John Bolivar: A Student Film Director from CEU Manila Who Saw The Beautiful Chaos in Filmmaking



At a very young age, 21-year old John Frederick Bolivar had already ticked-off one of his bucket lists-- to direct a film. It wasn’t a dream at first but fate really had its own way of taking him into the world of filmmaking.


“Before ako pumasok ng college, ang dream ko talaga ay maging host. ‘Yun talaga ang pine-peg sakin ng friends ko at ng family ko. Tapos out of nowhere, pinaghandle po kami ng event ni Sir Ricky Rosales. Dahil po sa event na ‘yun nakita ni Sir ‘yung potential ko to lead. Nagtuloy tuloy na po yun and naging part po ako ng org namin and sinabihan po ako to direct, Manggalaw. Doon po nagsimula ang filmmaking journey ko.”




The stars truly aligned for this Communication and Media Studies student from Centro Escolar University-Manila because in 2019 he was given the opportunity and entrusted to direct “Manggagalaw,” their film entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival (Students’ Film category) under the supervision of their mentor Sir Ricky Rosales.


Their film “Manggagalaw” is a short film, which anchors in a mythology well-known in the Southern Tagalog region that tells of a spirit which wanders the forest to nab children. Many believed that it is unsafe to go out at dusk because they can possibly become victims of the “manggagalaw.”


“Ang manggagalaw ay hindi lang isang kuwento ng kababalaghan. Isinasaysay nito ang tunggalian ng tradisyunal at modernong paniniwala. Layon nitong itanyag ang kahalagahan ng misteryo at kilig sa kabila ng matinding pagsandig ng tao sa siyensiya at teknolohiya ng modernong daigdig.”


“Itinatanyag din ng aming maiksing pelikula ang problema ng lipunan sa edukasyon na siyang naglulugmok sa maraming Pilipino sa kamangmangan.”



Aside from that, John together with his executive producer Sheena Malquisto, writer Monina Austria, and the rest of the production team also decided to tackle social issues, social criticisms and social relevance in their five-minute film, which aired in all cinemas nationwide back in 2019 alongside with the film of Coco Martin, “3pol Trobol.”


Being a finalist in the MMFF 2019 student film category is indeed a big achievement already but John Frederick shared with The Film Dream that they also had their fair share of ups and downs during the film production process.


“Struggle sa amin ang location. Ang navi-visualize namin is bundok, magubat, ganyan. Buti na lang, meron kaming kaibigan from Montalban Rizal, at may suggestion siya na lugar kung saan kami pwede mag-shoot. Chineck namin and we had an ocular, and sabi namin, hala, ang hirap nito kasi mataas siya. Paano yung mga gamit namin, paano yung mga camera, tripod and equipment. Yung mga talent kailangan naming ingatan. Isa talaga sa struggle namin is pag-akyat ng bundok kasi 20-minutes hike ‘yun and then 10-minutes na sementado and 10 mins na batuhan yung nilakaran namin.”


John Frederick, an Angono Rizal native also added that aside from the location, managing their finances and budget, they also had to deal with the bad weather during their one-day shoot.


“The day before our shoot, umuulan na ng malakas. So, iniisip na namin if itutuloy pa ba namin ang shoot or ire-reschedule namin. Luckily, tumigil ang ulan nung madaling araw. Nag-push through pa rin kami sa shoot, pero ‘yun nga, dahil umulan kinagabihan, maputik yung daan paakyat ng bundok and may mga kasama pa kaming bata na talent kaya challenging talaga. Teamwork na lang talaga pinairal namin at hindi na namin pinansin ang pressure.”


Meanwhile, after overcoming a grueling day of shoot in the mountains of Montalban, they also had to face a series of challenges in the post production which tested his decision making skills as a young filmmaker.


“Nung nage-edit na kami, napansin namin na may nahagip yung kamera na sementadong bahay, which is opposite sa ina-achieve namin na lumang bahay, kahoy lang. Sir Ricky asked me as the director to decide if we’ll remove that particular scene or retain it. I asked our teammates and I decided na i-keep yung scene na ‘yun kasi it is really vital to the totality of the film para tumahi pa rin siya. Kinakabahan ako noon kasi baka ‘yun pa ang maging dahilan bakit di kami makapasok sa top 8 ng MMFF.”



But despite all these challenges, John stayed true to his vision and it didn’t stop him and his group from finishing their film. It may not have been an easy journey but the lessons they learned throughout the film production will be their armor towards their film dream projects in the future.


“Malaki talaga ang influence ni Sir Ricky sa akin. If it weren’t for him, I would not have had this wonderful opportunity to direct. From him, tumatak po sakin na sa bawat pelikula, dapat may hugot ka, hindi yung basta ka lang nagkuwento. Kailangan may tinatalakay ‘yun na kahit papaano, makakatulong sa problema ng society natin. Maganda yung may hugot na galing sa lipunan kasi mas nakakarelate yung masa, mas nakakarelate yung mga tao. Once na naranasan nila yung pelikula na ginagawa mo.”


When asked why it is very fulfilling for John Frederick to continue telling and creating stories, he shared that even if it isn't something he dreamed of, even if it is something unexpected that came his way, it really felt like this is really a calling and he’s more than excited to see what the future holds for him in the filmmaking industry.


“Nung nakapasok ako sa filmmaking, iba eh, iba yung feeling, iba yung fulfillment niya. Pre-prod pa lang duguan na kasi binubuhos mo na lahat ng passion, dedication, concept and ideas, lahat binubuhos mo na eh. Parang pag nakikita mong nagrorolyo na, ‘pag nakikita mong tumatakbo na yung idea na dating nasa utak mo lang, pero ngayon nasa harap mo na, sinsuhoot niyo na, ine-eedit niyo na, napapanood niyo na sa screen, sobrang fulfilling noon para sakin. Hindi lang ako bilang director ang nagtrabaho sa pelikula na yun, kumbaga, maraming tao. From PA hanggang sa EP namin hanggang kay Sir Ricky na gumabay samin during that film. Maraming tao ang bumuo ng pelikula at ‘yun ang naa-appreciate ko sa filmmaking. It’s a collaboration of creative and hardworking people. Nagtutulungan para makagawa ng magandang pelikula.”


At present, John Frederick plans to continuously attend online workshops in storytelling and filmmaking to further hone his skills in this field. Even if there’s an on-going pandemic, he will never stop from acquiring new knowledge and experiences in cinematography, scriptwriting and directing. Given the chance, he is also excited to direct another film which tackles social issues in the country.


“Gusto ko talagang ipagpatuloy ang pagpe-pelikula. Doon ko nakita ang beautiful chaos in film production. Kaya dream ko talaga na maituloy ito, kasi naeenjoy ko talaga siya ng sobra. Magpapatuloy ako sa passion kong ito.”


Passionate, talented, determined and driven--John Frederick Bolivar is truly a gem of CEU Manila. Life may have been full of surprises for this young student film director but destiny brought him to the place where he rightfully belongs.





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