Hailing from San Pedro, Laguna, 19 year old Justine “Poli” Polanco is currently a freshman at Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Sta. Mesa taking AB Broadcasting. Just last October, a film he directed and produced with his previous classmates from Liceo de San Pedro won the 2nd San Pedro Film Festival - “Damdaming Nakabitin” while unassumingly realizing one of Poli’s biggest dreams. But how did it happen?
The Film Dream invited the aspiring filmmaker for a virtual interview last December 15, where Poli shared with us his inspiring story full of perseverance, determination, trust, and faith.
The Dreams and Inspirations
When asked what is his ultimate dream, Poli had no hesitation in his answer. “Gusto ko talaga i-pursue ‘yung pangarap ko na maging sikat na direktor, or editor, or cinematographer. Gusto ko mapalabas ang gawa ko sa sinehan, sa big screen.”
Relaying that from his elementary days, Poli had quickly realized his passion. He knew and felt the joy from taking photos, videos, and making short films when the activities and projects called for it. “Iba ‘yung nararamdaman ko, ‘yung feeling na masaya lang, ang gaan sa pakiramdam.”
Supporting this dream, he also had specific goals in mind. “Gusto ko na magkaroon tayo ng magagandang fantasy films kung saan ang mga graphic effects ay kayang makipagsabayan sa mga western movies.”
One of Poli’s fascination is of the fantasy genre. Believing that there are plenty of beautiful inspirations from Philippine mythology, Poli visualizes how graphic effects incorporated in movies can elevate such storylines. “Naniniwala ako na kayang mapukaw ‘yung mga damdamin ng manonood, at nakakapagbigay awareness sa kanila na ang kultura ng Pilipinas ay sobrang yaman kapag inexplore pa lalo.”
With this, it was almost no surprise that one of the cinematic works driving him to pursue his dreams is one of the few but successful fantasy-centered television series in the country - Encantadia. “Gusto ko kasi talaga mapakita, or gusto kong ishare sa mga manonood na ganito pala ‘yung kultura ng Pilipinas, na kapag inexplore pa, ang dami pa nating malalaman, ang dami pa nating pwedeng mas pagyamanin.”
Another work with a hint of fantasy has also inspired Poli to pursue filmmaking, the horror film Block Z directed by Mikhail Red. “Na-inspire ako sa kanya na kaya niyang gawin yung ibang genre, na napakita niya na kayang makipagsabayan ng Pilipinas in terms of ganitong genre kahit na mabigat ‘yung budget na kailangan para ma produce yung ganoon.”
Talking further into the professionals he looks up to, he added: “Isa sa mga inspirasyon ko rin si Direk Cathy, pinapanood ko po yung mga interviews niya, ang dami ko pong natututunan sa kanya.” He would watch interviews featuring the esteemed Filipina director and take notes. “Nakita ko na parang gusto ko maging parang Direk Cathy, in a way na makita yung uniqueness ko - ng pagiging Direk Justine”
Embarking on his journey to fulfilling his dreams, Poli assumed his roles being a director and editor.
The Pursuit of Practicing their Craft Through Contests
The first time Poli entered a competition was in 2019, when the San Pedro City Anti-Drug Abuse Council held the Film Making Contest with the theme “Drug Abuse Prevention: KATARUNGAN PARA SA KALUSUGAN, KALUSUGAN PARA SA KATARUNGAN”. The film he directed, “Saksi,” did not make the final three. Despite not earning any awards, Poli felt that he and his production team, K1N5E Productions, won a lot of learnings from the experience, which is what they were after. “Ang dami naming natutunan sa nangyari na ‘yun, na mas maappreciate pa namin ‘yung isa't isa. ‘Yung tagline kasi namin ay there's victory in unity, and there's unity in victory.”
The following year, he and K1N5E joined the San Pedro City EXPERIMENTAL CINEMATIC QUEST (ECQ) Short Film Festival with the theme “Coping with Covid-19.” The theme itself represented the most challenging project yet for Poli. “‘Yun po siguro yung pinakamahirap. Super higpit pa ng restrictions, guidelines, pero kahit na kulang kami sa manpower, pinursue parin namin ‘yung pangarap namin na maging director, writer, executive producer, and hindi naging hadlang ‘yung pandemya para pigilan yung pangarap namin.”
“Talaan” was still made possible through their best efforts in spite of the pandemic’s restraints, and landed among the top 20 out of 45 entries. “Karamihan din [ng mga sumali] ay nasa edad 20 na, kami po nasa 17, 18, pero nagpapasalamat kami kasi nakapasok kami sa top 10,” Poli said with gratitude and pride.
Poli and K1N5E continued to enter contest after contest, with the help of their Executive Producer, their teacher from high school, Josua Soralbo, who sent them updates about any possible opportunities. Other members included Reycelyn Hernandez (Writer), Benson Candido (Creative Producer), Armin De Rosas (Cinematographer), and Vanessa Mahilum, Kate Valdez, and Aeron Osicos (Staff).
Poli went on to direct “Panalangin'' which became one of the top 20 winners (out of 216 entries) of the 2020 Sine Wikain Vertical Film Contest by the Film Development Council of the Philippines. “Hindi namin ineexpect na makakapasok kami sa top 20 kasi buong Pilipinas na po kalaban namin doon, tapos baguhan palang po kami, nangangapa and then experience lang din ‘yung habol namin. Thank you po kay Lord kasi nakapasok po kami.”
A pattern seemed to take place, with each film acquiring higher levels of award, their entry to the National Council for Children's Television annual Video Contest - DokyuBata 2020 “Bituin” won 2nd Best Documentary in the Children’s Division.
Maintaining their rapport, they filmed “Munting Pangarap” for BokyuBata 2021, and again won 2nd Best Documentary in the Children’s Division, as well as Best Poster.
A satisfying victory was finally claimed when they joined the Pride Festival Short Film Competition 2021 by Sangguniang Kabataan - Brgy. San Antonio, San Pedro, Laguna. “Balangaw” which celebrated the LGBTQ community was deemed the overall Champion.
A step back but not a setback occurred during their entry at the Short Film Competition Pagbangon Mula sa Pandemya 2021 (by Laguna Tourism Culture Arts and Trade Office) as “Pasigdayon” placed among the top 10 out of 25.
But nothing could have prepared Poli to what all of his hard work has led to - late into this year, the SULYAP 2nd San Pedro Film Festival commenced. Naturally, Poli, together with K1N5E worked on their entry film, “Damdaming Nakabitin.”
Damdaming Nakabitin & A Dream becoming reality
“‘Yung short film na ito ay parang rollercoaster na experience, kasi nung una smooth lang lalo na sa pre-production, however, doon sa production talaga kami nahirapan.” Poli recounted how they fell short on manpower. Brought by the spread of newer, contagious COVID-19 variants, some of the team’s members being young students as well were not allowed to go outside. Some were occupied with their studies being freshmen in college.
Despite how the workload became heavier and harder, Poli remained unwavering and enthusiastic. “Nagpapasalamat pa din kami kay Lord at sa mga ka-prod ko, kasi kahit wala pa kami masyado experience sa mga ganitong field, kahit maraming mga problema, napatunayan namin na there is victory in unity nga, and there is unity in victory.” Poli expressed, taking pride in his team’s consistency with their motto.
“Damdaming Nakabitin” is about two siblings that are struggling with life in the face of the pandemic. Poli explained, “Sa kabila ng mga pagsubok sa bawat araw, pilit pa rin nila itong binibigyang kulay at halaga, pilit pa rin nila sinasalba ang damdamin nilang nakabitin,”
Following his teacher’s advice that they should have an “idea file,” Poli was able to jot down an idea that led to the film. Walking in the city proper of his hometown, he saw two siblings selling Sampaguita near the parish. “Napaisip ako paano nga ba nila nagagawang kulayan ang madilim na landas na ito na sa gitna ng pandemya,” He shared how, or rather who, he got the inspiration from.
Explaining the film’s message, he continued, “We all deserve, diba po, na magkaroon ng tahanan na mauuwian, malalapitan, at masasandalan tuwing magulo ang ating puso at isipan. Na kahit na anong problema ang kinakaharap natin, andyan parati ang ating pamilya. Diba sabi nga, home isn't always a place, sometimes it's a person.”
Poli had expected that as for most of the past competitions they joined, the events took place on the Internet virtually. To his surprise, not only did “Damdaming Nakabitin'' win, it also premiered during the awarding ceremony at Robinsons Galleria South Cinemaworld Cinema 5!
Feelings of shock, happiness, and excitement overcame the aspiring filmmaker. The film he directed and worked dedicatedly on was shown on the big screen, with a big audience, all the while receiving other awards such as Best Editing and Best Director. Poli related with the saying, “Pag may tiyaga, may nilaga.”
“...kung magsisikap ka sa iyong journey at magtiwala ka sa iyong sarili and kay Lord, malalampasan mo yung mga pagsubok sa buhay at one day ikaw ay magtatagumpay at maabot ang mga pangarap mo,” Poli beamed with inspiration.
So, what lies ahead for the passionate and active filmmaker? If it’s not yet obvious, he’s eager to continue taking opportunities by…joining competitions!
Poli and his team are preparing for the ongoing Sine Kabataan (5th Edition) Short Film Competition by FDCP.
While they enjoy creating films and joining contests, a much bigger project is slowly brewing in their hearts and minds.
The Film Dream asked Poli what their literal film dream is, a project that allows them unlimited imagination and creativity. “‘Yung pinakagusto namin ng prod team namin is, mahirap siya gawin kasi syempre kakayanin, is about sa Bakunawa.” The Bakunawa is a serpent-like dragon from Philippine mythology. This was also the inspiration for Miss Universe Philippines Beatrice Luigi Gomez’s national costume.
“Ang deep po kasi talaga ng storyline ng Bakunawa, na pwede rin ma-apply in real life. ‘Yung Bakunawa diba po nageevolve po sya, gusto namin siya ipakita, ipursue ‘yung about sa Philippine mythology.”
However his fascination with the fantasy genre is, Poli’s mind is also home to different topics as well, such as Philippine revolution. “Gusto ko din po magproduce ng about revolution ng mga Pilipino, sa point of view naman ng mga Filipino masses.” He cited great examples including Heneral Luna. “Gusto ko po yung film ko about history and at the same time inaatake yung social problems dito sa Philippines.”
With conviction and confidence, Poli has one keyword to any fellow filmmakers: “# Padayon”
“Hashtag Padayon, kasi kahit na nahihirapan tayo sa mga pagsubok na hinaharap natin lalo na ngayong pandemya, ipagpatuloy pa rin natin ‘yung passion natin na maging filmmaker, na mas ipakita pa natin na ang mga future filmmakers ng Pilipinas ay espesyal, na kaya natin makipagsabayan na sa ibang bansa.” Poli encouraged, and recounting the saying about being the captain of one’s own ship. “Tayo ‘yung captain ng buhay natin, so dapat lakasan natin ‘yung loob natin at wag tayo matakot na umalis sa comfort zone natin at mag take risks, kasi pag naalis tayo sa comfort zone natin, mas nalalaman pa natin ‘yung potential skills natin.”
This young and hopeful student only just began his journey, within 3 years (most of which there was a global pandemic) he had joined about half a dozen film contests, won multiple awards, and most of all, gained a lot of valuable experience. Truly, Justine “Poli” Polanco is one of the living proofs that with hard work, perseverance, trust, and faith, one can achieve his goals and more.
Want to hear more inspiring stories from different kinds of filmmakers? Check out all our other featured storytellers HERE.