Neil John Sumalinog: Why Listening Is a Valuable Skill For a Film Mentor

There is beauty in listening.

In fact, that would probably be my biggest takeaway from Neil John Sumalinog, the moderator of the Ateneo Filmmakers’ Society (AFS), a film club of the Ateneo de Davao University Senior High School.

He has been mentoring aspiring filmmakers in their school for almost 2 years now and being a Mass Communication graduate himself, he admits that the secret to fostering a good relationship with student dreamers is really the art of listening to what they want, what they envision, and what they aspire to become.

Mahirap gumawa ng pelikula kung weak ang foundation mo kasi mangongopya ka lang ng mangogopya. Ganoon siguro dati, kung ano ang trend kokopyahin ng mga tao. Pero siguro, that’s the first step for someone who wants to tell a story is to also observe. Makinig sa ibang tao, makinig sa hinaing ng ibang tao.”

“Same with other skills, you cannot give what you do not have. So, you start on filling that empty jar in you. Listen to other people, listen to the stories of other people, listen to yourself. The beauty of listening. Kasi kapag filmmaker ka, nakakalimutan natin maka-connect sa sarili natin, sa mundo, kaya nagiging out of touch yung ibang pelikula for the sake lang na magkapera at para mapag-usapan. Pero as cliche as it is, nasaan na ‘yung ‘social relevance?’ Iba pa rin ang pelikula na nakapag-touch ka ng buhay ng isang tao or nakapag-represent ka ng isang community.”

Upon hearing these words from Sir Neil, I must admit, he really embodies the description of a purposeful mentor. Someone so heartfelt that is very willing to share his time and dedication just to ensure that his mentees are properly guided in their journey towards becoming a powerful storyteller.

But of course, just like any other educator, his journey had its own twists and turns. Sir Neil, being the film buff that he is and a huge fan of Filipino and independent films, as well as animated films, originally wanted to take up a film course in Manila but his parents were unfortunately hesitant to send a 16-year old kid in the busy streets of the metro. Thus, he decided to enroll at the Ateneo De Davao University and eventually ended up in the Mass Communication program.

“Nung maka-graduate ako, I tried to enter ABS-CBN kasi doon din ako nag-intern. Nagustuhan ko naman ‘yung pressure, the experience of being in a TV Production. Hindi ako nakapasok kasi, ang haba nung process. So I had three options, call center which is okay ang pay, ABS-CBN which is kelangan kong maghintay pero somehow gusto ko siyang gawin, and the third is corporate job, in a school. Actually isa siyang secretarial position. Bakit ko siya pinili? Simply because, that was my comfort zone, siguro at that time, kasi fresh graduate. Academe pero as a secretary where my boss, Father Jboy, is a Jesuit who also has a show at ABS-CBN. Being in a formation office wherein I am in a meeting with administrators on how we would be able to produce students not only excelling in academics but also has this holistic formation. ”

“Hindi ako na-bored ever sa ginagawa kong yun for three years. Pero I have free time, kaya sabi ko, try ko mag-enroll ulit, earning units for education. Bale, Monday to Friday, I go to school to work, and then Saturday and Sunday, I go to school to study.”

At 25, the determination of Sir Neil is truly evident juggling work and studies. Perhaps, Father Jboy also saw his potential and eyed him to handle a film club at their school.

“He has so much tru