2 UST graduates make their joint directorial debut in Cinemalaya 2020

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Aug 08 2020 06:33 AM

Cheska Marfori and Janina Gacosta are co-directors of 'Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert,' one of the entries of this year' Cinemalaya film festival. Handout

MANILA -- The young director of “Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert (The Broken Vinyl Record),” one of the short film entries in the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, did not originally imagine herself working at the helm of a film.

Twenty-seven-year-old Janina Gacosta previously wrote scripts for other short films. Her first venture into production was in Milo Sogueco’s “Mariquina,” a Cinemalaya entry back in 2014, after she graduated from college.

However, Gacosta found it a challenge to do her directorial debut in “Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert,” along with Cheska Marfori, an erstwhile production coordinator, assistant and music composer.

Last year, Gacosta joined CineSpectra, a grant-giving body and film festival that encouraged young filmmakers to focus on HIV, AIDS and sexual health.

“I thought of writing a film about HIV,” Gacosta told ABS-CBN News. “I didn’t want the story to be serious with tragic characters, like other HIV films in the past. So, I made this one light and heartwarming.”

Admittedly, Gacosta was not confident to direct her own work. “I didn’t see myself as a director before, only a writer,” she maintained. “But since it is my material, I found it a challenge to direct it, too, with the help of Cheska. Our entire creative team is so okay. We worked together really well.”

Both Gacosta and Marfori took up Communication Arts at the University of Santo Tomas (UST). Though they were never classmates, they met each other in the screenwriting workshop of director Jun Lana. Gacosta also previously participated in Ricky Lee’s scriptwriting workshop, while Marfori has yet to join the incoming batch this August.

After her first workshop with Lana, Gacosta was able to validate that there’s space in filmmaking for her. For somebody who grew up in the north, in Aparri, where there was only one theater, it is surprising for her to eventually venture in to filmmaking.

“In that theater in Aparri, I remembered watching ‘Anak,’ with Vilma Santos,” Gacosta said. “That film really became memorable to me.”

Gacosta invited Marfori to be her co-director in “Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert” and they readily agreed to make their directorial debut. The name of the character, Lolo Bert, was taken after Gacosta’s paternal grandfather.

Meanwhile, Marfori, who grew up in Liliw, Laguna, had a strong emotional connection after watching Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Moral," with Gina Alajar, Lorna Tolentino, Sandy Andolong and Anna Marin.

“That film is the story about the struggles of four girls,” Marfori recalled. “It was against patriarchy in the Philippines. That really stuck to me. I never imagined myself going into filmmaking. My first mentor into screenwriting was Jun Lana. He gave me a chance and helped open the doors for me.”

Thankfully, both Gacosta and Marfori did not have any misunderstanding while working together. They are now taking their Masters in Film at the UP College of Mass Communications.

For Marfori, doing the musical score in her past film projects proved helpful when she eventually worked at the helm of the film. She also worked in Lana’s “Die Beautiful,” starring Paolo Ballesteros.

“Putting music has a big role in the story of a film,” Marfori said. “Because of that, I found it easy to direct.”

Dido de la Paz (left) as Lolo Bert and Soliman Cruz as his lover in 'Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert.' Handout

Initially, Gacosta envisioned an openly gay character to play the lead. However, because of budget and time constraints, they found it hard to get one. “Ryan Quimpo, our assistant director, knew Sir Dido de la Paz, whom he recommended to us. We got his contact number and he easily said yes.”

Marfori worked with De la Paz previously behind the scenes as a photographer in the Cinema One Originals entry, “Si Chedeng at si Apple,” jointly megged by Rae Red and Fatrick Tabada. Hence, directing De la Paz in “Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert” was a welcome treat for her.

Gacosta was very thankful for their choice of lead actor. “Sir Dido was very supportive to young filmmakers who are just starting,” she said. “He said it was also a learning experience for him to work with us. Our decision was really worth it. Sir Dido is really a good actor.”

“Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert” also stars Soliman Cruz as the gay lover of Lolo Bert. “They’ve known each other even before they worked here,” said Gacosta of her actors. “It was natural for them to work together again.”

The 19-minute short film merely took one whole day to wrap up, requiring all interior scenes. Marfori regards their directorial debut as really challenging. “First time namin talaga to direct, but we didn’t have a hard time,” she said. “We were both nervous, but sobrang collaborative ng cast. Everything turned out well.”

After “Ang Gasgas na Plaka ni Lolo Bert” both Gacosta and Marfori plan to venture into full time filmmaking and scriptwriting. The film is one of the 10 entries to be screened – chosen from among 244 submitted – and vying for the Best Film award in the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.

Cinemalaya continues to sail on its 16th year with its digital edition slated on August 7-16. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country's biggest independent film festival will be screened on Vimeo. After the nine-day screening, all entries will be shown on iWant TV and TFC (The Filipino Channel).

The other entries in the Short Film competition this year are “Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos (To Calm the Pig Inside)” by Joanna Vasquez Arong, “Excuse Me Miss, Miss, Miss” by Sonny Calvento, “Fatigued” by James Robin Mayo, “Living Things” by Martika Ramirez Escobar;

“Pabasa Kan Pasyon” by Hubert Tibi, “Quing Lalam Ning Aldo (Under the Sun)” by Reeden Fajardo, “The Slums” by Jan Andrei Cobey, “Tokwifi” by Carla Pulido Ocampo and “Utwas (Arise)” by Richard Saldavico and Arlie Sweet Sumagaysay.