As the third edition of one of the youngest players among the local movie competitions unfolds this year, there is both sadness and optimism among the proponents of ToFarm Film Festival.
The brainchild of socio-entrepreneur and CEO of Universal Harvester Inc. Dr. Mila How, TFF—the only advocacy-driven film festival in the country today to showcase the lives, journeys, trials and triumphs of the Filipino farmer—is also very much associated with multi-awarded filmmaker Maryo J. de los Reyes, who passed away in February. De Los Reyes was festival director of ToFarm from the start and served as mentor to the young filmmakers who joined the festival these last two years.
“We were deeply saddened with the demise of Direk Maryo J. delos Reyes, our first TFF Director,” How opened up at the Year 3 launch in Shangri-La Makati. “He gave so much of himself to TFF. When he suddenly left us, we found ourselves at a crossroads. Should we go on with the project or not?
“But after a lot of thinking, I personally thought it best to carry on what Direk Maryo started because the festival would be a continuation of his vision for the farmers and the film industry. This is our tribute to him,” she added.
To fill in the late director’s responsibilities for TTF, How sought the expertise of three seasoned filmmakers who happily accepted the offer. They are Bibeth Orteza as the festival director and Joey Romero and Laurice Guillen as festival advisers.
“It’s very overwhelming to have the support of not one, but three well-respected figures from the film and television industry. It motivates us further to come up with more meaningful films that, hopefully, will follow the success of our previous entries,” How enthused.
According to Orteza, How reached out to her not only because of her multi-awarded career as director but the former’s belief she has the capacity fulfill the task delos Reyes left behind.
“Direk Maryo can never be replaced,” Orteza acknowledged. “I was told I was chosen because I’m maternal. Direk Maryo, was in a way, maternal to the point that he would meet with the filmmakers to discuss what the problem with the script was… it was that quality they found in me.
“But I am here also because I am a daughter of a farmer. I am very thankful for this opportunity and privilege to serve the farming community. We are nothing if we don’t have the farmers,” the director added.
As festival director, Orteza declared at the onset she will continue to pursue de los Reyes’ vision, and will only make minimal changes in TFF.
“Why very little? We got again a member of last year’s selection committee, Racquel Villavicencio, to be part of this year’s selection committee because Direk Maryo left some instructions with them that he did not write down—it was all verbal. So in the spirit of transition, we want a continuation of Direk Maryo’s vision,” she explained.
Since debuting in 2016, a number of ToFarm Film Festival entries have already gained international recognition following two years’ worth of local exhibition. Among them are Paolo Villaluna’s “Pauwi Na,” which won the Golden Goblet Award of the 20th Shanghai International Film Festival; Zig Dulay’s “Paglipay” for which he won Best Director at the Cultural Diversity Film Festival in Canada; and Maricel Cariaga’s “Pitong Kabang Palay,” which won the Golden Owl Award at the 22nd Aichi International Women’s Film Festival in Nagoya, Japan.
This year, To Farm carries the theme “A Tribute to Life: Parating Na” to highlight the aspirations of the Filipino farmers and their journeys to success.
A total of seven films will be selected by the TFF committee and will be given grants for production. And for the first time, seven short films will also be selected for a new category, shot entirely on a cell phone, no less than one minute and no more than 10 minutes each. These will be screened along with the seven feature films during the film festival proper in July.