The ground breaking Puregold CinePanalo Film Festival, held last March 15-19 at Gateway Cineplex 18, is a celebration of firsts for both renowned and amateur filmmakers alike. Not only does it mark the supermarket chain’s first foray into bringing original films to the silver screen, but it marks the debut pieces of six first-time filmmakers from all across the country.

The six debuting filmmakers – Rafaela Abucejo of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Dizelle C. Masilungan of the University of Sto. Tomas, Joshua Andrey A. Doce of Bicol State College of Applied Sciences and Technology, Joanah Pearl Demonteverde of the University of the Philippines Visayas, Daniel Gil of Ateneo de Davao, and Jenievive Adame–bravely answered the call to let Puregold help bring their stories to life, and competed against each other as well as 19 other selections in the student short film category. Yet, for these new directors, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to release their stories into the world is a win in itself.

In addition to being debut films, the films were remarkable for bagging a number of prizes at the CinePanalo Film Festival. Rafaela Abucejo’s film entitled “Saan Ako Pinaglihi?” won the Panalo sa mga Manonood Award (Audience Choice); Dizelle Masilungan, one of the recipients of the Mowelfund production scholarship, won Panalong Direktor, Panalo sa Cinematography, 3rd place for MTRCB’s Responsableng Paglikha Award, and also saw one of his actors winning the Panalong Pangalawang Aktor Award. Likewise, Joshua Doce and Daniel Gil both received production scholarships from Mowelfund; while Jenievive Adame, who was also a recipient of the Mowelfund production scholarship, bagged a number of awards, including  Panalong Ensemble, Panalo sa Musical Scoring, Always Panalo Film (brand choice), and 1st place for MTRCB’s Responsableng Paglikha Award.

For two of the directors from the province–Joshua Doce from Bicol (“I am Mutya and I Thank You!”) and Joanah Demonteverde from Iloilo (“Kang Pagpuli Ko”)–getting to represent their province on a big stage was a massive motivating factor in completing their films. Doce, who speaks Bikolano, and Demonteverde, who speaks Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a, both believe in the power of their movies to represent the languages and cultures they love, especially amid the swath of mostly Tagalog and English-centric entries.

“As a kid who grew up in a town whose language is a hybrid of Kinaray-a and Hiligaynon, language has been a great element to me in representing my province through filmmaking, especially in Puregold’s CinePanalo Film Festival,” says Demonteverde, who also warns viewers for the possible waterworks that may ensue from her film.

“In our country, Filipino/Tagalog ang most dominant medium na ginagamit sa films and malimit tayong makakita o makarinig ng regional dialects/language sa mga pelikula,” says Doce, “I am so proud of our language and as a filmmaker, through our dialect that I used in my films, you get to see how ‘oragon’ (great) the Bicolanos are.”

Meanwhile, two of the six new filmmakers – Dizelle Masilungan (“Kung Nag-aatubili”) and Rafaela Abucejo (“Saan Ako Pinaglihi?”)–released LGBT-themed short films, drawing from their personal experiences with the daily struggle that queer Filipinos face, and the joy that comes from queer love.

For Masilungan, it was crucial for him to use his very first filmmaking experience to create the BL piece of his dreams, exclaiming that he has wanted to create a BL piece since “time immemorial,” as it was queer films and literature that gave him the inspiration to carry on.

Meanwhile for Abucejo, it was important to display the flipside of the queer experience, by also displaying the real pain that queer people go through, and the strength that can come out of those experiences.

“They were not good experiences-–they were a struggle,” said Abucejo. “But at least I was able to share my narrative through the film and hopefully inspire those who are currently going through the same things.”

In their speech, Abucejo stated that they hope their win in the Audience Choice Award shows filmmakers and film producers everywhere that audiences do choose queer stories, saying, “Yung kwento po ng ‘Saan ako Pinaglihi?’ is proof na meron pong clamor for queer stories, queer narratives at masasabi ko pong galing po talaga siya sa puso namin. Patuloy nating suportahan ang kwento ng mga bakla, tomboy, and everyone in between the spectrum.”

Filmmakers Abucejo and Masilungan both won big for their queer films, with Masilungan bagging Best Director. On his win, the filmmaker said, “Masaya, na di ko akalain, na wala po akong masabi. Sabi ko nga yung mapalabas lang pelikula namin sa Gateway Cineplex 18 sobrang saya na ako, na makita yung mga taong pumupunta sa sinehan para panoorin yung kwentong gusto namin ikwento at pinaghirapan namin. Pero yung makatanggap ng award bilang Best Director, para sakin isang malaking karangalan, really humbled and honored. Pero I really share this award with all the cast and crew ng Familea Films, kay Sir Nico at Lucca Creatives, and January Skies.”

Finally, the last two new directors–Daniel Gil (“Distansya”) and Jenievive Adame (“Smokey Journey”)–sought to use the platform to create more family-oriented and wholesome films that everyone can come to enjoy and reflect on the love that only family can offer.

In the words of Adame, viewers can expect her film to wrap the seemingly simple theme of family with layers of both hidden meaning and earnest sincerity.

“Since the festival itself is only for family-oriented, inspiring, and wholesome film concepts,” says Adame, “what you can expect from my film is the deep bond, love, and unity within a typical Filipino family na hindi namin pinakita literal pero mararamdaman mo.”

As for Gil, whose story was inspired by his father teaching him how to drive, he wanted to use his film as a vehicle for recognizing all the solo parent fathers who show up to raise their kids right, even when said fathers aren’t always understood from the start.

“I hope people will find this film nostalgic,” said Gil. “Especially to the kids who grew up with parents who had a hard time searching for their parenting skills and finding it as they get to know their children more as their family grows older.”

In addition to the debut filmmakers, the Puregold CinePanalo Film Festival’s short film category also saw two big winners in neophyte directors Ronjay-C Mendiola and Kent Michael Cadungog. Mendiola nabbed the Pinakapanalong Maikling Pelikula Award (Best Short Film) for his film “Last Shift,” a story about two working-class queer lovers at a crossroads in their relationship, as one seeks to find better pastures. Cadungog, on the other hand, won the Special Jury Prize Award for “Text Find DAD and Send to 2366,” a tale about an uncharismatic teenage girl who must convince a voice to cast her in a reality TV show, in order to find her father.

On his historic win, Mendiola says the feeling still hasn’t sunk in.

“Sabi nga namin sa prod, pumasok kami ng awards night nang walang expectations pero sobra-sobra pa ang ibinigay sa amin,” said Mendiola. “Ang pinaka importante talaga sa amin nung mag-umpisa ang film festival ay hindi yung awards kundi ang mabitbit namin ang panawagan ng mga workers at maexpose ang kanilang kalagayan.”

Meanwhile, Cadungog is grateful to Puregold for allowing him to fully express his art which, according to him, has often been misunderstood.

“I got called “baliw” so many times for creating the kind of cinema I make, so I’m very grateful to Puregold for giving this niche comedy film a platform. Maraming salamat din sa jury sa pagkilala,” said Cadungog, who also takes pride in being one of the short films set in the province, using a regional language.

“Yung pagrecognize sa isang munting Bisaya film galing sa Negros Oriental ay isa ring malaking panalo, in and of itself — true to the festival’s vision.”