by AJPress with interviews by Momar G. Visaya

Breaking barriers through film and story telling

The opening night film, “Signal Rock,” is also the official entry of the Philippines for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards.

AFTER a successful first year, ABS-CBN’s Cinematogrofo Film Festival is back to continue to showcase emerging film talents from around the world from November 8-11 at the AMC Kabuki 8 in San Francisco’s Japantown. On its second year, the festival’s theme is “Breaking Down Walls,” which refers not only to divisions along global political lines but also aims to empower storytellers in breaking through barriers in film and story whether in terms of subject matter, representation and cultural limitations.

“We’re sophomores this year and we’re kind of like in a transition,” said Executive Director John D Lazatin during the festival’s press conference. “Cinematogrofo is a vision of our company to put people on the world stage, originally, it was to put Filipino-Americans on the world stage. “

Fil-Am actor Dante Basco in a scene from “The Debut.”  The film, which is celebrating its 18th year, is the centerpiece feature of this year’s Cinematogrofo Film Festival.

Cinematogrofo Festival and Exhibitions Director Miguel Sevilla also shared that through film they have made the connection with issues between the Philippines and other countries, such as the LGBT community, the plight of migrant workers and historical perspectives.

“We have paired these films together in a sort of dialogue or conversation.  What we want to do is to be the bridge that connects different cultures that share the same issues and concerns and that is the idea behind the programming this year,” Sevilla explained.

Yeo Siew Hua, director of “A Land Imagined.”  The Singaporean film examines the plight of migrant workers in a foreign land.

“We will also introduce a new batch of Cinematogrofo originals, we have brand new talent discoveries who are really skilled and talented and this is part of the reason why we do the originals initiative because we want to discover filmmaking talent and support them all the way.”

Sevilla talked about the highlights if the upcoming festival, including its much-anticipated opening night film, “Signal Rock,” the official entry of the Philippines for the Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards.

“It is a beautiful film, it is smaller in scale than our opening night film last year (“Ang Larawan”) but this has the grand emotional sweep of any epic that you would likely see this year,” Sevilla said.

For the centerpiece presentation this year, all eyes will be on “The Debut,” which will mark its 18th anniversary screening.  Released in 2000, is the first known Filipino-American feature drama produced in the United States.

A scene from “Bitter Melon” by director HP Mendoza. Photos from Larsen Associates

For closing night, Cinematogrofo is breaking down its programming walls and staying true to its theme by expanding its reach beyond the borders of the Philippines and the U.S. As such, the festival will close with the film “A Land Imagined,” winner of the top prize at the 2018 Locarno International Film Festival. The Singaporean drama, examines the plight of migrant workers in a foreign land.

A scene from “Mirador” by director Loy Arcenas.

Apart from the opening and closing night, and centerpiece feature films, the festival has a diverse lineup of films, as well as a tribute to Los Angeles-based media arts organization Visual Communications (for its significant, lasting contribution to Fil-Am and Filipino culture and communities), plus panels and conversations, and forum discussions. 

The festival will also have the Completed Films Special Programming, presenting three feature films that were developed and co-produced through the inaugural initiative of Cinematogrofo Originals.    These films are “Bitter Melon” by HP Mendoza, “Mirador” (sneak preview) by Loy Arcenas and “The Trade” (sneak preview) by Francis dela Torre.

About Cinematografo

“Call Her Ganda,” one of the documentaries included in the festival, is a film about Filipina trans-woman Jennifer Laude who was brutally murdered by a U.S. Marine.

The festival is named after ‘Cinematografo’ — the first movie theater in the Philippines that opened in August of 1897. From this grand establishment was born a rich heritage of celebrating films and the venue introduced Filipinos to the custom of going to the movies. The new film festival in San Francisco aims to continue this tradition wherever Filipinos may be, and intends to draw in a wider audience of Asian American and independent cinephiles and movie lovers across the San Francisco Bay Area and internationally.

For a complete list of films and screening schedules, and/or tickets, please visit

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