By Louinn Lota 

 Contributor

HOLLYWOOD, California – A boy’s quest to find an island full of fireflies, and three priests’ pursuit of their nation’s freedom, won six of ten prizes at the inaugural Manila International Film Festival held Feb. 2, 2024, in the Directors Guild of America on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, Calif.

   “Firefly,” produced by GMA Pictures, won Best Screenplay (Angeli Atienza), Best Film, Best Director (Zig Dulay) and Best Supporting Actress (Alessandra De Rossi). 
 
“GomBurZa,” produced by Jesuit Communications Foundation, Inc. and MQuest Ventures, Inc., took Second-best Film, Best Cinematography (Carlo Canlas Mendoza) and was even voted Audience Favorite by the hundreds of moviegoers who attended screenings at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood Jan. 29-Feb. 1. 
 
“Firefly” also won up to $200,000 worth of filmmaking equipment from American production house Birns & Sawyer.

   “I share this award with everyone who worked with me on this film, which is an ode to the power of storytelling,” Angeli Atienza said, accepting Best Screenplay for “Firefly” during the awards ceremony.

 

   “We had one simple goal,” said Diretor Pepe Diokno of “GomBurZa’s Audience Favorite prize, “We want young Filipinos all over the globe to get to know their history and get to love the country a little bit more.”

Firefly revolves around a son finding an island of fireflies with the hopes of wishing that his mother comes back to life. The heartwarming film has an ensemble cast including top GMA stars such as Alessandra de Rossi, Dingdong Dantes, Cherry Pie Picache, and Miguel Tanfelix.

Meanwhile, GomBurZa tells the story of Mariano Gomez, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora – collectively known as GomBurZa – the three Filipino Catholic priests who were executed via garrote by the Spanish colonial masters.

  

   Manila International Film Fest jurors chose two Best Actors from two wildly different films and roles.

 

   Dingdong Dantes won for his portrayal of a loving father and husband in “Rewind” (produced by ABS-CBN Fil Productions and APT Entertainment), and the highest-ever grossing film in the Philippines. “Rewind’s” Pepe Herrera, won Best Supporting Actor. Herrera was not here to accept the prize.  
“Rewind” failed to receive an award at the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival’s Gabi ng Parangal. Despite ending up empty-handed during the MMFF awards night, Rewind managed to become the Philippines’ highest-grossing film of all time. 

Headlined by reel-to-real couple of Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes, Rewind follows the rocky marriage of husband and wife John and Mary Nuñez, who eventually work to mend their relationship after a tragic death.

 

   Meanwhile, Piolo Pascual played three roles to earn Best Actor in the horror story “Mallari” (pronounced Mahl-yah’-reeh) being distributed outside the Philippines by American entertainment company, Warner Bros., blending the 19th century discovery of the Philippines’ first serial killer of 57 people, and the folktale of the manananggal, a horrific demon creature that untangles its upper torso from its legs so it can fly and murder and eat humans and drink their blood.

 

   “Thanks be to God in the hope that this is the start of something bigger for all of us, and as I dedicate this win to my son, here in L.A.,” Pascual said in accepting the award, adding, “and to the true drama king of Philippine cinema, my dad, Christopher de Leon.”

 

   De Leon then accepted the Best Actress award on behalf of his perennial screen partner, Vilma Santos, who did not attend. “Bru, this is for you!” de Leon exclaimed, affectionately calling Santos a nickname for bruja (witch) used in the movie they both starred in, “When I Met You in Tokyo” by JG Productions.

 A jury of six includingMarie Jamora, filmmaker and head juror); Mari Acevedo, CEO Birns & Sawyer, film equipment rentals and sales for half a century; cinematographer Leah Anova; actor Reggie Lee; filmmaker David Maquiling; and actress/producer Sumalee Montano used the MIFF’s best picture criteria: “Meets high standards in originality, creativity, screenplay, pacing and structure, characters, acting, cinematography, sound, music score and overall impact.”

 

   The Jury Prize for LGBTQIA cultural sensitivity and awareness went to “Becky and Badette” produced by The IdeaFirst (sic) Company and October Train Films. 

 

   The first Monty Manibog Lifetime Achievement Award for recognition of outstanding work in films directed by Philippine filmmakers went to actress Hilda Koronel, who dedicated the award to her late, second husband, Ralph Moore Jr., whom she married in 2000, and who died in 2023. 

    

   Trailblazer Awards went to: FilAm actor Mark Dacascos (who played martial arts villain Zero in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” in 2019); Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr., Philippine Secretary of the Interior and Local Government; and Romando “Don” Artes, Metro Manila Film Festival chairA Recognition Award went to Rochelle Ona, Metro Manila Film Fest executive director.

 
  The full list of winners:
  • Best Picture: Firefly
  • 2nd Best Picture: GomBurZa
  • Best Director: Zig Dulay, Firefly
  • Best Actor: Dingdong Dantes, Rewind
  • Best Actor: Piolo Pascual, Mallari
  • Best Actress: Vilma Santos, When I Met You in Tokyo
  • Best Supporting Actress: Alessandra de Rossi, Firefly
  • Best Supporting Actor: Pepe Herrera, Rewind
  • Best Screenplay: Angeli Atienza, Firefly
  • Best Cinematography: Carlo Mendoza, GomBurZa
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Hilda Koronel
  • Special Jury Prize: Becky & Badette
  • Audience Choice Award: GomBurZa

Trailblazer Awards: Romando Artes, Rochelle Ona, and Mark Dacascos