‘Kagitingan’ wins at International Film Festival Manhattan 2020

Published November 23, 2020, 9:40 AM

by John Legaspi

Filipino film artists Lovi Poe, Allen Dizon, and Louie Ignacio also bagged major awards

For its 10th year, the International Film Festival Manhattan went digital in light of the ongoing global pandemic. The festival aims to bring foreign movies to New York City, creating an opportunity for filmmakers and artists to showcase their works to the diverse audience of the Big Apple. 

This year, the IFFM featured 22 Filipino films, and some bagged the festival’s major awards. Among them is Kagitingan: A True Story of Valor, bringing home Best Screenplay and IFFM Most Popular awards. 

Penned and directed by 1Lt. Balaram Tamayo, the film documents the operation of the the 606 Special Forces Company in April 1990. According to the Philippine Army, “a certain farmer and his family was harassed by a group belonging to the New People’s Army in Murcia, Negros Occidental Province. Feeling helpless about the injustice he experienced, he approached a Special Forces Company.”

Led by then Captain Arturo Ortiz, the 24 soldiers and 36 Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) went to an 11-hour cross-country trek. Though they were outnumbered, Cap. Ortiz and his troop managed to win the battle against more than 200 rebels. Ultimately, this led to him being honored with the Medal of Valor—the highest military honor. The story is re-enacted by actual Special Forces Operators to make it as close to reality as possible.

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, 1Lt. Tamayo shares his inspiration for doing the film and how filmmaking helps him share to the world what happens on the frontlines of war.

What inspired you to make the film?

I wanted to immortalize the outstanding true story of then Captain Arturo Ortiz so that generations of soldiers to come will be inspired by a true example of service, leadership, and heroism.

I want people to remember that a few stood against many, soldiers sacrificed for family, and heroes fought against terror. 

Our war with communist terrorists has plagued our country for decades. This film documents the dark and lamentable history of the odius apparatus of the communist agenda. Hopefully, this film brings us a step closer to peace we strive and fight for to achieve. 

How did you get nominated for that film festival in New York?

The festival director of the IFFM, Luis Pedron, watched my film on my Youtube Channel: Army Special Forces. He took notice and contacted Lt. Julius Ilagan of AFP Reserve Command. Ilagan contacted me, stating that the IFFM wanted to sponsor my movie as an official entry in their festival. So I did, and fortunately got nominated.  I’m proud to represent the Philippines and win in an international competition.

How does it feel to have won? 

I’m humbled and truly honored. I did not expect to win against 83 entries from around the world. I am also thankful to the immense support from my family and senior officers who supported the production of this film.

You’re quite unique because you’re a uniformed officer but also with a passion for filmmaking. Aside from this film you made, how else do you combine both your passion for serving your fellow Pinoys and also creating something beautiful through film?

This film isn’t the only artwork I’ve done throughout my service. I made the short docu Battle of Marawi which had 4 million views on Youtube before it was taken down because of violence. I documented my actual rescue of a wounded soldier caught in enemy fire during the Marawi siege, giving people a first hand POV experience of the frontlines on the war on terror. My raw footage from the frontlines benefitted news outlets and filmmakers. I made recruitment videos to encourage young aspirants into the noble profession of arms. I documented efforts of the army and special forces as ambassadors of peace and liberators of the oppressed. I also spoke in the United Nations Nexus Summit in New York, New York as a filmmaker and combat officer, sharing our Army’s brand of leadership and sacrifice to the world. These are some of the ways I combined my passion for the arts with my service. 

I hope and pray that my art transcends conflict and war. I hope I Inspire people to put service above self, bring unity amid great divisiveness. For a future we hope to be so much brighter. For those we care about.  For God and the country that we love.

Other Filipino artists who brought home awards were Teri Onor for Best Actor and Louie Ignacio for Best Director in a Short Film category with Biyaheng Madilim (A Night’s Journey) featurette. Allen Dizon and Lovi Poe won the Best Actor and Actress awards for the feature film Latay (Battered Husband).

Jury Awards went to In Paglayag A Sulu Story by Rhadem Morados for Best Documentary and Latay by Ralston Jover for Best Narrative Global. Louie Ignacio was also honored with the IFFM Lifetime Achievement Award for his works as a TV and film director.

Check out more of IFFM 2020 winners here.

Watch Kagitingan: A True Story of Valor here: