A glittering star-studded Awards Gala at the inaugural Manila International Film Festival; Piolo Pascual and Dingdong Dantes tied for Best Actor while FIREFLY won the Best Picture category!

By Oliver Carnay

The Directors Guild of America shimmered with elegance last night, as excitement filled the air as we saw stars, filmmakers, luminaries, Mayors from the Philippines, network executives, movers and shakers in the Hollywood-Filipino communities, arrived and attended the first-ever MANILA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.
Big backdrops of the ten films screened from the five-day festival (held at the TCL Chinese Theatres, Hollywood Boulevard) was an astonishing sight as you walked the red carpet walkway leading to the big Directors Guild of America theatre. Another yellow carpet on the right side of the entrance to hold stars for photo opportunities and press interviews. A bar was set in the middle of the DGA lobby, while the usual round reception check-in area was filled with arrays of cakes, pastries, and other desserts (sponsored by Blesilda Montero and Clipper Alcala Montero of Bless’ Sweet Escape by Leng. Outside the main theatre and inside the lobby was filled with sofa, couches and chairs with tables.
At the DGA Atrium Lounge, fresh sushi and Japanese foods were being made and set up for the after-party and Filipino foods from Tres Madres were being catered on the other end of the lobby.
The atmosphere was so elegant and organized, capturing the essence of a very successful event (a big kudos to the MIFF Board and team, sponsors, volunteers, and all the supporters who made this possible!).
The evening started with an opening number from the original Powerhouse Diva – DESSA, with The Voice Philippines (Season 1) 3rd runner-up – JANICE JAVIER belting out songs, and immediately followed with main anchors appearing onstage were WINSTON EMANO and Lisa Lew(MIFF co-founder and Executive Producer, former Bb. Pilipinas International and an eight-time Emmy Award-winning television producer). They introduced FAITH SANTILLA, a Filipina is holding one of the highest ranking Asian-Pacific Islander at the venue where the gala ceremony is being held. (Wow, I’ve been at this venue for years and didn’t know that!)
Santilla joined the executive team in 2015 and through hard work was promoted several times, until her new position as the Assistant Executive Director of the Directors Guild of America that started in July 2022. Santilla congratulated and welcomed the executives and MIFF, “It’s a profound honor to welcome each one of you here and congratulations to the organizers of this event and to everyone who has been able to exhibit and showcase their work. I look forward to seeing you again here next year!”
Secretary of the Interior and Local Government of Philippines – BENJAMIN “BEN-HUR” DE CASTRO ABALOS, JR was surprised to be called back onstage after his inspirational speech, much more confused, he thought he was giving an award to someone, when Lisa Lew told him that the award was for him. “The teleprompter wasn’t moving. I was waiting for the cue, so I got scared!,” he said. The award was presented by MATEA MAHAL SMITH who won the Miss Filipina International 2023 and is joining the Miss Universe in May.
Hollywood actor MARK DACASCOS and Filipina actress Eisel Serranowere called in to announce the first group of winners. Best Cinematography went to CARLO MENDOZA for the film GOMBURZA. The Best Supporting Actress was given to ALLESANDRA DE ROSSI for “FIREFLY,” accepted by actress Ysabel Ortegawith GMA executive Annette Gozon Valdes while Best Supporting Actor was given to Pepe Herrera for “REWIND,” which was accepted by actor Dingdong Dantes.
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Atty. Romando Arteswas given the TRAILBLAZER AWARD for his dedication and commitments to the film industry of the Philippines and for his leadership in forging new caps for Philippine filmmakers to have their work shown to a global audience.
KaladKarenhosted the segment where she called previously announced Trailblazer Awardee Benjamin Benhur Abalos Jr. and handed the TRAILBLAZER AWARD to MMark Dacascos who started his career as a young martial artist to being one of the most busiest tv and film actor. Dacascos gave thanks to his wife, Julia, who was present last night.
Piolo Pascual PHand Janella Salvadorannounced the Best Screenplay Award, which went to Angeli Guidaya-Atienza from the film “FIREFLY.” Next announced was the AUDIENCE AWARD, given to the movie that was given the highest score by the theatre audience during the screenings. The award went to “GOMBURZA.” The award was accepted by Executive Producer JANE J. BASAS.
Kaladkaren called in the HFPA power couple Ruben V. Nepalesand Janet Rodriguez Nepales(who are MIFF co-founders), who introduced and acknowledged the highly respected MIFF panel of judges: TV/Film Director/ProducerMarie Jamora(Head of the Jury), Mari Acevedo(Birns & Sawyer), Cinematographer Leah Anova actor Reggie Lee, DAVID MAQUILING -DGA member and recently appointed as the Academic and Artistic Director of the School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) Summer Program at University of Southern California (USC), and lastly, Sumalee Montano former investment banker and now an actress/producer (produced the 2022 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner “Nanny”).
The Special Jury Prize was given to the film “BECKY & BADETTE” accepted by Eugene Domingoand film producer Perci Intalan Domingo provided some laughs to the delight of the audience. She acknowledged her director in the film, JUN ROBLES LANA.
ALDEN RICHARDS announced the BEST DIRECTOR AWARD which went to Zig Dulayfor “FIREFLY,” accepted by writer Angeli Atienza.
Dingdong Dantescalled in EUGENE DOMINGO to help reveal the BEST ACTOR and BEST ACTRESS AWARD. Domingo continued her funny antics by having a British accent while reading the prompter. A rousing applause came from the audience as DINGDONG DANTES (“REWIND”) and PIOLO PASCUAL (“MALLARI”) were announced tied for the BEST ACTOR category. Although, Christopher de Leon (“When I Met you in Tokyo”) wasn’t nominated in the Best Actor category (to the dismay of most people I talked to), Piolo Pascual heavily dedicated his win to De Leon — “I’d like to dedicate this award to my son Inigo Pascual, who’s here. He is now based in L.A. .. and to my fellow nominees, of course Paul Cedrick Juan Alden Richards Dong (Dantes) – my inspiration, and to Tito Dante (Rivero), and my dad who’s here — the true DRAMA KING, MR. CHRISTOPHER DE LEON”
“Bru, this is for you .. Congratulations Vilma Santos Recto” the drama king said, before he left the stage accepting the award for his perennial partner (Star for All Seasons) Vilma Santos-RectoSantos, who bagged the BEST ACTRESS AWARD.
One of the highlights of the night was the announcement of the Lifetime Achievement Award by Executive Producer and MIFF Co-Founder LISA MANIBOG LEW, who gave an insight about naming the Lifetime Achievement Award after her father, Gonzalo Monty Manibog. Monty Manibog was a famous lawyer in the Filipino community in the ’70s. He was the first Fil-Am to pass the bar in the United States after graduating law in 1961. He was the first Filipino American and the first Asian American to be elected to a city council in 1972, and eventually served as mayor of Monterey Park, California.
Formerly a Philippine national wrestling and gymnastic champion, he represented the Philippines in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, and later won a gold medal for three consecutive years in the California Senior Olympics in the 1990’s held in Alhambra, California. “Monty” has helped many Fil-Ams in the Filipino communities in California during his prime, especially when he fought for the rights of the veterans. He passed away in 2016 at age 86 due to lung cancer.
Ms. PINKY DE LEON (Eleanor Strauss) presented the MONTY MANIBOG LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD to recipient, MS. HILDA KORONEL. De Leon and Ms. Koronel first worked together in the Ishmael Bernal film “TILL DEATH DO US PART” in 1972, where De Leon was first introduced in the film. Another film they made together was in “LUPANG HINIRANG” IN 1973. “She’s a great actress .. more than a beautiful face .. in her many roles Hilda has played empowered women, women who seem to be down, but do a complete turn around at the end, she becomes the victor, not the victim.,” de Leon relates to the audience before clips from Koronel’s award-winning films were shown to the screen.
Ms. Hilda Koronel brought along her son Diego and dedicated her award to her late husband who passed away last year. Ms. Koronel is expected to be back in the Philippines to return into acting. Her last film was the Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz starrer “The Mistress” in 2012.
Mark Dacascos returned to the stage to announce the last award for the evening — the BEST PICTURE AWARD. First mentioned was the 2nd Best Picture, which went to “GOMBURZA.” Executive Producer Jane J. Basas and Jeffrey Remigio together with Director Pepe Diokno Cinematographer CCarlo Canlas Mendoza and cast members Piolo Pascual, Enchong Dee Ron Angeles went up the stage to receive their award.
Team of Mayors flown from the Philippines presented the BEST PICTURE AWARD to “FIREFLY” where one of the jurors, MARI ACEVEDO, was called in to announce the winner and render the prize certificate of $200K worth grant to be used for co-producing the winner’s next film via Birns & Sawyer.
With the very successful presentation of the inaugural MANILA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, people are inspired to look forward to next year’s pool of amazing Filipino films from the METRO MANILA FILM FESTIVAL, which incidentally, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. I’m sure next year will be as fabulous, if not, more star-studded and more fabulous than last night. Congratulations to all Manila International Film Festand the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) Official Committees, their team and Staff!
(Special thanks to my good friend, the late Fanny Serrano, for my exclusive jusi barong coat with hood, made exclusively for me).
Watch the clips from the MIFF 5-day festival on my youtube channel at “Hollywoodflip by Oliver Carnay” … browse articles about MIFF soon at www.Hollywoodflip.com
First four photos with Piolo Pascual and Dingdong Dantes after the ceremony, and Christopher de Leon with Hilda Koronel (a reunion after they starred in 1977 film “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising”) courtesy of Sthanlee B. Mirador..