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Filipinos shine at Soho International Film Festival

In between staging comedy shows in New York a few days ago, I was invited to the opening night of the prestigious Soho International Film Festival (SIFF) at Village East Cinemas. The opening film was “Coach Of The Year” by David Stott.

The film’s stars including Harris Doran, Melissa Archer, Hunter Gomez, James McCaffrey and Kevin Brown were all present at the event but I wasn’t paying much attention to them. Rather, I was awed by the presence of film director Elwood Perez who was there for the international premiere of “Esoterika: Maynila.”

A SCENE from ‘Traslacion: Ang Paglakad Sa Altar Ng Alanganin’ (YouTube)

A SCENE from ‘Traslacion: Ang Paglakad Sa Altar Ng Alanganin’ (YouTube)

During our short talk, I asked him why he made himself scarce for some 20 years. He said, “I thought I just keep on repeating myself. My interest in doing films was revived with ‘Otso.’ I couldn’t say no to the Film Development Council of the Philippines.”

We also talked a bit about “Esoterika: Maynila, He shared, “The film stars Ronnie Liang. I took the title of the film from the English word ‘esoteric,’ which means complex, mysterious, impenetrable, and rare, qualities I believe present in our film.”

I missed the arrival of my director in “Filemon Mamon” Will Fredo whose entry “Traslacion” won Best Documentary at the event, beating Hollywood actress Carrie Preston’s “Happy Lucky.”

Note that there are no Filipinos in the jury. Not one.

Adding to our surprise is meeting the organizers of SIFF, who are actually both Filipinos: founder Jorge Ballos and executive director Sybil Santiago.

Jorge started as an actor and commercial model in New York City prior to establishing casting agency AL Models.



His exposure to filmmakers and film distributors in New York and Hollywood prompted him to create SIFF. “I started SIFF with three hundred film entries last 2009. Now that it’s on it’s seventh year, we have more than a thousand entries from all over the world and a respectable board of jury that include casting agencies of major television networks, to professors of ivy league schools to big time moguls in business and medicine,” he related.

Just a few years after inception, Mayor Bloomberg accredited SIFF, putting it in the “Made in New York” Film Festival list. “We have earned the respect of filmmakers, distributors , actors and directors all over the world and I am very happy with the success of SIFF,” Jorge added.

Sybil, who is the daughter of Filipina actress Lorly Villanueva, shared, “This year, is really exciting… we’ve received submissions from more countries than ever before, an even larger number of great films from women filmmakers, and a great number of LGBT films that allowed us to make a specific program for it. We continue to be truly blessed with a super strong support from the NY Filmmaking community.”

Here are the complete list of winners:


Short film Audience award

“Turtle face” by Kevin Kane and Rodrigo Lopresti


Features film  Audience award

“79 Parts” by Ari Taub


Best world Short

“Fish & Chicks” ( France )


World Best Feature

“Despite The Falling Snow” (UK)


US Best Short

“Pale Blue” by Alex Burunova



Visionary Award

Elwood Perez for “Esoterika: Maynila”


US Best Feature film

“It Had To Be You”


Best in Animation

“O Lilo” by Ao Li


Best Documentary

“TRASLACION: The March To The altar Of Uncertainty” by Will Fredo ( Philippines)