Online film lab thrives amidst the lockdown

Film director Victor Villanueva addresses the participants of the Online Film Lab for Regional Stories via online video conference. 

When lockdown was imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the North Luzon Cinema Guild resorted to the internet to bring their education program not only to aspiring young filmmakers in their region but also to budding filmmakers in other parts of the Philippines. The Online Film Lab For Regional Stories was born.

For Joseph Arcegono and Jerome Dulin, the duo behind the Guild, the “Online Film Lab for Regional Stories started as a way to keep emerging filmmakers and artists inspired and productive during the Enhance Community Quarantine.” The Film Lab focuses on lectures and discussions that aimed to help participants in drafting their screenplays and plan their films. The mentors are film industry professionals and experts in their field. 

In March, the Film Lab started by utilizing Google Classroom with thirty participants from North Luzon. But as the popularity of the Film Lab grew, it opened itself to participants from other provinces and regions. The organizers started to contact filmmaker friends who were also looking for worthwhile activities during quarantine. 

With word-of-mouth marketing and endorsement from film festival organizers, cultural and film organizations, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), participants have increased to more than 700 individuals composed mainly of student filmmakers, high school teachers who handle media arts classes and coaches for film competitions, professional videographers and filmmakers, cinephiles, festival organizers and producers.

With this growth, the Film Lab had to undergo some adjustments. Due to the limitations in interactivity of the Google platform, the Film Lab took advantage Facebook, the most commonly used social media app by its participants, even if online classes and discussions were held via Zoom or Skype. This allowed participants to directly connect with the mentors after classes for learning enrichment. 

In the last month, the Film Lab has evolved to include a platform to screen short films and discuss them with their directors and producers. 

Advocating cinema in the regions at its core, the Film Lab envisions filmmakers who are able to articulate stories from the regions. This after the last decade saw the 'regional cinema' movement grow as film production flourished in many regions across the country.

But with many film productions stalled and film festivals postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it will take a while for filmmakers and industry players to get back on their feet. The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the vulnerabilities of the film industry. Industry players have sought to address this matter by putting in place protocols and mechanisms that will ensure the safety of workers. 

But like the Film Lab, it has shown how people can adapt to dramatic events like the pandemic through technology. The Guild's duo Joseph Arcegono and Jerome Dulin believe that Philippine and even regional cinema would still continue to thrive after COVID through the separate efforts and remote collaborations to produce films. 

“The endless exploration of online platforms to showcase films could be an option for filmmakers,” they said. But the uncertainty of economic returns looms as these platforms are prone to online piracy. Moreover, people still prefer offline viewing. But technology is here to stay and could help people cope with the changing times.

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