'I Am Chamorro' documentary a success January 09 2016

With the newly released “I Am Chamorro” ( movie, the Chamorro people at last have a full length documentary that covers their 4,000 plus
year saga. And the story of the making of this movie can be considered an adventure in itself. You see, the executive producer of “I Am Chamorro” has never made a movie before. The researcher and writer is a priest that never imagined himself making a documentary. This film came about on an impulse, conceived in faith and executed with what has been described as divine intervention.

Executive Director Joanne Tabor Modic of Los Angeles had first been introduced to the visiting Father Eric Forbes known as Pale’ Eric, as the perfect priest to preside over the traditional Chamorro Santa Marian Kamalen Mass she coordinates at the Good Samaritan Hospital chapel in Los Angeles. The more Joanne and her family heard from Pale’, a longtime Chamorro historian, the more they wanted.

“And we wanted him to speak to us not only from the spiritual standpoint but also on topics involving culture, tradition and language,” said Joanne. “He was what we needed to reconnect to our roots.”

Over the next two years, Pale’ Eric honed his knowledge into workshops that were presented to packed audiences in Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area. Pale’ Eric was urged to record his knowledge to reach a wider audience. Once it was decided to make a film, talents and resources seemed to emerge. Joanne had a career in banking and experience putting together complex business plans. Her daughter, Denise, is a lawyer. Her son-in-law John and his brother, Rex, are in marketing and graphic design with connections to the film industry. Other friends and family had sales experience.

“Somehow we had the right skill sets to get this done,” said Joanne.

Pale’ Eric had one important requirement. The film had to be fully funded before production. The minimum goal was $150,000. The work began.

“Some things were successful and some were not, but we tried them all and we kept going,” Joanne said.

Their first sign that this project could have the support that it needed was a fundraiser following a cultural workshop in San Diego by Pale’ Eric. I was an organizer of that fundraiser as part of the Che’lu organization, and although we didn’t know how much our brunch fundraiser could help, we knew that their effort for this project deserved ours. It turned out to be an opportunity for those who had been inspired by the recent workshop to show their support. When $1,000 film sponsorships were offered, half a dozen supporters stepped up that day. It was the first big break for the “I Am Chamorro” effort.

Still, the huge price tag for the film was looming. I had to ask Joanne.

With tens of thousands of dollars given in faith, how could she be sure they could raise all the money? Joanne, a devout Catholic, admitted that she sometimes had to go into church with her fears and leave them at the altar when brief, but real, concern felt overwhelming.

At one particular point, the project was $40,000 short of their goal and Joanne felt anxious that this final stretch was going to be the hardest. She was on her way to Guam when she happened to turn on her phone in Hawaii and got a call from Lou Leon Guerrero at the Bank of Guam saying that they were coming in as the presenting sponsor at $50,000. It was just one of the milestones where Joanne felt there was a higher power at work.

Once the money was raised, the production work began. Through this part of the process, Joanne was not involved in the content. “Pale’ wanted it to be a surprise to me.” When asked how the film was coming along, she would have to be vague.

Finally after a year of filming in Guam, Rota, Tinian and Saipan as well as the mainland, the film was completed. Joanne saw the movie content for herself in early December 2015.

On Dec. 12, 2015, the premiere showing was held at the Hazard Center theaters in San Diego, the home of so many of the film’s supporters. The 250 seats were filled with Chamorros, non-Chamorros, sponsors and donors. Pale’ Eric was there to greet everyone and to sign copies of the DVD. Despite some technical difficulties on the part of the theaters, the showing was well received. The audience laughed and sighed and was struck by silence as the drama of Chamorro history played out.

It was at the Guam premiere a week later that Joanne says she experienced a day of anxiety. This was the audience that not only held the film’s major sponsors, but it was the audience from the homeland itself. What would the response be, she wondered. Others wondered too. The Viloria brothers who are featured prominently in the film’s ancient period approached her at opening day. They had never seen the script. How were they going to be portrayed?

Joanne says that she stood up for most of that movie so that the sold out theater could seat the audience. She was able to witness the reactions of different people watching. I asked her, “How was the reaction the same? How was it different?”

“At the end of the screening on Guam, we had a lot of the same reaction as we had in SD,” Joanne told me.

“People were blown away by the content, touched by the story on the big screen; a story told by a priest who had studied the history for more than 30 years.”

And she noticed that they all laughed at the same times.

“That told me that this wasn’t only for the stateside Chamorros. It touched the Chamorro on Guam as well, deeply, I can say.” 

If the popularity of the film is any indication, Joanne has it right.

In the first two hours of its release in Guam, four PayLess supermarkets completely sold out of stock. Fifteen hundred total DVD sales have been made to date of this writing, less than one month after its release. The “I Am Chamorro” team, including Joanne’s husband, Rich, is kept busy filling online orders from around the world.

The movie reviews can now be found on social media and in the Guam news.

“This journey should be studied, reviewed and studied even more, particularly by those who want to determine for themselves who and what they are,” said Joaquin Perez in a Dec. 31, 2015, Pacific Daily News letter. “Pale’ Eric’s work provides an outstanding beginning.”

It has struck a chord with the Chamorros who have lived away from the island as expressed by Joanne’s brother, Tom, who moved away when he was just 11.

“A life’s journey captured in 90 plus minutes of the history of the ancients through contemporaries whose struggles with culture, identity and purpose mirrored and defined mine,” Tom said.

Jess and Lupe Perez of Chula Vista happened to be in Guam to see the premiere on island.

“I was very impressed with the presentation. I think it was very educational I learned a lot a lot of stuff I didn’t know about my own culture.” Said Jess. “I was hoping he would talk a little bit more about the culture out here (in the mainland). What is our future? How is our culture being affected away from Guam? How are we evolving?”

He hopes for a sequel.

The production of the film is not the end of this cultural education project by any means.

“We have applied to the Hong Kong, Tribeca, Melbourne and Nashville film festivals,” said Joanne.

It will be featured during Guam’s Festival of Pacific Arts beginning in May, and is scheduled to go to the Smithsonian sometime this year. Joanne expects to see the film used in the University of Guam history courses, and hopes that it will be used to educate newly arrived military personnel and their families about where they are living.

As a sponsor, Lou Leon Guerrero expressed there is nothing else like this film. It inspired laughter, tears, longing and most of all conversation about history and identity.

“To see former Gov. Paul Calvo recognize his late father’s photo in the film, to see him singing along to the music, it was confirmation enough for me,” said Joanne. “I am happy with the result.”


Sandy Flores Uslander, For PDN, January 9, 2016

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I AM CHAMORRO film crew on its way! February 10 2015

This column was published on February 8th, 2015 by Sandy Uslander.
Original link:

February 21st will mark a major milestone for an important project known as I AM CHAMORRO. A crew will arrive to do two weeks of filming on Guam and the CNMI toward completing this effort.

It was just about two years ago that this project began. I remember an early conversation with the project lead, Joanne Carbullido Tabor Modic about what was barely more than an inspiration at the time. Based on the work of Capuchin Friar, Father Eric Forbes, plans were being laid for a full length Chamorro history documentary. She envisioned a widely distributed “Smithsonian quality” film to be shared with the world, and especially our dispersed Chamorros.

This project did not come about suddenly. Father Forbes has been researching and document-ing Chamorro history for more than 26 years. In 2011, he presented a full day history workshop to a Chamorro audience in Los Angeles. I was not able to make that workshop. In 2012, I at-tended two of his three workshops which were presented to capacity audiences in Los Angeles, San Diego and the San Francisco bay area. It was at these workshops that Father Forbes was asked to create a video of his history teachings so it could be more widely shared.

The plan was commendable, but seemed overwhelming; the creation of a script, the shooting of a documentary, and a budget of at least $150,000. The non-profit, Manhita Chamorro was formed to carry out the I AM CHAMORRO project. Volunteer board members are Rex Agagas, Rich Modic, Annette Ada, Denise Perez Agagas, John Agagas and Father Eric Forbes. They went forward with little more than faith and determination.

“It was the San Diego community that gave it the springboard it needed.” Joanne Modic shared. Early supporters at a fundraiser by the Chelu organization boosted the project financially and energetically.

One of the first steps was to create a movie trailer that gave a glimpse of the final concept, and then Joanne and her team set about raising funds and securing sponsors.

I AM CHAMORRO became a common sight at Chamorro events. They sold t-shirts and other gift items. They offered sponsorships of various levels. Chamorros in the US responded, as did Chamorros in the Marianas. While Father Forbes has worked on the scripting of the film, the Manhita Chamorro team worked with supporters in both California and the Marianas to complete the needed fundraising.

The project has received assistance from all over the world. Rosanne Meno distributed I AM CHAMORRO t-shirts in Washington DC. Heidi Ballendorf and Peter Ada and others organized the September 2014 fundraiser on Guam. “I was just talking with a woman in DeMoines, Iowa who wanted to buy a t-shirt,” said Joanne when I interviewed her. There have been many big and small supporters and many stories along the way. Sorry, I couldn’t begin to share Joanne’s extensive list here.

“None of this would be possible without the generous support of individual and family benefac-tors, business and government entities. We owe them, and our entire Chamorro people, the best documentary that we can possibly create,” said Father Eric Forbes.

Despite the amount of work, the Manhita Chamorro team is glad the fundraising is being done this way. “We could have done this with three big sponsors, but this is the people’s project,” Jo-anne Modic told me. They are grateful to have received an appropriation from the 32nd Guam Legislature and major sponsorship from the Bank of Guam. Many of their contributions, howev-er, came one $20 t-shirt at a time.

Now their initial goal to complete the filming has been met. They continue to need to fundraise, however, in hopes of including more material and features. Opportunities to be a supporter of the project are on their website, www.IAMCHAMORRO. The film will include names of its sup-porters starting at the $1000 sponsorship level.

The final I AM CHAMORRO full length film is expected to be available in time for Christmas 2015.

In addition, this Guam history documentary will be featured at the Guam Festival of the Pacific Arts 2016, and the soon to be constructed Guam Museum.

Said Father Eric Forbes, “We are very excited about filming this unique documentary; unique in more than one way. We are trying to tell the story of a people, not the story of events that hap-pened in this or that place. Instead, the people are front and center in this documentary. We will look at all the Chamorros, wherever they were and now are. We will look at events, but from a Chamorro perspective and at how these events affected the Chamorro people.”

I can’t help but be impressed by how true the vision for this project has proven to be. I AM CHAMORRO will not only be a Chamorro history documentary widely distributed for Chamorros everywhere, it will be included in the Guam collection at the Washington DC Smithsonian museum.

See the article as it was published, below.

Chamorro culture featured at PIFA event October 07 2013

Our article on Guam pdn! September 30 2013

Thank you Sandy Uslander from Che’lu for the wonderful story.

Click to see the article.