'I Am Chamorro' documentary a success January 09 2016
With the newly released “I Am Chamorro” (http://www.iamchamorro.com/) 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.”