Monday, March 28, 2011

Mar del Plata International Film Festival, Argentina

After a long and grueling 31-hour trip (About 22-hour plane ride, 4-hour stop over in two countries, and 5-hour car ride), we finally arrived in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Argentina was my third country in Latin America, and it was the first time I was going to attend an international film festival.

Mar del Plata International Film Festival is the largest and only A-list film festival in Latin America. This is the most prestigious festival in the region. There were talks that Diego Luna and Sophia Coppola were attending the event. Luna’s movie  "Abel" was competing in the Latin American category while Coppola’s movie “Somewhere” was the opening film of the festival. This brought my excitement a notch higher. Unfortunately, due to the local airport shutdown, the international stars failed to grace us with their presence. Nonetheless, it turned out to be one awesome festival!

Main venue of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival

Our very own Adolfo Alix Jr.’s “Chassis” impressed the audience with its raw presentation of the depressing situation of the nomadic families in the South Harbor of the Philippines. Shot in black and white, the film moved the Latin American audience with the realities of impoverished nomadic settlers whose women are forced into prostitution in order to feed their children. The film was an eye-opener for the Latin Americans to the struggles of the Filipinos back home.

During festival breaks, we toured the lovely city of Mar del Plata. It is located along the coast of Atlantic Ocean, with more than 17km of coastline. On warm summers, the beaches are filled with locals and tourists enjoying the sun, sand and waves. The Chica and Grande beaches are two of the popular ones.

The beaches of Mar del Plata

Our tour bus..I mean boat!

We went to visit one of the most important fishing harbors in Argentina. We drove around the area and found  quite a number of sea lions resting on the sand. Unfortunately, we chanced upon an injured seal. It seemed like it was caught on a fishing net which deeply scathed its skin.

Mar del Plata Harbor

Seal territory

It broke our hearts to see this injured seal resting on the rock.

Back on land, we visited the religious sites such as the Mar del Plata Cathedral, a towering neo-Gothic style church built at the turn of the century, and Santa Cecilia chapel, where the shrine of Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, was situated.

Mar del Plata San Pedro Cathedral

Sanata Cecilia Chapel

Gratitude shown by devotees

Mar del Plata is evidently thriving in the field of arts. Apart from the film festival, other attractions in the city are its museums. One of which is the Museo Municipal de Arte Juan Carlos Castagnino. This was the home of Juan Carlos who was an important art critic and collector during his time.

Our trip to Mar del Plata was a taste of Latin American arts and culture. We were inspired by the freedom and creativity the artists in this region possess. Its captivating landscape, the mountains and white sand beaches, enhanced the entire experience.

Days later, our side trip to Buenos Aires, will impress us even more not only with its diverse influences in architecture but as well as the seductive art of tango.

Direk Adolf Alix with Ornella, his filmfest guide Ornella Cervino , and my co-host Mikael Daez at the Awarding Ceremony of the Mardel Filmfest

Monday, March 21, 2011

Back story: Amazing Race Osaka

The night before our scheduled flight to Osaka, my producer sent me a message that our visas to Japan were not yet ready. Given the uncertainty, I received an instruction to pack my bags and wait for further instructions early in the morning.

I woke up at 9:00 am on March 10 with no message on my phone. We were scheduled to fly to Osaka at 3:20 pm and I was anxious to find out if we were pushing through with the trip or not. At 11:45 am, I was told to proceed to the airport and wait with the rest of the team for our passports.  I arrived at the airport a few minutes past 1:00pm and met my producer. No sign of our passports. On top of this, we were also waiting for my co-host's (Nat Kiefer) air ticket! The tension was building, and I felt like we were shooting a scene at the Amazing Race. I have never gone to a trip with so much uncertainty yet the whole experience appealed to me.

Jill and Jean helped us make this trip possible!

At 1:20 pm, Nat's tickets arrived and five minutes later, our passports were delivered! The rest of the team, Doc Gamboa and Mael Cautivar joined us at the queue. We had two hours left to make it through check-in and immigration. We were still missing one person. We decided to proceed to the check-in counter and about fifteen minutes later, when we were almost at the counter, Nat finally showed up! Whew! The team was complete and ready to check-in.

Finally, off to Osaka!

Our adventure at the airport was just the beginning of an unpredictable and memorable trip. We arrived in Osaka, in 7-degree cold, lost in translation. It took us a while to get to our hotel (I had to make several calls to hotels at the airport pay phone starting with the line "Do you speak English?"). After three hours, we ended up in a nice 4-start hotel in Umeda for the night. (We then had to move after the 2nd night because it was too pricey! But our second hotel, Hearton Hotel, was equally nice and the location was more strategic.)

Kansai Airport, our gateway to Osaka (photo by Mael Cautivar)
Catching an airport bus at to Osaka station (photo by Mael Cautivar)

We managed to smile in the 7-degree cold! Our jackets weren't thick enough to keep us warm! (photo by Mael Cautivar)

Hearton Hotel Umeda, a few steps away from Osaka Station (photo by Mael Cautivar)

The day after we arrived, March 11, marked the historical moment in Japan which shook the nation and the world.  The earthquake in Tokyo and tsunami and Sendai, and later the meltdown of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima were the heartbreaking tragedies the world witnessed and will remember for a very long time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Osaka: The Day the Earth Shook

March 11, 2011 marked the world premiere of the movie “Liberacion” directed by Filipino indie film director Adolfo Alix, Jr. and starring  Japanese actor Jacky Woo at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. I, together with my travel co-host, Nat Kiefer, producer Jonas Gaffud and travel companions Doc Gamboa and Mael Cautivar covered the event for our travel show “World Premiere.” This year, the festival launched its international film competition where Liberacion has been chosen to compete.

Osaka Asian Film Festival 2011 (Photo by Mael Cautivar)

With my travel co-host, Nat Kiefer (Photo by Mael Cautivar)

While viewing the film in the afternoon, we felt our seats slightly “shake” while the screen moved from left to right. The Japanese viewers remained calm while our contingency felt alarmed. After more than 30 seconds, we stepped out of the auditorium and could still feel the tremor.  When it was over, we went back in and felt mild aftershocks. Since the Japanese seemed to be used to it, we remained inside the theater and finished the film. We proceeded with the open forum and conducted an interview with Jacky

ABC Hall, venue of the Osaka Asian Filmfest 2011 (Photo by Mael Cautivar)

Jacky Woo receiving recognition after the Q&A portion at the Osaka Asian Film Festival

After our shoot, we headed back to our hotel and we were shocked to find out about the tragedy in Tokyo and Sendai. We received tons of messages via FB and email from family and friends asking about   our situation. We assured them of our safety and we were relieved that we were unharmed.

Despite the tragedy, the people in Osaka remained calm and collected. This allowed us to continue shooting for our travel show.  It was a depressing time to be in Japan (especially when we tuned in to BBC in the mornings) but at the same time we had to stay and finish our job. For next four days, we explored Osaka, its culture, sights and sounds.

Majestic Osaka Castle, one of the most famous castles in Japan

Cherry blossoms at the Tenmangu Shrine

The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, one of the largest public aquariums in the world

The "World Premiere" team in front of Tempozan Giant Wheel  (Photo by Mael Cautivar)

The Japanese love color!! (Photo by Mael Cautivar)

Trainstopping in Osaka  (Photo by Mael Cautivar)

Our short trip showed us how the Japanese are different from the rest of the world, with their tranquility amidst the series of tragedies, their eagerness to help despite the language barrier, the contrast between the old traditions and latest pop culture.  It was definitely one trip we will never forget. 

The Japanese were always helpful in giving directions  (Photo by Mael Cautivar)

Japanese girls in their traditional kimono costumes

It may take a while before Japan recovers from the recent tragedies it has experienced. But with the resilience of its people, and kindness and generosity the world has shown, it will recover and get back on its feet as it has shown throughout its history.

Peace and happiness from Osaka, Japan

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Go where the wind takes you

I remember the day when I told my mom that I had been invited to model in Cape Town.  She asked me where in the world Cape Town was. I said South Africa. I could see fear in her eyes and I knew she would be worried that I’ll move to a country so far from home. Mothers, however old their children are, will always see them as their babies whom they have to nurture and protect.

my wonderful and uber-cool mom

Despite the fact that I had moved to Manila to study in the university at 16, and at the time of our conversation I was already in my 20s fending for myself, it was very hard for my mom to say yes to Cape Town. Besides, she didn’t consider modeling as a real job.

I, on the other hand, was thrilled by the idea that I will be living in a continent that very few Filipinos have reached and a city where, at that time, only few Filipinos have heard of (pre-World Cup days). I took out my map and chills ran up my spine by looking at the distance between the Philippines and Cape Town. It was quite a distance. And I wanted to go as far as possible, learn new cultures and meet new people. I had finished my stint as Miss Philippines and I was ready to embark on a different and exciting journey, without much planning needed (I am not a planner, this may be a good or a bad thing).

So modeling fell into my lap. And traveling was my passion. It was a great combination then. Convincing my mom wasn’t too hard. It was moving to a country where I didn’t know anyone and if I would do well in my newly-chosen career posed as the real challenges. But at that point in my life, I was prepared to take risks. I was scared to leave home but I was even more scared that I would be stuck at home and I would always wonder what the world has to offer.

Someone I know said you are where you are because you are meant to be. I was in Cape Town because I was meant to be. It turned out to be one of the best, if not the best, experiences of my life. What made it more meaningful were the people I connected with, the relationships I built, the lessons I learned from the stories they shared. It became my home. On my first trip to Cape Town, I was lucky that the coolest and most awesome people gravitated towards me and to this day they remain very close to my heart. Travel is not only about the places you see but also about the people you meet and the relationships harnessed along the way. Here are some of the people (and animal) who touched my life when I lived in Cape Town:

Awesome foursome: moi, Mikaela, Natalia, Loredana. We were inseparable.

Natalia, my fellow free-spirit and fearless travel partner.

Asian Persuasion: Sherry, Sam and Me. Made me feel close to home.

Adorable Barak. He was the life of the party!

Billie, our house mascot, who made me smile when I was extremely homesick =)