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Benilde student film wins in US filmfest, vies next at CCP’s Gawad Alternatibo

“Arena,” the capstone project of recent De La Salle-College of Benilde film graduate Nicole Yvonne Lee, topped the SWIFF comedy (18 years old or older) category.

A thesis film about a boy who slugs it out in a neighborhood thumb wrestling tournament against another kid, whom he cannot defeat, will compete with other short film finalists at the Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video or Gawad Alternatibo. This after it bagged first place in the 2023 Student World Impact Film Festival.

‘Arena’ filmmaker Nicole Yvonne Lee with thesis mentor Seymour Sanchez

“Arena,” the 20-minute coming-of-age film stars Matthew Stanley, Shawn Niño Gabriel, and Miaka Mon, among an ensemble of other child actors.

SWIFF director Mark Leschinsky shared that the week-long New Jersey-based event, which got more than 13,000 submissions from 120 countries, “focuses on elevating the voices of young storytellers from historically marginalized races, backgrounds, and cultures to give them the opportunity to share their stories with the world.”

‘Arena’ actors

Before winning the SWIFF award, “Arena” became the first recipient of the Benilde Best Thesis Film trophy at the Cinematheque Centre Manila last April.

“As a filmmaker, I just really want to make people laugh and be happy using the films I made. Since I was a student, my school projects have been in the comedy genre. Arena was made from my playful imagination,” Lee, who wrote, edited, scored, directed, and co-produced the film, revealed.

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‘Arena’ production team

Lee got the support of production manager Krissel Bernabe, director of photography Iezer Yap Magallon, production designer Grant Frondozo, assistant director Ivan Balmaceda, script continuity Giulia Saavedra, sound supervisor Paul Van Guzman, wardrobe master Clarisse Llaguno, colorist Tyrone James Luanzon, hair and makeup artist Rose Go, and production assistants Sheina Bensurto and Rodora Bagapuro.

“Arena” will try to continue its winning streak at Gawad Alternatibo, the longest-running independent film competition of its kind in Asia.

‘Arena’ filmmaker Nicole Yvonne Lee

Gawad Alternatibo, which was established in 1987, will feature some of the best works of Filipino alternative storytelling and filmmaking from August 5 to 7 at the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez (Cultural Center of the Philippines Blackbox Theatre).

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