“Chamorro: The Movie”
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Guam Daily Post
September 16, 2015
How many people remember the movie “Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon?” It was directed by cult film-master Albert Pyun and starred Richard “Shaft” Roundtree, David “Kung Fu” Carradine and Carmen “just in one scene” Electra. It was shot in Guam in 2004 lauded locally as “Hollywood coming to Guam!” The filmmakers promised to help create a new film industry on the island and tempted local leaders with the idea that “if we film it, they will come” or once the world sees “Max Havoc” on the big screen, people will be lining up to film their movies on Guam.
Local businesses and GovGuam threw money and support at the film, eager to expedite the Hollywood celluloid rush that was on the horizon. This was all soon proved to be ludicrous. The film made no money and was never even screened in a theater. It eventually became the object of a huge lawsuit between GovGuam and the filmmakers. I’ve long argued that the “Max Havoc” babarias is a cautionary tale, a reminder that we should be critical and careful when outsiders visit the island promising to sell us the moon, the stars and the sky.
Chances of a Guam film industry of culture seemed impossible after this scandal, but just three years later the Muña Bros. (Don and Kel) arrived and premiered their first film, which is now known as Guam’s first feature film, “Shiro’s Head.” With their first film and their second the documentary “Talent Town” the Muña Bros. were chiding the political and economic leaders of Guam that, yes, we can throw obscene amounts of money at anyone coming to Guam to play a concert, hold a workshop or make a film, or you can use that money to invest in your local talent.
In order to help our island community understand what that self-investment would look like, the Muña Bros. along with J.D. Irriarte started the Guam International Film Festival in 2010. Each festival features dozens of films from around the world representing all types of genres. This festival has become an annual motivator for Guam’s small but determined film industry and has provided the venue for directors, writers, cinematographers, actors and others to come together to realize their long held creative visions. This year’s film festival takes place September 26-30 at the Agaña Shopping Center Theaters.
My favorite part of each GIFF is the category “Made in the Marianas” which showcases films made by people living in the Marianas Islands. This year the category features five films which feature action scenes, dialogue heavy drama and beautiful underwater photography. I am fortunate this year to have a film I co-wrote and co-directed included in this category. It’s title is “Påkto: I Hinekka” made by myself and my partner in cinema-crime Kenneth Gofigan Kuper with the help of cinematographer Leonard Leon from Saipan. The title translates roughly to “Magic: The Gathering” which may be familiar to younger readers of the Guam Daily Post. “Magic: The Gathering” is a fantasy card game where players draw energy from the earth to cast spells and summon creatures all in hopes of vanquishing your opponent.
Although close to no one in the world would ever associate “Magic” with Chamorro language or culture, in our short film we play a single game, speaking entirely in Chamorro. In developing the script we had to coin new phrases to fit the jargon of the game. We inserted jokes, commentary on current events (such as the military buildup) and even used old Chamorro axioms.
The Chamorro language, in all its glory is meant to be the star of the film. As we all know, Chamorro has been having a difficult time recently and it is possible that within the next few generations it will disappear. If you ask people why the language is “dying” people will tell you it’s the iPads, the Facebooks or the Pokemon or other things that people strongly feel are disconnected from Chamorro culture and language. Blaming these things however can be deceptive. In truth the real reason why the language is struggling is simply because those who can speak it, don’t use it with those who can’t. The language is dying because we aren’t producing new speakers of Chamorro, we are just watching and listening as the elders who do speak it slowly pass away.
In Guam today we associate the Chamorro language with things of the past, we see it as tied to ancient ancestors, faded photographs, creased nobena books and dancers shouting in loincloths. We don’t see it as living in the present and being relevant or applicable to the contemporary world and the cultural forms of technologies that have taken over our lives and tastes. This film represents an attempt to challenge those ideas and promote the notion that we can use the Chamorro language for anything today, even a nerdy fantasy card game with wizards and dragons.
I look forward to making more films such as this, that help us understand that the vitality of the Chamorro language is directly related to how often we use it and the diversity of things we use it for. By using Chamorro to connect to more and more things which are popular today, we increase the chances of it being spoken to and learned by the younger generations.