Celebrating nine years of bringing small filmmakers from around the world, the 2019 Guam International Film Festival commenced with a positive message. The premiere of “The Plastic Bags” encouraged the protection of sea turtles by reducing the use of plastic bags.

The monthlong festival launched on Oct. 5 at the Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and Education Facility in Hagåtña. Written and directed by Ming-Tsung Lee, “The Plastic Bags” was the opening night film. As a cinematic enthusiast, I attended the festival on opening day to observe what the up-and-coming filmmaker had to offer.

“The Plastic Bags” is the GIFF grand jury award nominee for best narrative feature and achievement in acting.

The film takes place on Lamay, an island off Taiwan's coast. We follow Greeny, a university student who has dedicated her life to saving Lamay’s sea turtles. She rooted herself within Lamay’s busiest markets, preaching no-plastic activism. She offered reusable bags at the pier and persevered through the embarrassment of her mother. Seeing the dramatic scenes unfold, I connected with Greeny. Like the audience, I rooted for the protagonist.

Greeny's encounters with people who demoralized her brought realism. Seeing a dramatic visualization of the struggle to keep the flame of hope alive made the film exciting and engaging.

As the film’s conflict resolved and the love story rolled up, I felt content. The story was quaint, and the ending, though commonplace, was not cheesy and left me feeling joyful. Afterward, the stage illuminated with blue light. It was time for the Q&A. Tae S. Kang, one of the primary coordinators, introduced Lee as the writer and director of the movie. Several audience members asked the director about having his film premiere in a theater for the first time. The filmmaker revealed that his films had shown only on local television, so coming to Guam and having it projected in a theater was an honor.

In response to a question, Lee said that while he was working for the National Marine University in Taiwan, he gained inspiration for the film. In creating the story, he said he “wanted to package it into something relatable, and more so a film rather than seeming like a documentary.”

In Lamay, people share a cultural bond with sea turtles. "Sea turtles are considered to be sacred ... which is why the sea turtle population is so high compared to the rest of Taiwan," Lee said.

Launching the festival with a dramatic and moving film, “The Plastic Bags” showed how cinematography and sound composition paired with an impactful story could captivate an audience. Lee’s words gave me some insight into how expressing issues through a medium can reach an audience and serve as an inspiration.

GIFF is not just about entertaining the public. The event unites people, as it shares directors’ beliefs and passions. It serves as a prime example of what people can achieve when they are dedicated to the cause. Lee won an award for his hard work in directing an inspiring film. There is limitless entertainment, inspiration, appreciation and knowledge to gain from filmmakers and audience members.

Lee left his audience with a powerful message. When facing issues in the world, it is not enough to stand by. He said, "We may not be able to change the world, but we can't do nothing."

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