Fil-Am short film 'Mahal' wins Diamond Award, will screen at Belfast and NY

February 15, 2017

Jay Españo
CHICAGO - "Mahal," a short film written and directed by Jay Españo, has won the Diamond Award for Student Film Competition at the 2016 California Film Awards.

The film is "a bittersweet story of a retired musician's attempt to reconnect with his Alzheimer's disease-stricken wife Dorothy."

"This film is my baby and all throughout the process, I've been very protective of it, like a parent," says Españo.

"So much so that I don't feel comfortable having my baby/work judged. It felt good and I'm proud that it was recognized. It's a validation of not just my hard work but also of everyone who was involved in making this film."

At the heels of wining this award, "Mahal" has just been selected to screen at the 2017 Respect Human Rights Film Festival in Belfast in March and at the 2017 Blackbird Film Fest in Cortland, New York in April.

The cast features Filipino actresses Madeleine Nicolas as Dorothy and Olga Natividad as the daughter Carol. Score is by Manila-based composer Jesse Lucas.


Madeleine Nicolas
"Mahal" premiered at the Cayman International Film Festival last year and has been screened at film festivals in Los Angeles, Lyons (Colorado), Edinburg (Texas), Newark (New Jersey), among other states.

Internationally, it has screened in the Bahamas, Mexico, New Zealand and Puerto Rico.

"I just hope that with our exposure at these festivals, we can find a producer to help us make the full-length feature version of 'Mahal.'"

"Mahal" was produced last year for Españo's masters in film directing at Columbia College Chicago.

Españo is based in the Windy City and has acted for different theater groups in the region. He used to act with theater company Tanghalang Pilipino in Manila and did stints in Singapore, including a lead role in "Chang and Eng the Musical."

Affliction, affection

Olga Natividad
"'Mahal' wasn't my choice for my thesis film," says Españo. He'd originally wanted to write about his father's struggles and triumphs in coping with living in the US-though it's in the backburner for now. "I decided to reserve it for a feature film."

His screenplay was inspired by a classmate's anecdotes of his own family's experiences, specifically his grandparents, with Alzheimer's disease- a chronic condition where the brain degenerates, causing memory loss and disorientation, among other symptoms.

"Mahal" is a Filipino word that has multiple meanings, Españo points out. As a verb, it means "love."

He adds, "As a noun, it's a term of affection, akin to 'sweetheart' or 'love.' As an adjective, it means 'expensive.'" The last meaning of the word alludes to the costs of caring for an Alzheimer's patient.

Españo wanted to make the story more personal, so he incorporated Filipino characters into it.

"I wanted it to be a love story, albeit a bitter one at its core. 'Mahal' became my love letter to my mother who passed away in 2005. She was in Manila and I was studying in Singapore. Her death was such a surprise to me. Until now, I still wish I could've had the chance to tell her how I feel about her."

"This film is more than just my thesis. It's my way of honoring my mom, Estrella."

Españo found the process of making "Mahal" therapeutic. "As much as it helped me in exorcising the guilt I felt with my own loss, I hope the film becomes instrumental in having the audience examine their own relationships in their lives."


Aside from the two female leads and scorer, Españo had two other behind-the-scenes staff who are Filipino. "These women-one was an assistant director and the other was a lighting grip-both grew up in the US. We had a very diverse crew."

Actress Nicolas, who shuttles back and forth Manila and the US, observed that "there were a lot of women in our crew, something that would be unusual to see in the Philippines where you won't see women setting up lights and carrying equipment."

"On our last shoot day, we had Filipino food such as lumpia, pancit, adobo, etc., which none of the crew had ever had. The Filipinos on the set gave everyone a quick rundown of what was what. It was a fun day."

To screen "Mahal," contact +1-312-218-4258 or

READ about Olga Natividad's previous theater work in Los Angeles here.