Brother, lifelong friends create first fully endowed MACS fund to honor memory of Jonathan Laxamana

Laxamana donors

When Joe Laxamana lost his younger brother Jonathan in December 2022, he and some of their lifelong friends wanted to find a way to honor his memory. 

“We wanted to find something that connected what Jonathan was about and who he was—and one of his greatest passions in life was film,” said Joe (BS ’92, industrial engineering).

A group of family and friends created the first fully endowed fund dedicated to the Department of Media & Cinema Studies. The Jonathan Laxamana Endowment Fund will support media and cinema studies students through scholarships, experiential learning, and internships. It will also support the annual UIUC Student Film Festival that’s produced, programmed, and curated by students in MACS 366: Film Festivals. 

Jonathan Laxamana
Jonathan Laxamana. (Photo courtesy of Joe Laxamana.)

In addition to Joe, close friends including Craig Vodnik (BS ’92, nuclear engineering), Larry Versola (BA ’94, political science), John Silvestri (BA ’92, political science; JD ’95, law), Charlie Lee (BS ’92, finance), and Bonnie (Gorr) Flanagan (BS ’93, MS ’97, education) all contributed to establishing the fund in Jonathan’s honor, knowing that the University of Illinois was instrumental in “creating the guy that we all knew and loved,” Versola said. 

“We deeply appreciate this meaningful gift that will financially and academically support media and cinema studies students in their film-related pursuits,” said Professor CL Cole, head of the Department of Media & Cinema Studies. 

Joe is proud of Jonathan’s contribution to the film community and hopes the fund will help those wanting to pursue the same interests his brother did.

“To be able to help today’s film students is very gratifying and I think he would have liked that,” Joe said.

Silvestri, who was Jonathan’s roommate for three years, shared fond memories of his time on campus with him. Silvestri recalls the two of them constantly going to local theaters to see movies together. He said Jonathan also took several film classes, which contributed to his burgeoning interest in cinema. 

“He didn’t become the person that he was until he came here. The film stuff, it really took off, took hold of him, and he was able to delve into these passions a lot,” Silvestri said. 

Jonathan, who was affectionately called “Lax” (pronounced Lox) by family and friends, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1992. 

Professionally, Jonathan worked as a digital project coordinator for the Journal of the American Medical Association and handled location services at 41EIGHTYSEVEN with Versola, providing location scouting and location management services to the film, television, and advertising industries.

Jonathan Laxamana at Siskel Center
Jonathan Laxamana (second from left) at the
Chicago Asian American Showcase. 
(Photo courtesy of Joe Laxamana.)

Jonathan carried out his love of film and film festivals through many years of volunteer work, most notably as the founder and program director for the Chicago Filipino American Film Festival. He also contributed significantly to the annual Chicago Asian American Showcase at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Additionally, Jonathan was a board member of Full Spectrum Features, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization committed to driving equity in the independent film industry by producing, exhibiting, and supporting the work of women, BIPOC, disabled, and LGBTQIA+ filmmakers.  

Joe said his brother took great pride in being able to help young filmmakers—especially Filipino and Asian American directors—by giving them a platform at the film festivals.

“He loved film but there was something that spoke to him about helping minority directors and the opportunities they didn’t have to showcase their work, and he was just trying to do his best to give them a pathway,” Joe said. 

Versola worked with Jonathan to put on many film festivals over the years and credits him for delivering a unique, quality program to their audiences. 

“The stellar reputation that we developed among our peers in the film festival circuit worldwide was due to Jonathan and his programming,” Versola said. 

Jonathan was known for having an eye and an ear for human stories that spoke to people and ensuring that all filmmakers, from students to established directors, felt valued and respected. 

Recently, Joe and his family held a birthday memorial for Jonathan. Silvestri and Versola attended, as well as friends who flew in from across the country to celebrate Jonathan’s life.

“I think we can all be judged by our impact on our friends,” Silvestri said. “People love this guy and that’s about the greatest tribute you can have, is friends who love you.” 

—Kelly Youngblood

(Pictured at top: Larry Versola, Joe Laxamana, and John Silvestri. Photo by Kelly Youngblood.)