Palabas/Pelikula/Kasaysayan/Bayan: A Reading of El Presidente (Mark Meily, 2012) and Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (Mario O’Hara, 2010)


New Old Stories

History writing and film making are two of the most complicated and problematic tasks in a (post)modern world; there several often conflicting theories, methods, and intentions in doing so. When a film maker takes up the task of creating a historical film, he or she pretty much signed up for a heated debate with critics, scholars, cineastes, and ordinary audiences whatever the outcome of his or her film might be. In evaluating a historical film, chances are historians would attack the inconsistencies in the text over the film’s craftsmanship, while defenders would do it the other way around. This could be another reason of the low number of historical film being produced in the country (aside from high production costs and a tedious research process).

With the said conditions in the country’s movie industry, historical films still emerge once and a while, and each new film never fails to contribute to an already ready old debate regarding what the historical film should be. However, a recent phenomenon greatly affected the rules not only the historical film game but of the entire industry. It is no other the digital-independent wave of movies primarily done by young film makers. These movies are cheaper to produce giving new artists the opportunity to join the film arena.

Veteran director Mario O’Hara tried his hand with the new digital medium and came up with a postmodern court drama about the controversial and often deemphasized trial of the Katipunan Supremo Andres Bonifacio by a war council representing the then newly established revolutionary government based in Cavite. O’Hara uses the trial records intercepted by the American and was later called the Insurgent Papers as a main source and adds the komedya, even Ibong Adarna, and poems by Gregoria de Jesus to creatively reconstruct the life of Bonifacio until his death. The movie had a limited release after competing in the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival. The said film would serve as an honorable swansong of one the greatest but underrated director-writer-actor of Filipino cinema.

After completing a remake of the biopic of Asiong Salongga, another veteran director, Tikoy Aguiluz announced he will be working on a biopic of Emilio Aguinaldo. It was set to also star Manila Kingpin and Laguna governor Jorge Estregan for the lead role. However after incidents of Estregan changing some parts of Manila Kingpin without Aguiluz’ consent, the two drifted apart. Aguiluz refused to take credit for the film even with all the praise it received. He eventually gave up the Aguinaldo biopic project. He was replaced by Mark Meily, a young but already respected with his works including Crying Ladies and also a historical film, Baler. Meily used Aguinaldo’s memoir Mga Gunita ng Himagsikan as a main source of his ambitious epic. El Presidente spans from the beginning of the Katipunan to the Revolution to the Filipino-American War until Aguinaldo’s death. O’Hara’s entire movie is just a subplot of Meily’s.

Aguinaldo and Bonifacio are considered the ‘other’ important heroes aside from Jose Rizal. The relationship between the two didn’t end so well and this is something vividly portrayed in the two films. O’Hara creates Bonifacio to be the martyr whose recognition for his efforts was stolen by the ilustrados headed by Aguinaldo. Meily on the other hand showed Aguinaldo to be the stoical hero who was caught in the difficult circumstances brought by the revolution. He didn’t intend to kill Bonifacio, but the narrative of the film comes up with the logic that he deserved it anyway. Whose version of history should be taken as true? Can cinema resolve history’s problems or at least narrate the ‘real version’? Which one is relevant to the Filipino ‘nation’?

This paper aims outline the history of cinema in the Philippines and identify the roles it played in several historical periods. Indigenous and Hispanic influences particularly the komedya and other theatrical forms will be indentified and discussed in relation to the emergence of Filipino cinema. The background of the historical films chosen for analysis depicted will also be briefly discussed. Using postcolonial theory, the paper will attempt to arrive at new insights regarding the interwoven (and often conflicting) roles cinema and history play in the process of nation-building in a globalized postmodern society.


History as Komedya in El Presidente

Mark Miely’s historical epic, staggering at two hours and forty minutes, is a recreation of Emilio Aguinaldo life, highlighting his role in the Philippine Revolution and as president of the first Filipino Republic. The entire movie is made up of flashbacks as he writes his memoirs during his twilight years. The story begins in media res during the capture of Aguinaldo in 1901 by American forces. Flashback to his youth when he started to work as a tax collector for the local colonial government. Together with his friend Candido Tirona they went to houses in remote rural parts of Kawit. There is an old woman, who doesn’t have money. Miong says its okay, thereby shouldering the fee. In sign of gratitude, the woman presents herself to read Aguinaldo’s fate: He will be a great man; he will have great enemies, and his will fall in love with three different women, only two of which he will be able to present to the church altar. The two were dumb folded and went on their way. Just a few minutes into the movie, one is already given an idea of the narrative structure of the movie will be, one that is heavily influenced by komedya.

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photo credits: http://www.starmometer.com/2012/12/25/mmff-2012-el-presidente/

When the Spaniards arrived in the islands, the people were already developing a homogenous culture though still politically dispersed. The dominant group was the Muslims from the south who already had a modern political state embodied in the sultanates of Jolo and Maguindanao. The Muslims had controlled several key trading posts in the islands including present day Manila. The Spaniards, already having a grudge against Muslims because of their experience in Iberia, conducted extensive military operations against the ‘Moro’. The Muslims were eventually pushed back into Mindanao. Also other indigenous groups fled to the mountains to resist the colonizers. The Spaniards then took steps to easily control the natives. They devised the recuduccion plan or plaza-complex that turned natural-democratic space into colonial space. Churches, schools, secular buildings, marketplaces, and cemeteries were built close to each other. The datu class became the principalias, the class where Aguinaldo belongs, the church belfries became panopticons.

However, force wasn’t enough to win the hearts of the ‘indios’. What the colonizers did was assign patron saints to pueblos and barangays (political unit). Every patron fiesta the friars brought music, food, and entertainment particularly theater. “The drama they were looking for must have been that which they knew from back home: the scripted, staged, costumed Spanish comedias and autos sacramentales—and which they were of course unlikely to find among the Filipinos who were chanting epics, enacting rituals, and celebrating victories with their own kinds of songs, dances and mimetic action.” (Fernandez, 1996, p. 2) The natives already had a rich oral literary tradition. They didn’t understand the plays that were performed for them, but they enjoyed the costumes, the musicality of the lines, and the actions the actors orchestrated. Little by little the number of converts began to rise. These Western art-forms were also translated into vernacular. One of the most popular forms was the comedia. The comedias were metrical plays from Europe usually about the lives of saints or adventures of chivalry which were popular at that time. The ‘indios’ through these shows learned about kingdoms, kings and queens, and knights from West.

The production of comedia happened simultaneous with the Moro raids conducted in the islands. When one of the military expeditions (manned by ‘indio’ soldiers) to the south became successful, a comedia was written and staged. This is the start when the Spanish comedia became the komedya which was focused on Christian-Muslim conflicts they eventually became known as moro-moros. The vernacular komedya was performed in every town and every part of the islands except in the Muslim areas. It was also pivotal point for such social structures as that of the comite de festejos and/or the hermano/hermana mayor, who saw to the funding of the production so that people could view it for free (Fernandez, 1996). It was the major form of entertainment of the period and it divided the inhabitants of the islands based on gender, class, and religion.

Komedyas disseminated a “formula of fantasy and escape, with its kingdoms…,it shows princes and princesses the likes of which the Philippine landscape would never see, whose problems only involved the unraveling of entangled loves, and never such pressing local problems as colonization, poverty, and exploitation. It also propagated in a visually spectacular and repetitious—therefore effective—fashion the message that the Muslim or Moro was to be scorned (unless, of course, he turned Christian, an unlikely happening in actual life) even if he was a fellow Filipino, and that Christianity always won the day. (Fernandez, 1996, p10)

The staging of komedyas continued until the American period but was slowly overrun by cinema. “To theater does cinema owe much of the material culture it needed to first penetrate and then assert its supremacy in the Hispanic society. The first decade was a time of negotiation between the two entertainment forms. This may be surprising because up until 1902, films had been shown independently. Starting 1903, theatrical presentations began to play a major role in the exhibition of films. Films were screened alongside the staging of zarzuelas, bailes (dances), and songs, oftentimes called intermedios cantos (musical intermissions). (Deocampo, 2003, p. 117) Theater provided actors, designer, and directors. Until now, ‘canonized’ film makers started in theater as training ground; Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes to name a few.

When Filipinos started making movies of their own, the Hispanic influences stayed and reflected in their works. “Early adventure films – all about the loves and exploits of fabled heroes and heroines…– were doubtless an outgrowth of the komedya. Even in our time, the endless fight sequences, in which the hero employs fists, swords, guns, sticks, legs, and an arsenal of ancient Oriental weaponry, may be traced to the influence of the 18th century theater genre. The same may be said of the incredible chance meetings – in forests, beaches, parks or nightclubs – which spark off true love, or occasion heartbreaks or a speedy resolution to a highly involved plot. Together with the sinakulo, the komedya provides an explanation for the black-and-white depiction of characters who are invariably grouped, as in the two dramatic forms, into the good guys and the bad guys.” (Lumbera, 1997, p. 172)

The succeeding scenes show Aguinaldo being recruited by the Katipunan and serving as the town mayor of Cavite El Viejo. When the movement was discovered and skirmishes commenced in Manila, Miong using his cunning assured the Spaniards assigned in the area that trouble won’t be replicated in the community. In fact he is already organizing the Cavite chapter of the Katipunan, an early operation of which involves raiding a Spanish arsenal for arms. In due time, the Katipuneros controled most of Cavite. The events are as if directly translated a Philippine history textbook; Tejeros Convention, Trial of Bonifacio Brothers, Pact of Biac na Bato, Hong Kong interlude, America enters the picture, Treaty of Paris, Filipino-American War ignites, assassination of Antonio Luna, the president fleeing to the north, Battle of Tirad Pass, and finally the capture of Aguinaldo. The last part of the movie involves Aguinaldo’s second marriage, his presidential bid in 1935 against Quezon, outbreak of World War Two, and nationalist sentiments of 1960s and the celebration of independence back to June 12 instead of July 4 by President Diosdado Macapagal, publication of his memoir, and his death.

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photo credits: http://www.candidheadlines.com/moviereview-el-presidente-2012/

Before he dies, the old woman who read his fortune appeared to him again for the ultimate dramatic ending. Everything she said came true except the one about the third woman, which happens to be the Inangbayan. Obviously this Inangbayan is not the Inangbayan that was used in ‘seditious’ theater during the American period to serve as an allegory of the nation and critique of American colonial rule. Lino Brocka tried to utilize the Inangbayan again is some of his social(ist) realist movies (Tolentino, 2001) In fact, women were barely visible in El Presidente. The only female characters allowed to ‘speak’ are Aguinaldo’s two wives and the mystical woman. Women were mostly shown feeding the revolutionaries, fleeing from conflict, cheering for the victorious soldiers, or weaving the Filipino flag.

Since El Presidente is mostly an action film, the categorization of the characters in good guys versus bad guys is related to the process of what postcolonial theorists would call ‘othering’. Throughout the movie, there were several ‘othering’ that took place, based mainly on ethnicity but also based on gender, class, and locality. The Spaniards were portrayed to be arrogant, cruel, and proud only later to be outwitted by untrained and under-armed Filipinos. The Spaniards were also showed in stereotypes commonly related to the colonial period; the overconfident military officer and the dogmatic and hypocrite friar. ‘Othering’ based on class and localities are closely tied. First of all the story happened in Cavite where the revolutionaries were able to get the support of the rich indios providing resources and leadership (best example is Aguinaldo himself). Enter Andres Bonifacio, the proud and hot headed Manileño who happens to be the Supremo; whose presence in the province indicated his mediocre military and leadership skills. Bonifacio is a ‘dayo’ in Cavite. His outsider status was confirmed when he lost his temper in the Tejeros Convention. Also during the convention only the ilustrados were seated while foot soldiers are standing and are mere silent spectators in the back while the drama unfolds.

As mention earlier women are marginalized whether belonging to the lower class or middle class. The films treatment of indigenous peoples also reveals that it is a history of only low-land Hizpanized Filipinos. There was scene when fleeing north, Aguinaldo and company passed by an indigenous community (Ifugao? Sagada?). They were initially hostile but calmed down when he was introduced as Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. They then celebrated his presence. Another key event in the film is the battle of Tirad Pass and the Igorot ‘traitor’ to lead to its defeat. Interestingly, the Macabebe mercenaries weren’t shown at all. Aguinaldo downfall was because his courier was caught (and later squealed) trying to steal medicine from an American camp for his sick son. A portrayal of the Macabebes would definitely reveal that the Katipuneros didn’t take effort to integrate indigenous people in the movement. However, I believe the most astonishing portrayal was that of Americans. From the moment in Hong Kong to the battle field to the Treaty of Paris, Americans were shown to be civil, practicing the courtesy of war, and respectful when in fact the plot progression clearly shows that their interests in contradictory to that of Filipinos. There were barely battle scenes between Filipinos and Americans. The Japanese were totally invisible. After his capture, the remaining scenes happened in Aguinaldo’s domestic space.

It is interesting that throughout the film there were few instances when the key scenes would be photographed. It would be known that these events became important because existing photographic documentation survives. In the credit roll of the movie the original photographs were shown beside the film’s enactment of the events. It gives the movie an authentic feel. What is problematic is that when Aguinaldo was captured, one of the first things the Americans did was to dress him up and take pictures of him with his top officials. The glorifying aura was maintained but what audiences are likely to miss is that American utilized photography, then a quickly developing technology, to justify their occupation of the country. Americans took several pictures of different indigenous groups to give people in the US the impression of the Filipinos savagery and need for benevolent assimilation. But they didn’t stop there. They also took pictures of ‘civilized’ Filipinos. “The photographs also show the importance of the imperialist project. The pictures of wild tribes not only showed the extent of civilizing needed but also fed the consistent doubt on the capacity of the Filipinos to govern themselves. The civilized pictures, on the other hand, showed that there were well-groomed and “educated-looking” Filipinos (almost all dressed the same, again eerily symbolic of “the great mass”) potentially willing to be taught democracy. But it is the contrast between the two kinds that was meant to stress the heterogeneity even more.” (Vergara, 1995, p. 62)

The film’s conservative position regarding US’ involvement in the revolution and the republic could be traced to the fact that cinema flourished during the American occupation. “Motion Pictures were introduced in 1897 by two Swiss businessmen named Liebman and Peritz, who opened a “movie house” at No. 31, Escolta St., Manila. In 1912, two American business competitors vied with each other for the commercial rewards of being the first to make a feature film with Philippine life as subject matter.” (Lumbera, 1981) Aside from establishing a public education system with English as the medium of instruction, the American colonial government suppressed nationalist sentiment through military operations, sedition laws, and the pensionado system. Americans also utilized cinema as a tool for propaganda. “In an obvious attempt at revising colonial loyalties, anti-Spanish films based on Rizal’s life in 1912 (La Vida de Rizal from Oriental Moving Pictures Corporation and El Fusilamiento de Rizal from Rizalina Film Manufacturing Company) were shown and produced by American businessmen. Also, films made by Edison in the States using American actors reenacted several revolutionary scenes like The Rout of the Filipinos, Filipinos Retreat from the Trenches, and Advance of Kansas Volunteers at Caloocan all in 1899. It is also during this period when three important aspects of filmmaking would take root: censorship, the imposition of government taxes, and international distribution.” (Flores, 1990, p.420) Americans would again repeat the process of ‘othering’, this time directed against Japanese. “After the war, the guerilla-garrison genre came to the fore. Revolving around Japanese atrocities and the celebration of Yankee liberation and guerilla struggle” (Flores, 1990, p. 422)

El Presidente received mostly favorable reviews from critics and winning several awards at the Metro Manila Film Festival. However, the film didn’t leave people consciousness easily, aside from infuriating few critics and groups, El Presidente became one of the most debated movies on cyberspace. Mark Meily said his primary intention is to ‘locate’ Aguinaldo in history; unfortunately he also dislocated other characters. “At the heart of the action film is the aspiration for justice. This quest if fleshed out in various forms and ensues from multiple causes… From the true-to-life biofilms of notorious criminals to historical epics and finally to massacre movies of recent memory, the action movie invokes justice in the name of self, family, community, or nation and speaks of it from specific assumptions about society, whose fate is oftentimes coterminous with either the valiant exploits of the hero or the sordid trail of blood he leaves in the wake of carnage.” (Flores, 1998, p. 224) The action film like komedya reinforces an us-versus-them mentality which becomes very problematic when it tackles historical events and personalities, claiming to speak for the ‘nation’. El Presidente is a testament that Filipino cinema is still in the shackles of Spanish dramatic forms and a pro-American ideology.

History as Sinakulo in Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio

The independent film movement in the country is still in its infant stage. With the advent of cheaper digital film making technology, a younger generation of filmmakers now has the opportunity to tell new stories in new ways. Of course independent/alternative cinema as in non-big studio film making happened earlier, spearheaded by the likes of Kidlat Tahimik and Nick Deocampo. Some of the then young film makers successful crossed over to mainstream movie industry (e.g. Tikoy Aguiluz, Gil Portes, Mel Chionglo, etc.) New names in the indie movement include Brilliante Mendoza, Adolfo Alix, Jr, Aureaus Solitos. Since the lack of capitalist constrains, indie films are more daring in subject matter and more innovative in plot progression. This climate also attracted veteran film makers who have adjusted to the ways of the big studio system; examples include Joel Lamangan, Gil Portes, and Mario O’Hara. These directors now have a chance to pursue subject they truly want but the big studios don’t find profitable. In 2010, few months before his death, Mario O’Hara came out with Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio.

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photo credits:http://jonathan2rivers.blogspot.com/2011/01/reaching-out-cinemalaya-2010-full.html

Calling Ang Paglilitis as an indie film somehow doesn’t give it justice; a more suitable name should be experimental film. O’Hara infuses theater, surrealism, and court drama into a story that followed the trial of the Bonifacio brothers by the revolutionary government. The story begins with the encounter with the Magdiwang faction of the Katipunan and capture of the Bonifacio brothers. While in prison, the film flashbacks to showing Bonifacio during his younger years where he performed in komedyas and he also plays the role of a Moro prince. Still dressed as Moro princes to wanders and meets and helps a leper. The leper points the direction where the Ibong Adarna is. He is given a blade and some lime/lemon to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep when the mystical birds start singing. Just like Aguinaldo, Bonifacio was given a ‘quest’. During this time, he also met Gregoria de Jesus. The movie even has a fool or jester that butts in to fill the gaps in the story, particularly events happening outside the trial. Once in awhile Aguinaldo is shown in the battlefield furious hearing news about the progress of the trial. He wanted the Bonifacio brothers sent to exile, but gave in to the war council giving full jurisdiction to them. The Bonifacio brothers are executed. The movie ends with Gregoria De Jesus hysterical reciting an elegy to Andres. Some historians claim that the trial and execution was inevitable while some, like Agoncillo, claim the entire endeavor to be a farce. Unlike in El Presidente, the process of ‘othering’ in Ang Paglilitis is more subtle, mostly between Magdalo and Magdiwang factions. Spaniards and Americans were both invisible in the movie. Ang Paglilitis also fits the characteristics of the komedya (aside from fact that it was directly alluded to in the film) but it more similar with the structure of another Spanish dramatic form, the sinakulo.

The sinakulo is a dramatic reenactment of the pasyon of Jesus Christ. If komedyas are staged during the town fiestas, sinakulo productions are done during the holy week. “Like other religious rituals, the traditional sinakulo was produced by the culture of religion, on the one hand, and an agricultural way of life, on the other. The obedience to and deferential fear of the conservative Catholic Church, a legacy from the Spanish period, created a mind conditioned to accept everything in unquestioning simplicity. The lack of originality in the text and the presentational quality of the play, which dares not interpret or deviate an iota from dogma or custom, result from the abject awe of the Church’s feudal authority…the growth of the traditional sinakulo was arrested by the very religion which inspired it. Together with poverty, the religion has wittingly or unwittingly discouraged the peasant from pursuing enlightenment that would help him transcend the meta-physical world of the passion play in favor of a materially better life in the here and now.” (Tiongson, 1999, pp. 13-14) And like the komedya, the production of sinakulo also helped the reorganization of society particularly the emergence of economic classes. “Just as the agricultural economy depends heavily on the paternalism of the landlord, so it finds in the same landlord a major patron for activities like the sinakulo. Landlords may pay for the band or the expensive velvet costumes, although they themselves would not be inclined to watch such a folk endeavor.” (Tiongson, 1999, p. 14)

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photo credits: http://www.philstar.com/entertainment/2012-11-30/876929/thoughts-bonifacio-o%E2%80%99hara

O’Hara primary intention is to bring to light the issue of the Bonifacio trials and make the public decide whether it was justified or not. But just like Meily, Ang Paglilitis makes the decision for us through the plot and manner of presentation of the events. To further complicate O’Hara’s case, he wants to provoke debate but he made Bonifacio a martyr, a Christ-figure in a melodramatic narrative he is well known for, when in fact the sinakulo promotes the exact opposite thing, passivity. “In the sinakulo a meek, harmless, suffering Christ is pitted against the minions of darkness, Judas, the kings and priests, the devil and the Jews, with Christ triumphant in the end. The sinakulo survives most strongly in the Filipino mental framework, or value system, which always favors the underdog. In most Filipino movies meekness, servility and patience in suffering, coupled with the ability to shed buckets of tears, are regarded as obligatory characteristics of leading female and child characters. (Tiongson, 1983, p. 85)

The challenges faced by Ang Paglilitis don’t end in on its form, but also in the processes of limited production, distribution, and consumption of indie films. Independent films, though having revolutionary potential has instead become a form of cultural capital. Tolentino writes;

Ang indie films ay nakalikha ng sarili nitong niche community. Niche pa lang ito dahil Metro Manila phenomenon, sa pangkalahatan, ang indie films. Bagamat mayroong pelikula mula sa rehiyon, mas ang itinatampok pa sa kompetisyon sa Cinemalaya ay ang sentrong nag-aaproba ng proyekto ng rehiyon o mga pelikulang may rehiyonal na flavor na pinondohan at nakakapasa sa panlasa ng sentro.

At dahil ang base ng komunidad—ang tumatangkilik—ay mga kabataang culturati na nakakapagbayad (kung gayon, gitnang uri na tulad din ng kasalukuyang audience ng lokal na sineng ang bayad ay P80 hanggang P140 kada tiket), hindi lamang sentrong phenomenon ang indie films, ito ay gitnang uring culturati na kaganapan.

Kumbaga sa pagsusuring pang-uri, ito ang pambansang burgesyang may interes sa pag-unlad ng lokal na industriya ng sining, kahit pa nga ito pinopondohan ng media na interes ni Tonyboy Conjuangco, ang patron ng Cinemalaya.

At kung ito ang katumbas ng pambansang burgesya, maliit ang bilang ng tumantangkilik ng indie films. Matapos ng apat na taon ng Cinemalaya, mabibilang ang indie films na nakapasok sa komersyal na venue, ang cinema complex sa malls. Tanging CCP, isang sinehan sa Robinson’s Galleria, at Cine Adarna ng University of the Philippines Film Institute ang may regular na programa ng screening ng indie films. (2008)

Indie film makers innovate but they ‘innovate too much’, making films almost inconsumable to a common person. Indie films dominate Gawad Urian of Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino and international film festival circuits but not the mass consciousness. These often younger artists has been so disgusted with the industry’s terrible condition that they seem to want to rush change, and this desire is also the reason they will fail. “The Filipino cinema’s heritage from traditional theater explains its backwardness and its popularity (folk had become pop). Should Filipino films throw tradition out the window? No. For tradition will linger and the enlightened director will still be faced with an audience whose tastes have been mis-educated for centuries by traditional theater and film.” (Tiongson, 1983, pp. 93-94) This is also the same reason why some already ‘canonized’ work by, say Mike de Leon, doesn’t survive well to the new generation of viewers. “Too often has the bakya crowd been blamed for the sad state of Filipino movies. But what can one expect of an audience that has been fed nothing but secret-agent, karate, fantasy, and slapstick movies since time immemorial? The film audience deprived of good, intelligent fare by irresponsible and unscrupulous filmmakers cannot be expected to accept things overnight, no matter what artistic merits a production may have.” (Brocka, 1974, p. 260)

Another major reason is of course never ceasing of proliferation of Hollywood of local cinema. I find it wrong to say Filipinos enjoy anything foreign, the US still has the monopoly on patronage of goods and the culture that comes along with it. “As an enterprise that developed under conditions set by US colonial policy, the Philippine film industry had to compete with the high-powered American film industry based in Hollywood. As early as 1914, Hollywood had the Philippine market all to itself, its products monopolizing the best outlets in Manila. Potentially, films using a language understood by the majority of film-goers ought to have enjoyed wider patronage than American films. However, in view of limited capital, technical skill and equipment, the local industry could turn out only a few films, and the long intervals between one film and the next gave American films, which came in one steady flow from Hollywood, the advantage of greater visibility. More important, the greater technical polish and the international reputation of American films could not but show up the faults and limitations of local cinema.” (Lumbera, 1981, p. 178)

Towards Filipino Cinema

Throughout my reading of El Presidente and Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio it was revealed that the postcolonial condition is not only found in the form of the two movies but also in the process of their production, distribution and consumption by the Filipino audience. Cinema, in its present state in the country, is still ill-equipped to tackle and contribute to the nation’s historical discourse. Instead of actually contributing to the creation of the Filipino ‘imagined community’, the said films wittingly or unwittingly provoke more antagonisms among several groups. The black-and-white mind frame in these reenactments could be linked to present state of politics where personalities (and families) overshadow issues. The time when people see themselves as participants in the process of history is yet to come.

The postmodern era is a visual era and this fact gives cinema more ideological potential than ever. I greatly admire the efforts of the new generation of film makers in the arena of independent or alternative cinema. However, “the film-maker’s task is to develop their [audience’s] taste further, in a conscious and patient fashion, in order slowly to wean them away from the false artistic and social values fostered by kiss-kiss, bang-bang, zoom-zoom, boo-hoo, song-and-dance flickers. One could work at first with the same commercial medium, but do it a little better, with more restraint, intelligence, characterization, and motivation, so as not to insult the educated or alienate the bakya crowd” (Brocka, 1974)

Postmodernists would also assert that nationalism is withering away, but I think nationalism is needed more than ever, especially in a ‘developing’ country like the Philippines where it seems the only path to progress is accommodating foreign capital and investments (and culture). The discourse on nationalism is in dire need to be link to the discourses of women, queer, indigenous, regional, and even ecology. A good first step in this grand task is dismantling the backward colonial influences in cinema. “Cinema has no influence or impact upon the consciousness of its mass audiences. It is less effective than the newspaper which has relatively fewer patrons and, certainly, less influential than the drama or literature. The reason for this is that, on the whole, it has nothing to say about the urgent issues that confronts us. It is an entirely passive vehicle unable to interfere with the lives of the masses that keep flocking to cinema houses. Its popularity derives either from the present interests of the patrons or their need to escape from themselves.” (Bn. Daroy, 1976, p. 108) The narrative of the nation should be told by Filipino themselves for the interests of Filipinos. The path toward a genuine Filipino cinema is also the path to a cinema of liberation. It is not hard to imagine the nation being moved a movie created by committed film makers the same way the nation was once moved by Rizal’s novels.

Sources:

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Tiongson, Nicanor G. From Stage to Screen: Philippine Dramatic Traditions and the Filipino Film. In Readings in Philippine Cinema (edited by Rafael Ma. Guerrero), Quezon City: Experimental Cinema o the Philippines, 1983

__________________ Philippine Theatre: History and Anthology Volume III Sinakulo, Quezon City: UP Press, 1999

__________________What is Philippine Drama? In Filipiniana Reader (edited by Priscelina Patajo-Legasto), Quezon City: UP Open University, 1998

Tolentino, Rolando B. “Inangbayan” in Lino Brocka’s Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1985) and Orapronobis (1989). In National/Transnational: Subject Formation and Media In and On the Philippines, Quezon City: ADMU Press, 2001

__________________. (August 2, 2008) Indie Cinema bilang Kultural na kapital, Bulalat.com, Retrieved from (http://bulatlat.com/main/2008/08/02/indie-cinema-bilang-kultural-na-kapital/)

Vergara, Jr., Benito M. Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th Century Philippines, Quezon City: UP Press, 1995

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