The wealth of talent our country has is rather unquestionable. But even with the international recognition of some of our independently produced films—Filipino directors Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz were awarded at international film festivals like the Cannes Film Festival, Venice International Film Festival and Locarno International Film Festival in previous years—independent or "indie" films remain to be niche and almost often face the difficulty of garnering sales that match that of mainstream Filipino movies.
But then, Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna”, a historical epic film that focuses on the life of Gen. Antonio Luna during the Filipino-American War came and somehow, somewhere, something changed.
Admit it, while there were probably high hopes early on for the film, there were also doubts if it can reach its maximum potential. Given that it has such a beautiful cinematography, talks about history, and add to that a brilliant cast, nobody knew it would earn as much as it does now (reports said the film has reached a 200-million peso mark and was even chosen to officially represent the Philippines to the Oscar's).
So what exactly transpired? Here are some key points I have learned from the film after watching it and hearing it as a trending topic with my peers and through social media:
Word of mouth and social media significantly helped create buzz for the film. Though it is considered to be one of the most expensive independent films in the Philippines, “Heneral Luna” went on a different approach in terms of promotion. Through banking on its tagline “Bayan o Sarili”, the movie created buzz not just through friends of the cast and production crew, but also in social media, giving birth to quotable quotes, memes, and intellectual discussions about the Philippine-American War.
With “Heneral Luna” being a trending topic on social media, more people got to know about the film, which in effect led to them watching the film and telling their peers as well to catch it in cinemas after enjoying and appreciating the film.
It tackled a topic that is not thoroughly discussed in schools. When it comes to Philippine history, what are often taught in schools are 1) The Spanish occupation, and 2) The Japanese occupation during World War II. Though the American occupation is discussed in school, it is not discussed in detail as compared to both the Spanish and Japanese occupation.
“Heneral Luna” focuses on the Philippine-American War, one of the topics that are not thoroughly discussed in class, and this film will entice history buff and educate regular movie watchers in knowing more about the Philippines’ history, particularly about Luna’s life as a fierce military tactician.
In addition to focusing on Luna himself, “Heneral Luna” also showed how other key characters, including Prime Minister Apolinario Mabini and President Emilio Aguinaldo, played their respective roles during the Filipino-American War, where there remains a debate up to now on whether Aguinaldo was responsible for Luna’s assassination.
Political and social issues then are still relatable to every Filipino now. More than being talked about in social media, “Heneral Luna” tackled social and political issues so good, you would realize that after watching the movie, the problems presented during the Filipino-American war still resonates even up to now.
In fact, “Heneral Luna” is an eye opener to its viewers in understanding our country better and on how we can make the Philippines a better place. After all, there is nothing impossible in uniting Filipinos even if it is a David and Goliath situation.
"Heneral Luna" may have had a slow first week. In fact, it was almost pulled out of the theaters, perhaps for not raking in enough viewers. But those reasons are why we can liken it to our country. We may feel as though we are not making progress at all, when slow progress is still progress.
At the end of the day, and at the end of the movie's run, hopefully we all would have realized by then that while the movie blurs the line between indie and mainstream, it most definitely sets a hard and striking line no one could deny. In Heneral Luna's words, it's the line between "bayan o sarili" (nation or self).
We recommend that as a Filipino, you choose wisely.