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FIELDNOTES: Filming Histories

NOW, I can reveal it: I just came from being a jury for an interesting competition on Documentary filmmaking co-sponsored by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). Called “SineSaysay,” the competition was open to new as in amateur and old, as in professional, filmmakers. The judging was done blindly: we read the proposals that were already cleared of any identifying remarks or names. We jurors also remained unidentified until the press conference on May 7, 2018, when the names of the finalists were read. The jury is composed of Teddy Co, archivist and Chairman of the Executive Committee on Cinema of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts; Clodualdo “Doy” Del Mundo, renowned writer and filmmaker; Dr. Rene Escalante, Chair of the National Historical Commission and a Bikolano from Sorsogon; and this writer. There are so many things going for the competition. First, the announcing of those who qualified does not end there; a film laboratory follows. What this means is that the new filmmakers will be given a grant of P100.00 each so that they could develop into a short film what they proposed to do. While they are doing this, the filmmakers will be asked to attend several film camps in different locations where they will undergo mentoring by the more established documentarians. Under the Professional category, the more established documentarians will have their Master Classes under international experts. At the end of the film camp, the “Bagong Sibol” filmmakers will go through a selection process again. Two will be chosen and they are expected to make a full-length documentary, with a grant of P700.00. From the Professional group, four will be chosen and given a million-peso co-production grant to complete their documentaries. Another interesting facet of the competition is the requirement that each participant must consult and present the name of the historian whose services and expertise they have used and will use in the course of their film development. At the outset, we, in the Jury, were oriented by NHCP that the competition aims to look into the unheralded heroes and heroines in our country’s narrative as a nation. But what is history? For those of my generation and especially those belonging to the older generations, there was only one massive, monolithic history. This was the history that focused on the so-called “national heroes.” This history narrowed its lens – and we were never told about this myopia – and trained them only on the grand events: The Execution of Gomburza and Rizal; the tearing of the cedula and the “Cry of Balintawak” (suffice it to say that even as I write this, there is no single stand as to where indeed was the first “Sigaw ng Himagsikan”); the Malolos Convention; the Death March and many others. As it was, we got this sense that heroism and the Revolution were taking place only in the more central place of Katalugan. Succeeding historians corrected this approach. Presently, we have now what are known to be local historians producing local histories. The peripheral and the marginal are celebrated. There is a term that is quite popular now for students of history: the interstitial, which could refer to events that were so small and undistinguished when placed against the usually larger-than-life storytelling of the lives of the major heroes. The SineSaysay is keen to correct this state of affairs, as it identifies ideas for documentaries that will convey those records that have not been placed in big national history books. It was a joy sifting through the entries to SineSaysay. There is one film called “Looter”, which is about a young Filipina woman who worked in the underground during the Second World War. If we are to recall, there is one film called “The Great Raid.” It was made in 2005 and dramatized the rescue of Prisoners of War (POW) in Cabanatuan. The film, which starred major Hollywood actors like James Franco and Joseph Fiennes, was celebrated for its “truth.” Connie Nielsen plays the role of Margaret Utinsky, an American nurse who, instead of escaping to the U.S. when she was forced to board an American vessel, went back to her apartment in Manila and formed a spy ring. In her story, she assumed the disguise of a Lithuanian national, and helped the Resistance. She was caught by the Japanese, tortured, but eventually released. She continued to stay in Manila because she was searching for her husband, Jack Utinsky, who was one of those kept in the camp in Cabanatuan. In the book of “The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines” by A. V. Hartendorp, a different kind of story is told. Utinsky is there but there is another person, a hairdresser named Naomi Flores, with the code name “Looter.” Flores was the main character in the Resistance. After the war, Utinsky returned to the U.S. and was awarded the “Medal of Freedom” in 1946. Flores said she sent through Utinsky papers and records about the Resistance movement in the Philippines during the war. Nothing was heard from then on from anyone in the States about Looter’s role in the Anti-Japanese movement. “Looter” will be an attempt to resurrect the heroism of this Filipina. Another entry is about the 19 Martyrs in Aklan. Before I learned about these martyrs – heroes who fought the Spanish in that anomalous war that ended with Filipinos fighting the Americans – I always prided in announcing that, while Cavite has “Trece,” we have “Quince Martires.” Now, we have the “Diecinueve Martires!” But as with our fifteen, the tale from Aklan is about from people who question the heroism of the nineteen and forget about them. A dying man confesses to his son that he was part of the purging done by some sections of the New People’s Army against their very own. The old man is in Europe and he will tell the story before he passes on. This was another finalist. I can almost see the reactions of the sympathizers of the movement and the families of the victims of the purging once this documentary is completed and screened. Of interest to us, Bikolanos, is a proposed documentary called “Patay na Riles,” which is about the train that used to exist in our country. Originally, the filmmakers wanted to look into the train that went up North and the one that went down South. We prevailed upon them to focus on the south, on the Bikol Express. Why am I telling you all this? It is because there is no entry from Bikol, no filmmaker to tell the world – or at least the nation – about the many things in our histories that, when written, shall be part of the entirely varying fabric of the histories of the nation. Now, that is sad. Once more, we will allow the outside to chant the music of our past.

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