Heneral Luna director: It’s not a history lesson. It’s a reflection of who we are today
by Krysten Mariann Boado
A new hero has begun to rise in the Filipino silver screen.
But unlike the heroes we are familiar with and the heroes Filipinos have grown fond of, this hero is not the typical cape-wearing, superpower-wielding character from a fantastical universe.
Instead, he comes from the pages of reality, brought to life from the underrated corners of history to showcase the cycle of betrayal that remains persistent in Philippine society.
He is 149 years old, 116 years dead – assassinated.
Heneral Antonio Luna, much to the genius of filmmaker Jerrold Tarog, has now become an icon of nationalism for today’s generation. He has become a symbol for the Filipino who must constantly battle his self-interest, his primary enemy in serving the nation.
“Hindi siya history lesson. It’s a reflection of kung ano tayo ngayon (It’s not a history lesson. It’s a reflection of who we are today),” Tarog said. “Kung ano yung sakit nila [Filipinos] noon, sakit pa ‘rin natin ngayon (Their [Filipinos’] illness then is the same as what we have today ).”
Heneral Luna, released September on 9, is a historical biopic of the life of Gen. Antonio Luna during the Philippine-American War. The movie centers on Luna’s disciplined and effective leadership of the Philippine Revolutionary Army and the truth behind his brutal demise.
A special screening of the movie was held on Thursday, October 22 at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
The event, which brought about 1,500 viewers on and off the campus, was organized by the University Student Council to raise funds for victims of the recent typhoon Lando and for the construction of the marker for the Sunken Garden, which is officially known as the General Antonio Luna Parade Grounds.
The screening also gave the audience the chance to ask questions to Tarog and other members of the cast during the open forum after the film. It also gave them the opportunity to express their gratitude, through humble tokens and complements, upon the creation of the now critically-acclaimed film.
With the movie’s sudden jolt to fame – after being pulled out of 60 theaters due to low audience turnout and a measly P15 million opening week haul – and its rather unexpected audience reach, Tarog’s biopic has become “the highest-grossing historical film of all time,” according to its producers, crossing its P200 million breakeven point after its fourth week in more than a hundred theaters nationwide.
Besides raking in the sufficient amount to green-light the production of the next installment of what is to become a hero trilogy, Luna’s story has produced a throng of Filipiniana-clad fans who call themselves “Lunatics,” derived from the general’s surname.
“The film showed the side of the heroes that are not usually described, and that is something I appreciate,” said Minette Tortal, a psychology student from San Beda and a self-confessed Lunatic.
“While I may not be a history buff or a nationalist, the film ignited in me something which was almost extinguished: my hope for the Filipino people,” she added.
The movie has also spread noteworthy Internet memes, humorous graphics featuring the temperamental general, as well as artworks and fan fictions, which offer alternate and sidetracked stories from the movie’s narrative, creating a craze that uncommonly stems from historical-themed films.
“Hindi masyadong aware ang audience sa history, kaya yun yung challenge, paano ka gagawa ng historical film na exciting (The audience is not very aware of history, so the challenge was how to create a historical film that is exciting),” Tarog said.
“We had everything going against us. The fact na independent siya. The fact na historical siya, ‘di kumikita iyan, lahat yun, yun yung challenge lalo na sa marketing, (We had everything going against us – the fact that it’s independent and historical—which does not sell—were all challenges especially to marketing),” he added.
Surprisingly, the movie has triumphed over these challenges, and has also been chosen as the Philippines’ official entry to the prestigious Academy Awards, more popularly known as the Oscars, in its foreign film category.
But neither the potential awards nor the precious ticket to the Oscars seem to daze or overwhelm the director.
For Tarog, relaying his message to a broad Filipino audience was his mission, and with the success of Heneral Luna, he knew his mission was already accomplished.
Heneral Luna is but the first part of Tarog’s planned trilogy, which features historical icons he deemed as anti-heroes.
The trilogy, which takes off after the concept of Marvel’s interconnected superhero universe, is set to continue with the story of the young general Gregorio del Pilar who is famous for being an Emilio Aguinaldo loyalist.
Paulo Avelino, who had already appeared as del Pilar in Heneral Luna, will reprise his role in part two of Tarog’s historical installment.
“I’m doing the next film because I know I can contribute something not just for my country but for the younger people to know more about their history,” he said.
With Tarog’s trilogy set on course due to the wide reception of Heneral Luna, the challenge in educating Filipinos through art forms such as film remains to be addressed.
But for now, heroes like Luna will keep emerging from the big screen to save us once again, not only from the self-interest that hinders us to serve the Filipino people but also from the deadly clutches of miseducation.