In filmmaking, passion is not enough
I don’t consider myself a movie critic. I am just an ordinary moviegoer who can easily spot a good film from the terrible ones. It’s not rocket science.
I am an avid fan of indie films, too. One of the first indie movies I saw as a newbie writer was 127 Hours (2010) starring James Franco and the most recent was Her Love Boils Bathwater (2016) by Japanese director Ryota Nakano. But I would have to be honest; I rarely watch local indie films.
Since I started covering the Cinemalaya Film Festival in 2008, I have been writing about the film event and the films it features based on how the actors and directors describe their work. I haven’t seen any of the entries screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines including in its satellite venues until last Sunday.
Nine o’clock was the schedule for the last full show at the Main Theater. The venue was packed. It was the gala night for Perry Escaño’s full-length directorial debut, Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa.
The title instantly caught my attention, although I was keeping my expectation low, I was thinking of watching a character similar to the one Kate Winslet portrayed in The Reader.
Before the film was shown, Escaño told the crowd that he’s proud of the team that worked behind and in front of the camera because if not for their dedication, he wouldn’t be able to finish shooting the film in just six days. I didn’t know if it was a good thing but hearing how short it took him to finish the film made me think twice. But I still gave it a go.
Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa is one of the full length features in competition in this year’s Cinemalaya. It is a passion project according to its director who happens to be its writer, too. He even did years of research to come up with a story unheard by a segment of the general public that has never experienced living in the quagmire where young children choose to fire riffles instead of learning how to read and write.
Inspired by true events, the film is an inspirational action drama set in a far-flung area in Mindanao. It is a historical true story mixed with fiction where farmers and their struggles serve as the device to justify the film’s resolve.
The 90-minute film centers on the life of an illiterate farmer named Aaquil (Alfred Vargas) who is forced to be a teacher since no one dares to teach the children in their small barrio because of the conflict between the military and the rebels. With the help from two of his students, who are able to reach second grade and whom he confessed his secret of not knowing how to read and write, Aaquil becomes an educator in their small community.
One day, Aaquil heads to the city to buy medicine for their barangay captain and fails to return. Feeling hopeless and confused, his pupils decide to commit themselves to a rebel organization believing it will ease their situation at hand.
They mercilessly shoot at their enemies including their town mayor and some military men whom they accuse of being the reason for their failure to pursue their dreams. But given the incidents leading to this turning point, it is just hard to understand how these children, who are depicted to have high emotional quotient, became heartless killers. I also wonder what happened to the adults in their village who seem to have suddenly disappeared after Aaquil’s no show (he died in the hands of the military, by the way).
You see, it’s a well-intentioned film. Obviously, Escaño has dedicated a portion of his life just to put this story together. But how the film was executed is an entirely different story. While its advocacy is clear, the director failed to make it palatable even to an ordinary moviegoer.
Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa is too ambitious of a film and yet it’s confined in its modest budget, which prevented it from using a better camera and decent special effects. It touches a very sensitive topic but the direction and storytelling couldn’t support the requirement of a conflict drama. Then you have the kind of acting that’s too theatrical as if the actors are performing in a stage play.
It would have been better if I decided not to watch the film because it left a bad taste in my mouth. Not a good experience for my first Cinemalaya film. It just reminded me that passion in filmmaking is not enough; you also need some good amount of talent, vision, and creativity, which I obviously didn’t see in Escaño’s work. Or maybe, the film requires a real movie critic to see those.