RP version of history

By Marinel Cruz Blogs

MANILA, Philippines - My wish is for this movie to be shown in Spain," said Mark Meily, director of "Baler," which chronicles the clash in 1898 between Filipino forces and a 57-man Rifle Battalion of the Spanish military.

In fact, Meily is hoping for a global audience for his latest film.

"It has a universal theme. It could be of interest to a lot of people all over the world. It already has English subtitles," the director told Inquirer Entertainment in a recent interview. "I want to show our version of history. [The world should know that] we're heroes, not barbarians."

"Baler," Viva Films' entry to the 2008 Metro Manila Film Festival and graded "A" by the Cinema Evaluation Board, is endorsed by the Department of Education and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. It stars Jericho Rosales, Anne Curtis, Phillip Salvador, Joel Torre, Rio Locsin, among others.

How did you chance upon the project?

I first went to Baler in 1989 to do a documentary for the Department of Tourism. I read about what happened in Baler Church and said magandang gawaan ng film. A few years later, I learned that a film about it was made in Spain, in 1944. It was called "Los Ultimos de Filipinas (The Last of the Philippines)." I had the desire to do something similar to it. Last year, Vincent del Rosario invited me to the Viva office and asked me to pitch a project. I found out that they were interested in doing something about Baler, too. I said, "Vincent, you have to make me direct it." I also met with Sen. Edgardo Angara (who is a co-producer) and told him about how fascinated I was about the history of Baler.

The film cost about P90 to P100 million. Where did most of the budget go?

One of the major expenses was the production design. We had to rebuild a church-its exterior and interior. We thought of shooting scenes in a real church, pero walang pumayag na pasabugin ko ang simbahan nila.

We had to make uniforms for about 200 to 300 soldiers. We couldn't cheat. We copied everything, down to the buttons used on the uniforms during that time. Plus, of course, the talent fees of the stars were a factor.

There was also the fact that we shot the movie using 35mm film and did the post-production all in digital format. Kung ano ang process sa Hollywood, 'yun ang ginawa namin.

How many sets were there? How much of the film was shot in Baler?

One-fourth was shot in Baler. We had sets in Tanay where we did scenes showing the exterior of the church; in Antipolo for the interior shots; in Batangas for the forest scenes; and in Bulacan, where we used old houses. In Baler, we shot all the panoramic shots, the love scene and fiesta scenes.

Why was the love scene the most difficult to shoot?

We had to set it against a romantic background-with big waves and the sunset. We had very limited time to shoot it. Bumabagyo pa naman. We had to improvise to finish it.

"Crying Ladies" (2003), your last festival movie, won a lot of awards. Do you feel pressured to top it?

It's not pressure that I'm feeling. In five years, I've learned that it's the audience who would say if my work deserves box-office success. For awards, you depend on the taste of the jury. If this movie wins, that's great. If it doesn't, I'll understand. There were instances in the past that films I thought didn't deserve to win got awards. This is a festival organized by mayors. I give it to them. On the other hand, among the other entries, this is a serious festival film.

Does this mean it has a bigger chance at winning awards?

Yes, you can say that. But even if it doesn't win, I know that in my heart that it's a good festival film - nababagay sa panahon.

Are you aware of the comments of people who watched the trailer?

They have two observations: Why is the Filipino heroine mestiza - looking while the Spanish soldier looks more Pinoy? Why are the Filipinos in the film clean and well-dressed in a time of war?

Remember that the underdogs in the story aren't the Filipinos, but the Spaniards. Kaya sila Jericho ang marungis in the end. The Filipinos are the victors. Sila ang mayaman sa story.

About Anne's character being mestiza-looking, you have to realize that during the time of the Philippine revolution, the Filipinos were not fighting against racial discrimination. They fought for self - governance. There were a lot of Filipinos at that time who were Spanish-looking and yet they fought for the Philippines.

Bernard Palanca's character Zias, for example, was from Puerto Rico but fought for the Spaniards. The soldiers came from different countries that were colonized by Spain. Jericho is half-Spanish and half-Filipino. There were also Filipinos fighting for the Spanish flag, like the characters of Jao Mapa and Mark Bautista.

You know so much about Baler. Did you help Roy Iglesias in writing the script?

Yes. Actually, we had to rewrite several scenes while on the set because we were pressed for time. Roy knew about this.

You mentioned that some of the characters were based on real people. How did you find them?

Ryan Eigenmann's character, Saturino Martin Cerezo, wrote a book called "Under the Red and Gold." It's the story of Baler. The book was one of the required readings at West Point Military Academy. It talked about how the soldiers survived the more than a year of battle in Baler.

Allen Dizon's character is based on the story of Lt. Col. Simon Tecson of San Miguel, Bulacan. He was one of the major personalities who facilitated the surrender of the Spanish soldiers. We even saw the surrender papers. One of the researchers found the ancestral home of the Tecsons in Bulacan. We got to talk to one of his grandchildren. It was funny, he showed us pictures of his lolo who looked a lot like Allen Dizon.