Film ‘spin’: Distorting a nation’s history

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There’s at least one Leni the Marcos camp would have loved: Leni Riefenstahl, the German director known for her innovative filmmaking techniques. Such was best exemplified by the Nazi propaganda film Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will).

Cut to nearly a century later, the Marcoses—who for decades have drawn comparisons to the Führer, Adolf Hitler—find their own “Leni” in the form of a controversial Filipino director.

Darryl Yap, who is promoting his film ‘Maid in Malacañang’, has come under fire several times in for his poor depiction of subject matter like single parents, mental illness, indigenous people, and more.

But none, so far, have topped his latest project, which is a spin on the ouster of the Marcoses from Malacañang.

The said film supposedly tackles the final days of the Marcos family in power leading up to the EDSA People Power Revolution.

Healing ability

Among the many vocal critics of the director and his latest work is award-winning filmmaker Joel Lamangan, who is behind titles such as The Flor Contemplacion Story and Patikul, to name a few.

As multisectoral groups launched the Martial Law’s 50th year campaign, or “ML@50,” Lamangan vowed to make a movie that will counter the factual inaccuracies of Marcos propagandists.

Palanca awardee and Cinemalaya founding member Edward Cabagnot explains that cinema has a role of “healing”. Cabagnot, who teaches film subjects at the University of the Philippines and De La Salle University-College of Saint Benilde, said watching movies like Biyaya ng Lupa and Bicycle Thieves renders moviegoers a feeling they will never be the same.

“The main purpose of art, aside from the artist’s self-expression, is healing or an act of completion on the part of audiences to be completed by the work of art,” Cabagnot said. “The work of art is based on a vision by a certain artist. So, the vision of the artist has a way of healing.”

However, many filmmakers use cinema to deceive. “Unfortunately, since film out of all art forms is the one that is technologically bound, there are many abusers who want to use film primarily to just make money, and more insidious, to turn people to the untruth,” Cabagnot said.

Propaganda’s different faces

The film educator believes that a nationwide release of a pro-Martial Law film today is dangerous: the Marcos family is in power and some people might ultimately believe that the plot is true and justified.

“I think the purpose behind such a film, from what I know, is for this family. They say they want to set the record straight. They want to air their side. But obviously we know that their side is revisionist,” Cabagnot said.

While acknowledging that such films are indeed dangerous, Cabagnot believes there are more people who are discerning and won’t take these works seriously.

Also, any pro-Marcos film today is certainly not the first attempt to make a “historical” picture at such a grand scale, he said. Riefenstahl, for instance, chronicled the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Europe in her films.

“They were amazing cinema. The visual language, the camera framing, writing, etc. were all impeccable. But unfortunately, the subject matter was dealing with something that was very dangerous and, in a way, fed the minds of the German people during that era,” Cabagnot explained.

He goes a step further, calling the “typical big-budget, special effect-laden film” a propaganda of sorts. “Any film that just seeks to entertain you may have a tendency to lull you into the idea that it’s all there is to life,” Cabagnot warned.

He mentioned how the 1965 film Iginuhit ng Tadhana “was clearly an apolitical tool so people would vote for Marcos.” Similarly, Ang Daigdig ng mga Api, was released around that time to produce the same effect for Diosdado Macapagal.

“Especially when it comes to the Philippine situation, Filipinos are so enamored with cinema, which means we are susceptible to being led on,” Cabagnot said.

Counterculture

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were also films that counter these types of cinema. These questioned the status quo, reflected the real experience of the people, and refuted the dominant propaganda of the state.

Cabagnot cited as example Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, which was a notorious commentary on fascism.

“Any film or any art form should always be immersed or based on truth,” Cabagnot said.

He added how film education’s role is increasingly important in today’s context.

Cabagnot said that aside from formal courses in Philippine schools, film festivals are an important source of education on cinema.

“In these independent films, the true ‘Pinoy experience’ really comes out, which can counteract any attempt at trying to subvert this by showing us propaganda films,” Cabagnot concludes.

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