by Rose Churma
KATIPS—Ang Mga Bagong Katipunerowasoriginally a musical drama for theatrical stage but was converted into film, with its initial release in November 2021.
In 2016 when it was first staged in Metro Manila after Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency, it won the Aliw Awards, a pioneering award for theater, opera, dance and instrumental productions, winning the best actor award for Vince Tañada, also its writer and director.
After its wider release in August of this year, it earned 17 nominations at the 70th Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Awards and took home seven trophies, including top prizes for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Tañada.
Vincent Tañada, a young lawyer who pursued theater as his passion, has insisted that he is against historical revisionism and has consulted with historians to ensure that the narrative is accurate.
In a Positively Filipino article, he is quoted as saying: “I did this to make sure that the film remains neutral in its political stand and continues as a statement of facts about the realities of the ‘70s until the latter ‘80s through the eyes of fictional students who might have been real people sporting different names.”
Thus, one of the projects of the newly formed Hawai’i Filipinos for Truth Justice and Democracy (HFTJD) was to host the movie’s Hawai’i premiere last November 20, in line with its stance against historical revisionism and untruth in social media.
The group wanted to make the film fairly accessible, particularly to young people, thus its choice of venue was at the Farrington High School Auditorium, and sought sponsorships to defray admission costs for local students, including providing transport for students who lived miles from the venue.
I watched the movie with four high school students from ages 14 to 17 years old, bribed with dinner at Zippy’s afterwards (with the goal of getting their assessment of the movie in the form of a group discussion).
Of the four, the 17-year-old was somewhat familiar with Philippine history. When he was in elementary school, he had a project where his classmates were asked to interview their kupunas.
“Where did you grow up, Grandma? What was it like to be a teenager in the Philippines in the ‘70s?” he’d ask.
I still kept the written report that was required by their teacher. It must have made some impact because when COVID hit and we were all forced to quarantine, he expressed interest in Philippine history by watching historical movies such as Heneral Luna and Goyo: The Boy General—the only two available at Netflix back then.
KATIPS, the movie’s title came from the shortened version of “katipunero,” members of the revolutionary group that fought for Philippine independence from Spain and eventually the United States.
The older one understood what “bagong katipunero” meant and the context of Martial Law, but the three younger ones were clueless and very quickly lost interest in the movie.
The fact that most of the dialogue is in Tagalog, and the English subtitles were too small to be seen when viewed from the seats of a large auditorium added to the challenge of keeping their interest.
Its length (at 2 hours and 22 minutes) is also problematic: tightening the screening time to less than two hours will probably hold the young people’s interest better.
One of the students described the jarring effects of watching a song and dance episode–to be followed by violent torture scenes.
Even for adults, the torture scenes were difficult to watch, but its inclusion is understandable considering that these incidents happened and defined those times.
For educators and parents, this is a dilemma. Should we shield the young from these scenes or allow them to watch in the name of truth?
In hindsight, I should have briefed the three younger boys on Philippine history first, with special emphasis on the 70s and 80s, and Hawai’i’s role in hosting the dictator’s exile.
I feel that the Hawai’i link is important to point out, especially for the kids who have a very limited knowledge of the Philippines, much less its history. That link may be the one that would spark their interest to want to know more.
Film is a wonderful art form to preserve history and to counter untruths, which this film has bravely done. But film and other art forms are also a potent tools for those who want to revise history, evident in the release of films (and future plans to produce more of these) that depict a false narrative.
It is clear that in the collective struggle to fight disinformation, fake news and propaganda in the guise of art, young people’s knowledge of “true” history is crucial. Without that baseline, the struggle evolves into an uphill battle.
The film is still being screened in select theaters in the Philippines and recently had its premiere in various cities in Europe, the Middle East, New Zealand, Asia and the Continental USA. It has a scheduled showing in Canada and Hong Kong until the end of the year.
Let’s hope that the film will be available via streaming outfits in the future.
ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Rose Churma