Sunday, December 18, 2011


From the website, a letter describing the situation and what is being demanded. If you agree--if you believe in artistic freedom, and the right of the director to be final arbitrator as to the status of his work--then please sign the petition.
We want Tikoy Aguiluz's Asiong Salonga!


This concerns the upcoming film Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story, starring Jorge 'E.R.' Ejercito, directed by Tikoy Aguiluz. Months before it had been announced that Aguiluz was to direct this film, which would be produced by and star the aforementioned actor.

The news was greeted with excitement. It would have been the first Aguiluz movie in eight years, and was seen not just as the first major work of a major Filipino talent, but a return of the action film genre, and of the historical period film to mainstream Philippine cinema. It was to be entered in the Metro Manila Film Festival, and even that was seen as a return to the MMFF of years past, where prestigious films were not only screened but also competed in the festival.

Then on December 14 this article co-written by Bayani San Diego, Jr. and Marinel Cruz appeared:

The trouble with Asiong

The article outlined what was in effect a request by Mr. Aguiluz to have his name removed from the film's credits, his reason being that additional scenes were added without his consent, and that the final edit and music mix were not his. The film in its final form, he believes, is not his film.

These are serious accusations. There appears to have been a breakdown of communications between director and producer, to the extent that the producer has withdrawn control of the film from the director, and has altered the film substantially in ways that the director has not approved of.

The film in effect has been changed in ways that the producer has seen fit; without the director's consent, however, we have to assume that the producer has changed the film to make it more commercially viable, or--being the lead actor as well--to make his role more substantial, his character more appealing. We also have to assume that, without the director's consent, these changes were not applied to improve the film's artistry, or its cinematic values.

We have to assume this because historically speaking, a producer's interference in a film has often resulted in less than happy results. Erich Von Stroheim's Greed (1924) was cut to about a fourth of its running time, and consensus opinion was that this was a great loss; Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) lost its original ending, which was considerably shortened and re-cut, and most film historians believe that the altered ending is far weaker than the original.

This applies as well to Filipino film history. Pressure was put on Lino Brocka to change the ending of his masterpiece Insiang (1976), to better conform to censorship laws, and to conform to former First Lady Imelda Marcos' adage that films must reflect “the true, the good, the beautiful” (Brocka was said to have changed the ending, but in a way that he believed would remain faithful to the film's themes). Bernal was pressured to change the name of his masterpiece Manila by Night to City After Dark; his ending too was altered to make the film more palatable to Filipino censors.

Mario O'Hara seems to be the patron saint of interfered-with filmmakers. He was fired from the production of Mga Bilanggong Birhen (The Captive Virgins, 1977); the producer gave the film to another filmmaker, and the result is an incoherent mess. The producer had hardcore pornographic footage inserted into his Bed Sins (1985) without his consent. His Sindak (Fear, 1999) was taken away from him, extra scenes inserted, the final edit changed.

Some might argue that interference from the producer is not quite the same as from the government; both have different interests, of course, not to mention differing stakes. The point is, it's all interference. It's the taking over of a work by people who have not lived with the work day in and day out, for weeks or even months at a time, deciding the final form of something they often only have a few days to look at and familiarize themselves, and the results have almost never come out well. As Erich von Stroheim said of the editor that butchered his film Greed: "The only thing he had on his mind was his hat."

The ultimate loser in all this is the average Filipino viewer. Time and time again he is told that he is stupid, and will not understand more intellectual, or complex forms of storytelling. Time and time again he is told that the violence is too intense, or the sex too explicit, or the film too dark or slow for him to appreciate, or understand, or resist; if he sees it, he might be tempted to kill someone or rape someone else, or kill himself out of despair. What few people seem to realize is that the Filipino viewer is perfectly capable of deciding for himself what he wants and does not want to see.

Aguiluz has asked of his producers that he be allowed to screen his edit of his film to festivals overseas; this is nice for festival viewers overseas, but what about us, the Filipino viewers?

We have had enough. We the Filipino viewers--we the viewers of the world as well--have had enough. We have waited patiently for and have been long excited to see this film of Mr. Aguiluz, Mr. Ejercito and their collaborators. We ask of the producers that they release the film in the form Mr. Aguiluz originally envisioned, and trust in his overall love and passion for filmmaking and for this film that it is already in the best form it will ever be, and any additional alteration would be both wasteful and beside the point.

We believe the Filipino people have long been hungry for a quality mainstream Filipino film, one that tells a well-made, well-written popular story, and we believe Mr. Aguiluz--with the help of Mr. Ejercito and everyone else involved--has done it. It is there, unaltered, already ready to be fed into the projector. We want to see that film, as decided by the artist best qualified to make that decision. We ask that you give us that film.

(Again, if you agree with any of this, or if you believe in the rights of an artist to express himself freely, please sign the petition!)


mvching said...

This is really a sad day for Philippine cinema. I have waited for the Aguiluz original, and saddened that we won't see it.

Noel Vera said...

If you can sign, Mark--we could use your support...