Why make a movie about the Philippine-American war?
During a press conference for the film Amigo, director John Sayles recalled that he came across the subject matter while researching for a novel on the Cuban-American relationship years ago.
"I kept on reading about the Philippine insurrection or the Philippine-
American war. I thought, why don’t I know I anything about this war,
was I sick when this was discussed in class?"
Even the Filipino-Americans and Filipinos he asked about this particular period during the 1900s could not give him a definitive answer.
"That got me suspicious first but then interested. How come this is
John says that in the United States, when Americans win a war, it gets
celebrated and even made into movies again and again.
"What was it about this particular war that the Americans weren’t
proud of to the point that it’s been buried or erased from history?"
John found himself asking. The filmmaker, who is considered to be one of the moving forces of American independent cinema, then decided to create a historical drama which he describes as "a page torn from the forgotten history of imperialism and a mirror of today’s unresolvable conflicts."
Shot entirely in Bohol, Amigo is set during the decline of the Spanish colonization, the entry of the Americans into the Philippines and the Katipunan uprising.
John clarifies that the reason he wants Filipino viewers to
remember this forgotten war. "We are asked to do things because of interests, because we care about our country and I think it’s important to be as honest therefore about what that country is. The last fifty years Filipino historians have gone back to understanding what the Filipino is, aside from America...the history between the two has been a long and
complicated one. The most important thing that was lost is that there
was a Philippine Republic. The Philippines has so many islands, so
many languages and during that time, the Philippine identity was
already becoming cohesive and when the Americans showed up, it kept
things back for another 40 years. On the other hand, that resistance
also helped form the Philippine identity."
The choice to title the movie Amigo is an interesting one. It’s about
the Philippine-American war yet the term is Spanish. John says the title Baryo was also considered, but that ultimately Amigo won out. It was the
term Americans ended up calling the Filipinos. It’s one of the few
Spanish nouns that all Americans know and it’s also the term Filipinos
used when surrendering to the Americans. It became one of the ways the
two cultures communicated, a word that belongs to neither of them but
one that they used to have some kind of overlap.
ON WORKING WITH AMERICAN ACTORS. Costing about $1.6 million (equivalent to P72 million) to make, this movie is relatively low-budget for U.S. standards but already quite expensive for a Philippine movie.
Joel Torre says that John never once raised his voice at them in all the weeks of filming and that the experience was a very cohesive one. Bembol Roco says that the experience was memorable as John was able to create a great story based on an overlooked part of our nation’s history.
Aside from Joel and Bembol, Amigo also stars Ronnie Lazaro and Rio Locsin.
Garret Dillahunt of No Country for Old Men fame is cast as Lt. Compton, Yul Vasquez (of A-Team, Little Fockers, American Gangster, War of the Worlds) and Chris Cooper (who won an Oscar and Golden Globe award for Adaptation).
Bohol was picked as the only shoot location as it provided the team
with the peace and quiet that they needed. John also says that they got to shoot the movie in just six weeks, usually unheard of in Philippine film productions. Also, the space they needed to recreate the 1900s set barrio was available in Bohol along with extensive rice fields where rice was
plowed by carabaos and harvested by hand.
The movie will be able to impart several lessons for viewers. Americans, John says, will think and reflect on how they do things, especially when it comes to ’liberating’ a country and what goes with that. Filipinos, on the other hand, will rediscover a history that got buried, primarily because the
history was rendered by the Americans. They will also remember that before a Philippine republic was established, Filipinos fought against
the Spaniards and Americans.
Joel says that Filipinos will be surprised to learn that such a war
existed and that this is a good time to let the people know. Joel even pointed out that even though John is an American, he has Pinoy sensibilities, a fact that is manifested in the way that he directed the epic movie.
Bembol says that the movie is also a good chance for the viewers to
see how Filipinos actors performed alongside American actors.
When the movie was previewed in various schools and venues around
the country, producer Maggie Renzi recalls that they received a wide range of responses already. Some of the comments include: ’it’s seeing history come to life,’ to shocked reactions, like, ’you mean the U.S. wasn’t our savior?’
Maggie says the movie will also open in the United States on August 19
in cities with large Fil-Am populations and she’s excited to see if
they will view the movie with the same reaction as Filipinos and how
non Fil-Am viewers will react to the movie as well.
For Americans, John says it’s a chance to see a good movie about the
Philippines, portraying Filipinos in a much better light as opposed to seeing them as just house helpers. He also believes the movie will enable viewers to see much more into the Filipino psyche.
The movie is able to present different perspectives as John allows different characters in the movie to have their own time to shine.
The Americans in the cast play characters, soldiers mostly, that in
themselves are conflicted as to the reason why they are actually in
From John’s research, which included diaries of soldiers who were
part of this war, it became clear that the young Americans fighting
here thought that at first they had come to the Philippines with the
same intention as the soldiers sent to Cuba: to kick the Spaniards out
and liberate the people. The American occupation ended up becoming so
much more complex than that.
John says that if people walk into this movie with a prepared negative
reaction, that’s how they will feel walking out of it. He explains,
"if you come in with an open mind, maybe you’ll like it and find
something interesting about it."
Producer Maggie hopes that the movie’s intended market, the Philippine
cinema audience and the 4 million Fil-Ams in the United States, will enjoy the movie as much as those who were already privileged to see it.
Amigo, John says, though based in history, employs a storyline that
can reverberate in any place that has experienced being occupied; with
soldiers fighting, not always understanding what they are fighting for
and an occupied people struggling to maintain normalcy and identity
amidst the war.
John says that Joel Torre’s character, a barrio captain, reflects the situation faced by hundreds of barrio captains then who either died or lived on, having the invaders actually inhabit their homes with them. This
struggle for independence is seen over and over again and during the
Philippine-American war, the Philippine Republic was simply stalled.
This movie has characters who are heroic one day and filled with
cowardice the next. This makes them real people facing situations that
are much more complex.
John hopes that schools can use Amigo as a start-off point in their
discussions, discovering the role each region played during that time
and what was going on with the people in their local areas as this was
John says he really knew from the start that he wanted Joel Torre and Bembol Roco in Amigo, Ronnie Lazaro was cast next. He had his English script translated into the Tagalog spoken in the 1900s by Jose "Pete"
Lacaba, who is currently the executive editor of YES! Magazine. Since John doesn’t speak Tagalog, he says, "I only wanted them to send me the top three for each role and I was impressed by the caliber of acting. I was judging them solely on emotion and if I believe the character as I had envisioned it in the script."
John admits that another requirement for extras was that everyone had
to be skinny, "as this was a time when everybody was starving," and
bigger-girthed extras didn’t make the cut.
SYNOPSIS. The film begins with American soldiers invading a small barrio called San Isidro. Rafael (played by Joel Torre), the barrio’s cabeza (head) is particularly torn. His son and brother are with the rebels. The whole barrio looks up to him to keep them safe. Rafael knows he must keep up the appearances of civility and cooperation. He proclaims himself an amigo (friend) of the Americans. Eventually, Rafael wins the trust of troop leader Lt. Compton. In fact, in spite of the language barrier and their conflicting interests, Rafael and the Lt. have the same purpose: they are both pacifists at heart.
However, friendship has no place in a war. So when the American occupation policy gets tougher, Rafael finds it more difficult to keep the peace.
Amigo is currently being screened in Glorietta 4, Trinoma, SM North, SM Megamall, SM Manila, SM Mall of Asia, SM Bacoor, Robinsons Ermita, Robinsons Galleria, Gateway Mall as well as SM Cebu and SM Davao.