The actor-politicians in the star-studded film “Ang Sugo: The Last Messenger” said they have agreed to work on the film for free, but clarifying that it was not in exchange for votes from members of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) in the coming 2013 elections.
The INC, which is producing “Sugo,” is known as a powerful voting bloc in Philippine elections whose members comprise 2 percent of the total voting population.
“While I do hope to get the INC’s support, what made me agree to work pro bono was the film’s content,” said Richard Gomez, who is running for mayor of Ormoc City in Leyte province. His wife, Ormoc City Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, is up for reelection.
The actor, who will play the late INC founder Felix Y. Manalo, said he was impressed when the story was presented to him.
What’s more important to me is its historical value and the message it wants to convey,” Gomez explained. “People will get to understand how the INC struggled as an independent Christian church.”
Bacoor City Rep. Lani Mercado, who is also seeking reelection in 2013, concurred with Gomez.
“When we sat down with INC leaders, we never talked about how our involvement with the film would affect our candidacies,” said Mercado, wife of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., who will play current executive minister Eduardo V. Manalo.
Mercado’s son Jolo intends to run for vice governor of Cavite.
“Ka Eduardo insisted that we collect our talent fee even if we already said we’re willing to work for free,” revealed Mercado, who will play Ka Eduardo’s wife in the film. “We said that just to become part of this huge undertaking is already an honor for both of us.”
Choosing the cast was a tedious process, director Tikoy Aguiluz said. “We had to present to the council of elders a list of names, which it either approved or disapproved. My greatest fear then was that they would force me to hire only actors who are INC members, but that didn’t happen. I even ended up with a star-studded cast.”
Aguiluz began working on the project six months ago. He imagined “Sugo” to look like the epic biographical film “Gandhi,” released in 1982.
“I can’t think of a contemporary movie that could serve as its peg,” he said. “Although I’m curious to see ‘Lincoln,’ which is Steven Spielberg’s dream project. The difference of ‘Sugo’ will be that Spielberg focused only on one portion of Abraham Lincoln’s life and made a movie out of it.”
Journalist-INC member Arlyn de la Cruz leads the pool of writers working on the screenplay. “They’re interviewing the surviving members who were Ka Felix’s contemporaries. This involves oral history. At the same time, they are also collecting materials from various documentaries on the INC.”
The director said the challenge for him is to have “Sugo” screened at the soon-to-be built INC arena in Bulacan that could accommodate 70,000 people. “I want to be very careful with every detail. I don’t want to be humiliated in front of all these people. That’s why instead of asking for a bigger budget, I requested for more time to do this. We will spend six months in research and story development, then another six months for shooting. The rest will be allotted to post-production work.”
Aguiluz also requested for “an A-list German cinematographer” to join his team. “I will have top people, both local and foreign, to work for me as DOP (director of photography). The look of the film is very important. We will first shoot five days before the Holy Week (in April 2013)—mostly big scenes—then resume after the elections.”
Asked whether the film would also tackle the controversies involving the INC, Aguiluz said: “Of course, since they were really persecuted and experienced harassment at one point. As for present-day issues, we have yet to work on that part of the script. I have zero knowledge of the material. I’m just absorbing everything now. I’m glad they chose to hire nonmembers to work on this. This ensures that it has no bias and is not made only for propaganda.”
“Ang Sugo (The Last Messenger)” will be shown in July 2014 to coincide with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of INC. Albert Martinez will play the late executive minister Erano G. Manalo. It will also feature Gladys Reyes, Christopher Roxas, Richard Quan and Snooky Serna, among others.