MARK Meily, director of the bio epic “El Presidente,” says everything about this film on the life of the Philippines’ first head of state, Emilio Aguinaldo, is supported by historical facts. “If it meets opposition, we’ll urge people to show documents to prove we’re wrong,” he told Inquirer.
The film tackles Aguinaldo’s (portrayed by Laguna Governor ER Ejercito) life and his role in the establishment of the first democratic republic in Asia.
Meily, who worked on the script for six months, said he had dug into materials from the Cavite Historical Institute, “among others.”
“Tikoy Aguiluz was to have directed the film. Before I came on board, the production team members were working based on a 350-page script. I offered to write my own, as I needed to really understand the characters, learn all their back stories,” he said.
Meily said the most difficult part of writing was on the controversial rift between Andres Bonifacio and Gen. Antonio Luna—two major figures in the Philippines’ fight for independence against Spain. “There are conflicting reports about this,” noted Meily.
As a director, Meily found the big fight scenes hard to execute. “We trained hundreds of actors to play soldiers,” he said. “Since Citizen’s Army Training has been discontinued, most Filipino men don’t know how to handle guns. We also had to train a lot of the actors to ride horses. Most of them walked funny—in the manner of hip-hop dancers—and they kept doing the high five!”
But Meily pointed out that “Governor ER has been studying Aguinaldo since 1998. On the set, he knew about the general more than anyone on the set.”
The director said he chanced upon Cesar Montano, who plays Andres Bonifacio, rehearsing lines with wife Sunshine Cruz, who plays Bonifacio’s wife Gregoria de Jesus.
Nora Aunor has only one scene in the two-hour film, Meily reported. “I was taken aback by her acting. She’s such a natural. Her voice, her [delivery]… she was perfect.”
The movie reportedly cost P130 million. “I just read about the budget in the papers,” Meily said. “I didn’t require anything, like special equipment or location, that weren’t needed.”
He could only wish he had more time to work on the film. “I wanted it to be more polished. I’m just like the governor who is keen on details. He wanted everything accurate, including the distance between his cuffs and his jacket.”