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‘Heneral Luna’: More than history lessons, reawakening for ‘students of life’

By: - Reporter
/ 02:20 PM September 28, 2015

It started with a Facebook post. It ended with about 50 students watching “Heneral Luna.”

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“Roller coaster” was how 27-year-old educator, writer, and community worker Nash Tysmans described her initiative of organizing a special screening for students of Jerrold Tarog’s highly acclaimed historical film. After watching the movie herself weeks ago, Tysmans took to social media on Sept. 16 to call on her friends, particularly fellow teachers, to bring in students to Glorietta 4 in Makati City on Saturday, Sept. 26.

While saying that the support she got from friends and even strangers was very encouraging, Tysmans admitted that she did not know what to expect come the screening day. Around 100 students originally committed to attend, but she said there were some groups who withdrew their attendance as the days led closer to the event.

But nevertheless, Tysmans, who shouldered the ticket fees of some students using donations she received, highlighted how the diversity of around 80 participants (nonstudents included) made the gathering more interesting, adding that she had dreams of organizing screenings for migrant workers, taxi drivers, and homeless people, among other sectors.

“I’m really not sure how many are we expecting today, but I know I have a diverse group, at least. They are not all students in the classrooms, but a lot of them have said, ‘can we become students of life na lang? All of them are really welcome,” Tysmans said, adding that among the attendees were two members of the Philippine Marine Corps.

“What are their views on these? I also want to learn from young people. Bilang isang guro, hindi lang naman ako ang may monopoly sa katotohanan,” she added.

‘Truths about ourselves’

Tarog’s Heneral Luna, which was chosen as the Philippines’ entry to the 2016 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film category, has sparked all sorts of debates and conversations in the cyberspace and in real-life social circles among family members, friends, classmates, and office colleagues.

Who ordered the killing of Antonio Luna? Was Emilio Aguinaldo a hero or a villain? And why was Apolinario Mabini seated all throughout the film?

READ: ‘Heneral Luna’ picked as PH’s 2016 Oscars bet | Who really ordered Luna’s murder? | ‘Heneral Luna’ and Filipino audiences

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But in the perspective of an educator like Tysmans, some historical questions that the film left to those who watched it do not necessarily need definitive answers.

“I think we need fiction to tell the truths about ourselves that we’re not ready yet to accept. For me, it’s an appreciation of art and culture. The fact that we live in a country that’s so rich with stories, maraming pwedeng ibahagi, tapos ‘yung sense ko, even if it’s about historical characters, I’m not looking for definitive answers. Like, I do not want to know whether Aguinaldo is a bad guy or a good guy, or whether Luna is the leader we need,” Tysmans, who taught at Ateneo de Manila University and Miriam College but is now into development work, told INQUIRER.net.

“I just wanted to know na, ah, meron palang mga ganyang peg sa history natin, and hopefully, a story like this opens doors to more examination,” she added.

Reverberating history

While noting the importance of historical accuracy, Tysmans said there were far more important questions on self-discovery that Heneral Luna posed on its Filipino audience.

“That’s the success of the movie—it offers us spaces to actually sit down and say, ano ba talaga ‘yung mahalaga sa atin bilang mga Pilipino? Ano ba talaga ‘yung mga hinahanap natin doon sa mga tinitingala nating mga tao?” she said.

Tysmans said historical figures like General Luna, who led the Philippine Army against Spanish colonizers, and then President Aguinaldo were “very misunderstood” not only because of the educational system but also due to Filipinos’ supposed shortage of curiosity in history.

“We regard it as something that we just study but it has no reverberation in our lives, na parang sa akin naman, hindi ‘yun totoo. Kasi how do you move a nation forward if you’re not sure kung saan ka nanggaling? Sino ba talaga tayo? Nakita ko ‘yung value ng pelikula bilang isang tool nang ma-examine lang, ano ba ng mahalaga para sa atin?” Tysmans said.

“There is a lot of rigor in history. We have to make sure that we really discover the facts. But siguro for me, it’s also being open to the reality that maybe, the truths we know are not the only truths that are available to us. Maybe there are other narratives that we haven’t explored. And at the same time, I want to complement that also by saying that so much has been written about these periods in our histories, often by scholars who are not Filipinos and even by Filipinos, but not everyone is curious to discover ano ba talagang nangyari. Kumbaga ang feeling ko kasi hindi tayo bukas sa ganoon,” she added.

For second-year college student Luis Cruda, questions on historical accuracies can take a backseat and are secondary to questions on nationalism and sense of national consciousness.

Cruda, who is taking up social work at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, said films like Heneral Luna had the potential to be a catalyst for change in today’s society, especially by tapping young people like him.

“Nakakagising ng dugo bilang isang Pilipino. Nung una pa lang na narinig ko siya sa social media, sabi ko parang sobrang interesting na agad. So hindi talaga ko nagsisi na pinanood ko siya. Sa panahong hindi na masyado pinapansin ‘yung pagka-Pilipino natin, nung napanood ko siya parang, wow, Pilipino pala ako, bakit wala akong ginagawa about this. Nakakagising siya ng diwa at ng puso,” Cruda said.

“Kahit nasa bagong generation na ako at kahit sobrang tagal na noon, it is not too late to step up, speak up, gaya ko parang nasa youth level, maganda ‘yung age bracket ko para magsimula ng pagmumulat and para magsimula ng bago,” he added.

In touch with the times

Highlighting the power of art and culture in conveying a message, Tysmans said stories like Heneral Luna revealed not only the richness of our history, but more importantly, who we are as a people.

“The greatest strength of the film is really its relatability and the fact that it tells a good story. A lot of my friends who are acclaimed film critics, I have debates with them about good stories. Kasi parang to them, and I agree naman, this isn’t the best thing that has happened to Philippine cinema. This is not our best film, not our most beautiful, but it’s a film that just happens to be very much in touch with current realities,” she said.

READ: ‘Heneral Luna’ best PH film in years, worthy of global audience

As to the ongoing debates on historical accuracies and roles of certain personalities in Philippine history, Tysmans said it was about time Filipinos had this kind of conversation, but added that nobody should claim a monopoly of knowledge.

“If we want to progress as a country, we have to stop being self-righteous. Kasi maraming perspectives eh. Mahalaga ang lahat ng narratives. Imbis na kini-criticize natin sila, why can’t we help each other discover? Saka huwag tayong pikon. Kasi ang Pilipino, the moment you attack what they know, they think it’s an attack on them. It’s not,” she said.

Echoing Tysmans, sophomore college student Joseph Salavarria said he watched the film well aware that it was based on both facts and fiction, and that there were several sides of a story.

“We should not take one side of the story, dapat naiintindihan din natin ‘yung kabilang side ng storya. Hindi lang tayo dapat nakikinig sa isang kwento lang ng isang kilalang tao, papakinggan din natin ‘yung isang side para malaman natin kung bakit ba talaga ganoon ‘yung nangyari,” said Salavarria, who also hailed from PLM.

Tysmans, however, noted that nothing should stop people from asking questions and seeking clarifications, even if others deem them stupid.

Reacting to a Facebook post of actor Jeffrey “Epy” Quizon saying that a group of college students asked him why his character Apolinario Mabini was sitting down throughout the film, Tysmans said the question was both a teaching and learning opportunity, adding that it would be “better to look stupid than be actually stupid.”

READ: ‘Why is Mabini just seated’ Epi Quizon stands up to the confused | Apolinario Mabini vs General Luna | Two Lunas, two Mabinis

“Ask more questions, kahit na stupid pa ‘yung tanong. At hindi stupid yung tanong na bakit nakaupo si Mabini. It’s a valid question. Tanong pa tayo, panoorin natin ito, tangkilikin pa natin ‘yung mga kwento natin, kasi ito lang naman yung meron tayo. Atin ‘to,” she said.

‘Be less conspiratorial, more real’

Less than a year before the 2016 national elections, Tysmans said Heneral Luna would only be relevant if the voting public would apply the same thoroughness in getting to know the candidates, and by changing the way they look at leaders and fit them into boxes of stereotypes.

“My hope is that the rigor that the people have applied to talking about the film is also the same rigor that they apply when talking about the people who will run. Because usually, we always look for messianic leaders who will save us from the difficulties that we’re in. So we tend to look at our candidates, napapatingala tayo. We want them to be perfect, to be everything for us,” she said.

“It would be nice to be a bit more balanced. Can we look more at these people not as heroes but as enablers for all of us to find what will makes us all come together, be less divisive? Can we be less conspiratorial and be more real?” she added.

READ: Why Aquino, Binay, Roxas and Poe should watch ‘Heneral Luna’

Produced by Artikulo Uno Productions with a cost estimated at P80 million, Tarog’s Heneral Luna premiered in local theaters on Sept. 9 and reportedly breached the P100-million mark at the box office. RC

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Originally posted: Sep 26, 2015 @ 19:20

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TAGS: Antonio Luna, Arts, Culture, Heneral Luna, Heritage, Jerrold Tarog, Philippine history, politics
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