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History film sets sights on outlasting festival run

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THIS YEAR, Pepe Diokno’s Gomburza, an entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), is hoping to reignite a sense of national justice in the hearts of Filipinos.

The film, set in 1872, is centered on the martyrdom of three Catholic priests — Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora — and their fateful fight for equality, truth, and independence. Their deaths were a catalyst for the Philippine revolution for independence from Spain.

Showing in dramatic detail how the Filipino nation was born through their sacrifice makes it a landmark film, said MQuest Ventures’ president Jane J. Basas, who produced Gomburza.

The significance of the three priests’ role in sparking the revolution is often overlooked, she told the media during a press conference on Nov. 13 in Mandaluyong City. “In fact, Jose Rizal dedicated El Filibusterismo to them,” she pointed out.

MQuest Ventures approached Jesuit Communications (JesCom) so that the two companies could co-produce the epic. Both say that they fully intend for the film’s shelf life to extend beyond the MMFF to become part of classroom curricula.

Mr. Diokno, its director, added: “We did a test screening with students, and not only did they understand the film, but they also appreciated it.”

“JesCom had been working on the project for many, many years before I came in, and I was so honored that they asked me to pitch and eventually chose me to direct,” he said.

Actors Dante Rivero, Cedrick Juan, and Enchong Dee play Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, respectively. The plot revolves around the secularization movement they were in, started by Padre Pedro Peláez (played by Piolo Pascual).

Advocating for the Filipinization of the Church in the 1860s also inspired the educated middle class. This included Jose Rizal’s brother and Burgos’ student, Paciano Mercado (played by Elijah Canlas), who would eventually witness the three priests’ public execution and be greatly affected by it.

The three leads, aware of the impact on the youth that the film can make, were motivated to do their part in “telling a truthful story based on deep historical research,” said Mr. Rivero at the press conference.

For Mr. Juan, being authentic to the role was important. “Padre Burgos was an educator, so I wanted to understand my Spanish lines before saying them, rather than just memorizing,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.

The cast and crew admitted that they didn’t always know a lot about Gomburza — which further drove them to do the project.

“In our textbooks, there’s not much beyond their martyrdom. But if you enter the National Museum, in the center is a painting of the three priests,” said Mr. Diokno. “It’s because the seed of national consciousness grew from them.”

Aside from the lead actors, the powerhouse cast includes Ketchup Eusebio, Epy Quizon, Jaime Fabregas, Tommy Alejandrino, Paolo O’Hara, Sue Prado, Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, Sheenly Gener, Elora Españo, Gerry Kaimo, and more. The film was shot by multi-awarded cinematographer Carlo C. Mendoza.

Gomburza opens on Dec. 25 as an official entry to the 49th MMFF. — Brontë H. Lacsamana

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