History As Film: Our Last Resistance

In recent years, the Philippines has seen the rise and popularity of historical films or films dealing with historical events. Such films include Heneral Luna, Norte Hangganan ng Kasaysayan, this year’s Citizen Jake and Ang Panahon ng Halimaw, and 2019’s Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.

History or Kasaysayan or Araling Panlipuna to many students has always been a source of boredom. No one pays attention enough to remember the basic facts of our country, take for example Senators Pacquaio and Sotto who speaks of our national anthem as “Bayang Magiliw”. Ano kayang ginagawa nila sa klase? Natutulog sa pansitan? What disappointments; to think that they occupy such supposedly honored seats of authority. What a shame!

Read Also: Citizen Jake (2018) and The Past That Won’t Let Itself be Damned

History teaching has always used and been focused on historical texts. You are more fortunate if your teachers had access to actual pieces or fragments’ of primary sources. Some, like Ambeth Ocampo, combine literary creativity, imagination, wit plus access to historical resources for their work, which results to a popular patronage. Although some scholars tend to argue that these are mere trivializations; mountains built on anthills. Now, thanks to technology, history learning has become less of a drag due to multimedia resources that stimulate our imagination, sight, and hearing. And perhaps, here lies the strength and appeal of films that deal with history and which perhaps maybe our last stand against the forces of historical revisionism.

What I learned from teaching history is that to be effective, our passion for teaching history must be able to produce two things in the student namely, historical knowledge and historical empathy.

Historical knowledge pertains to the facts, figures, and other objective information of historical events. Historical knowledge includes as well the cultivation of critical thinking based on the lessons of history and the ability to make informed decisions based on these lessons especially when it comes to issues and directions critical to our nation.

Historical empathy. I define historical empathy as the immersion of the feelings and our present consciousness to the historical experience and the truth it contains such that it is able to arouse strong expressions of emotions that is able to move us to action through a sense of identification. Such expressions can include righteous indignation as well as be moved to tears upon the realization of the horrors, suffering, and indignities faced by our people.

When these two are produced in a student, a holistic sense of historical consciousness is formed. Without historical knowledge, our feelings are empty, superficial, misled, ignorant. Without historical empathy, our historical knowledge lacks humanity. And perhaps the most effective means to inspire these in a person is through the historical film.

Read Also: ‘Ang Panahon ng Halimaw’ and the Devil of Philippine History

Cinematic representations and expressions of history are more versatile, dynamic than their textual counterparts. As such, the carnage of war, the betrayal of a historical person like Heneral Antonio Luna, and the horrors of Martial Law are seen, felt, and absorbed by the student, by the viewer in a deeper sense because almost all of his senses, his person is engaged.

And we or those who have a proper, just view of history must use this form to re-articulate our history, awaken historical consciousness, and fight historical revisionism.

And so, we laud directors like Mike de Leon, Jerrold Tarog, Lav Diaz, artists like John Arcilla among others, who have taken to incorporate into their art and craft the conscious and just telling and portrayal of our history. And that through their cinematic representations, they give critique to the troubled times in which we live and, hopefully, inspire the young to mobilize against the injustices, against the demons that continue to torment our nation.

Dom Balmes

Dom writes for pay by day and writes for passion by night. He is a Japan major at the University of the Philippines. He’s fond of ramen and anime but not of nice people.

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