FILM REVIEW: Hunghong sa Yuta: A Mindanao film for the nation

Mardoquio’s screenplay weaves together with realism and symbolism the many   contradictions that the war had imposed on the community.  The military has been sent by the Manila government to the jungles of Mindanao to decimate the rebels as per the demands of politicians and businessmen who want peace so their careers and business could prosper.  The communities are forced to take up arms to defend their farms and homes.  With husbands away as guerilla fighters, the mothers find themselves taking sides  in the war, suspicious of strangers who come into their midst until Vigo comes to    Hinyok and presents himself as a teacher to their children.  Thus, armed with the abakada     and   numbers, the children become persons able to get hold of an alternative to their crudely-fashioned wooden toy guns.  Here Mardoquio’s narrative takes a symbolic turn.

Teacher Vigo (right) and his students in Hinyok. Photo by Mark Limbaga

Having achieved their identity as persons, the children are on their way to discovering the bond that integrates them as members of one community.  This is dramatized in their recovery of the brass instruments that the war had caused to be abandoned in a stream following a massacre of villagers.  But the joy of making music is disrupted by the revelation that a man assumed to be a rebel leader turns out to be a soldier spying on the community.  The deaths that ensue bring out the lamentable consequences of war that does not spare the lives of men of goodwill such as Vigo, the tribal woman leader Buyag Inggan, the intrepid fighter Wahab, the recalcitrant Amrayda, all of them betrayed by the traitorous Taok.

To dance and sing and be free from war. Photo by Mark Limbaga

An advocacy project of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart Youth Ministry under the leadership of Br. Noelvic Deloria SC, “Hunghong sa Yuta” is part of what its producers intend as a “mobile peace education campaign.”  What distinguishes it from the usual advocacy project is the meticulous care given by the director and his staff, and the passion and excellence of the finished project. Mardoquio as director had been able to assemble a highly competent cast from Davao City theater folk that includes Nelson Dino, Lucia Cijas, Joan Mae Soco, Popong Landero, Mario Leofer Lim and Christine Lim, and the child actors Jaymar Generana and Marvin Mindog blend with confidence with the adult performers.  

Palanca Award winner for short story, now Film Director Arnel Mardoquio (left),  also did the screenplay. Cinematographer Egay Navarro used only one camera because that's all they could afford. Photo by Mark Limbaga

Of the technical staff assisting Mardoquio, outstanding is the work of the cinematographer Egay Navarro whose achievement with a single high-density digital camera can only be described as “miraculous.”  As film editor, Arthur Ian Garcia provides Navarro superior assistance in turning out a smooth but dynamic narrative flow for the film in spite of the limited imagery captured by only one camera.  Composer Popong Landero has provided music that hauntingly captures the ethnic atmosphere of Hinyok and its three-people culture.

“Hunghong saYuta” is a Davao film that richly deserves to be seen nationwide. (Bienvenido Lumbera is a National Artist for Literature).