THE FILM HENERAL LUNA, which has received much praise from critics and audience members, is notable for its commitment to producing a historically accurate depiction of Antonio Luna’s time as general of the Philippine Revolutionary Army during the Philippine-American War. This was done by employing historical consultants, including some members of Buhay na Kasaysayan (BNK), a group of history enthusiasts who regularly re-enact periods of the country’s history.
Founded by the Ortega brothers (Ray, Manny, and Teddy), sons of a WWII Veteran, Gen. Antonio Ortega, some time in the 1980 or 1990s in the US, the local chapter started in 2005 when Mike Hoff came to the Philippines to recruit members. Pedro Antonio Javier, co-founder of the Philippine chapter, was one of the film’s consultants for uniforms and the revolutionary general’s tactics.
“We joined this group because it’s fun, at the same time, it serves a noble purpose,” he told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview on Sept. 23.
BNK believes that nationalism is the key to success of a country, but the problem is history often ends up boring people instead of inspiring them. Thus BNK makes history entertaining by staging live-action reenactments of chapters of our history. “We attract people due to impressive uniforms, battle reenactments, ambiance of the past, making them feel that they are in a time machine,” said Mr. Javier. “After they are attracted, that’s the time the values of nationalism will come in.”
BNK AND HENERAL LUNA
Mr. Javier’s association with Heneral Luna began when BNK was invited by Gemma-Cruz Araneta — a descendant of Jose Rizal’s sister — to the 150th anniversary of the hero’s birthday at Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila. There they met the film’s co-producer Ria Limjap, and she invited Mr. Javier to be one of their consultants.
“I wanted to be part of the film because a historical film is an educational tool,” he said. Many previous Philippine historical films were not very accurate, he noted. The props, equipment, and uniforms used were often wrong, but the teachers and students watch these movies and think those details are correct. Many artists make similar mistake which is why many paintings, sculptures, and posters of historical events, drawings on books and other educational materials, even museum displays, are not based on facts. “These errors are copied and passed [on] from generation to generation,” said Mr. Javier.
The role of the consultants was to avoid these kinds of mistakes.
“Compare [local films with] foreign historical films like Waterloo, Band of Brothers, Gettysburg, Battle of Midway, Battle of Britain. [In those films] every detail, plot, props, uniform, language used, appropriate words and script used during that era, movement/norm of a person, etc…. are authentic versus previous Filipino-made historical films. Being part of the film, I can correct the mistakes, show what is the truth and accurate and help the Philippine Film industry improve its standards,” he said.
As consultants, they had to provide the right historical facts and sequence of events; advise (and soemtimes provide) accurate design of uniforms, insignias, equipment, weapons (including the the proper way to wear and use them), advise on the correct “movements during the Phil-Am War era” when it came to command, manual of arms, drill, bearing, old-style salute, old tactics; make sure the correct props were used (old Phillippine flags, barrels, utensils, tents, canons, etc.); and correct any errors they would see during the shooting of the film.
One of the areas they worked on in the film was in costuming.
In the beginning of Heneral Luna, there is a scene where the soldiers get new uniforms — this depicts the transition from Andres-Bonifacio-era to Luna-era uniforms. “This is the transformation from the old Feudalistic Army into a Modern National Army,” he said. Among these were the change in the design of the rayadillo, the ranks which were moved from sleeves to shoulder, the use of color codes for branches in the army, the use of white officers Kuracha cap, and collar insignias (sun buttons for officers, etc.). “These designs where based on actual photos and artifacts,” said Mr. Javier. The different colored uniforms and the Filipino elite units of the military have never been depicted in Philippine films before, said Mr. Javier.
Aside from costumes, they also worked on details like the way soldiers handled their weapons.
“Notice how soldiers carry their rifles in shoulder arms,” he said. “It’s the reverse way, the trigger is located outward, unlike today, the trigger is located inward.” The soldiers in the film also use the old-style English salute, today our soldiers use the US-style salute.
“These details doesn’t only add impact and distinction in the film, but can also be the basis of accurate historical paintings, sculptures, educational photos, films, plays, etc,” he said.
“If you’ll ask if the Luna film was able to attain 100% accuracy based on our advice? Answer is no,” he said. “There are things that still need improvement. But the important thing here is that Philippine historical films are beginning to improve.”