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El Presidente_Fiction Film Based on a Historical Figure??

December 26, 2012

By describing Metro Manila Film Festival 2012 entry El Presidente, centered on the First President of the Philippines Emilio Famy Aguinaldo as “fiction film based on a historical figure,” [Click to read Philip Cu-Injieng’s Aguinaldo and his story], by no less than its director Mark Meilly, isn’t there the possibility of exaggerating, NOT treating, even distorting historical facts to serve whatever purpose the filmmaker or the producer want the audience to see, perhaps believe? By saying so, shouldn’t this sever its description as a historical drama film and simply call it a  period movie?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines FICTION [originating from Middle English ficcioun, from Middle French fiction, from Latin fiction-, fictio act of fashioning, fiction, from fingere to shape, fashion, feign] as, 1: something invented by the imagination or feigned; specifically : an invented story; 2: an assumption of a possibility as a fact irrespective of the question of its truth <a legal fiction>; and 3: the action of feigning or of creating with the imagination. [Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fiction]

If a film is fiction therefore, or as Merriam-Webster defines it, as an “invented story” — though based on an actual historical figure’s life, and a controversial one at that — is it still ethical to use the real name of the actual person and call the film that person’s bio-pic?

Treating something historical — in narrative, documentary or docu-drama form, the creative artist’s way is surely the domain of the filmmaker. But when declared as FICTION, creative freedom or creative license comes in with his personal, or the producer’s prerogatives, “likes and demands” possibly put in. He/they can give reason for any change in the real story, and who’d question that but primarily the descendants of the historical subject who may get offended, or elated depending on their family’s depiction; or the historian’s who are after facts based on evidences. But which is easy to counter by stressing to those who’d question  the truth that it is NOT a DOCU. In other words, those who would demand for truth can be countered by simply stressing on such distinction. Anyone who’d question the truthfulness of events highlighted, the film treatment, and how the director sees the character saves him from criticisms and further questions that may come from those who’d stick to reality. I shouldn’t bother as a viewer to question anything given the fact that the film is fictionalized. Because it is not a documentary film afterall… Why then, should the producer brag about the presence of historians as consultants in their set if the freedom to “invent story,” has been exercised?

Clearly, this sort of a “waiver” is the film’s redeemer as far as content is concerned. Very wise indeed! They can exaggerate or downplay characters, and manipulate truth to suit any particular purpose. Aguinaldo or Bonifacio can be a BIG giant of a hero or otherwise; any character for that matter may be trivialized, even eclipsed depending on what the artist’s imagination has “feigned” or “created.” Everything depends on where he wants to lead the audience or what’s the desired action they want from them. The principle of marketing and advertising to sell a product applies.

Packaging, reinventing and marketing Jeorge Estregan as a REEL hero, like former president Erap Estrada in the past, is very useful for recall purposes when the former aims for a higher government post in the future. This is the bottomline. A pattern is forming…

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