‘John Denver Trending’ gets 4 screenings in town where it was shot

The flag ceremony scene in "John Denver Trending." A winning film from Pandan, Antique.

Pandan, Antique – Awe and shock and exhilaration from over one thousand students in this fourth class municipality greeted the first morning screening of Arden Rod Condez’s “John Denver Trending” at the Liberman Sports Complex near the town plaza.

A full audience in the morning screening of "John Denver Trending" in Pandan, Antique. Photo by Chris Millado.

The film’s ending is not the kind that will elicit applause but once they have recovered from the unexpected ending, the predominantly young audiences erupted into deafening applause and cheers mainly for the brilliant lead star, Jansen Magpusao, the director (Condez) and an equally remarkable supporting cast.

Jansen Magpusao as the harassed John Denver. An amazing actor without the benefit of acting lessons.

The film’s ending was reminiscent of the poignant finale of Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” which points to a collective guilt of an insensitive society for the death of the town’s madwoman.

An open forum after the screening hosted by Pandan’s district supervisor Generosa Condez revealed highly emotional responses from the students and an overwhelming sympathy for the lead character of John Denver portrayed with stunning sensitivity by the 15-year old Magpusao.

“We like the film for the precious lesson it teaches us,” said one student. “But most of all, it is about time we pay attention to rampant bullying in schools and especially in social media. The ending is sad indeed but the plight of this student demands attention from all sectors of society. It also teaches us not to be judgmental about everyone.”

Charem Emen from the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) said she liked the film but felt the story should have revealed who stole the gadget which caused all the problems for John Denver. “A bit bitin but the lesson it imparts is no doubt a lasting one.”

Equally admired was the heart-felt performance of the mother played with such devastating helplessness by Meryll Soriano.

The film also revealed an equally sensitive director in Condez who was able to portray an idyllic town still holding on to the traditions of the past like the angelus at six in the evening where people drop what they are doing to make the sign of the cross and say a short prayer.

Director Arden Rod Condez and actor Jansen Magpusao with the Cinemalaya team from the Cultural Center of the Philippines. A record-breaking four screenings in one day.

“In a way the film is my little tribute to my hometown and that’s the reason the film was shot entirely in Pandan town,” said director Condez. “As usual, we made the most out of the modest Cinemalaya grant and tried to get much needed services by exchange deal. For the same reason, almost everyone in the town got involved in the project. I wrote script for over two weeks during the Christmas holidays, did the pre-prod for six months and then shot it for ten days. And then another six months for post-production. It wasn’t an easy project to wrap up. But we got the best help from everyone from the acting coach and the ensemble most of whom offered services for free.”

With the surprise response from film critics and audiences in Manila and the provinces, the director and lead actor got heroes’ welcome in Pandan town after the conclusion of the Cinemalaya festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last August 14.

The director said he didn’t expect that warm welcome for his debut film. “But after the first screening, I started to realize we have a winner with all the positive buzz on the film. Even Jansen (Magpusao) didn’t know what to make of it. He was so quiet during the first presscon and when the compliments started coming, he remained oblivious of the signs of overwhelming acceptance. After several days in Manila, he missed the peace and quiet of his hometown and didn’t quite know what the adulation was all about. He remained grounded even as his fans increase with every screening.”

But the reaction of Pandananons was pure pride for the new cultural heroes of the province.

“You can’t help it that we take pride in this film,” said Vice-Mayor Raymund Nonato Gumboc. The director (Condez) is from our town so was the lead actor (Magpusao) who won the best actor trophy without the benefit of professional acting lessons. And the rest of the characters in the film were our friends and relatives and neighbors. Nothing like this film was given wide patronage by Pandananons.”

CCP artistic director Chris Millado (center) with Pandan Mayor Plaridel Sanchez VI and Vice Mayor Raymund Nonato Gumboc.

CCP artistic director Chris Millado said during the opening remarks that the film was CCP’s gift to the people of Pandan on the occasion of its 50th anniversary and as its way of observing the 100th year of Philippine cinema.

With cinematography by Rommel Sales and production design by Harley Alcasid, “John Denver Trending” is headed for the Busan Film Festival in South Korea where it is the country’s entry in competition in the feature film category.

The original “John Denver” script won second place at the Screenplay Category of the 68th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and selected for the 2018 Southeast Asian Film Financing Project Market in Singapore.


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