Rama: Eskrima on screen

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Karlon N. Rama
Stage Five

FMA fans and practitioners here in Cebu, as well as in the rest of the world, have something to look forward to thanks to a creative young man and the band of brothers who support him.

He is Kerwin Go and his “indie” body of work, “Eskrimadors,” done under the banner of Pointsource Films Inc., albeit short, is the latest on the Filipino Martial Art (FMA) of Eskrima since the 1986 full-length, Kamagong, by Carlo J. Caparas.

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Kerwin, his cinematographer and co-producer Ruel Antipuesto, as well as co-producer Jiji Borlasa, held an advanced screening for a select few at the University of San Carlos Cafa theater last Jan. 6 and I was among those sent an invite. There is another screening at the end of the month.

I’m no film critic. And, truth be told, I’m not even much of a moviegoer. So, when I say this movie is great, it is because it appeals to me in some difficult-to-verbalize innate sense and not because of any learned bar upon which to compare bodies of work.

That being said, I say Kerwin’s Eskrimadors offers a great visual experience. After the screening last week, I found myself wanting to rush back home and do amara.

“Eskrimadors” is primarily a documentary that is sustained by interviews with known personalities in the study of eskrima.

Meshed in the interviews, however, is the story in film of a man and his struggle to avenge his father who died in a bahad match.

It is clear that Kerwin had lots of fun with this project.

He wrote the story clearly inspired by the people he interviewed and who, in turn, regaled him with the stories of juego todo, Cebu before and after World War 2, and the
labor strikes of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

And, with the production, his creativity and playfulness as a director showed.

He made Val Pableo of Atty. Dionisio Cañete’s Doce Pares wear all black, complete with a black wristband, making him the stereotypical bad guy in a film that didn’t have the luxury of dialogues or time devoted to character buildup.

Presenting Val in the role the way he did was also mischievously reminiscent of the contra-bida in Caparas’ “Kamagong,” which was played by Dencio Padilla, making me wonder if it was an intended “dig.”

But to fully appreciate the film, it is not enough to just undergo the visual experience and leave it at that. One must also look at Kerwin’s other intent—to document eskrima as it has been practiced in Cebu.

Here, the bar changes for a director. Here, the journalistic requirement of truth-seeking or fact-finding comes into play alongside good visuals and an interesting or entertaining plot.

In making his documentary, Kerwin attempted to satisfy this requirement by interviewing several “masters” on key points and provided context via the history that his sources gave.

In so doing, however, the documentary fell into the same trap that, in the past, also snared similar inquiries into Eskrima.

A scene from the documentary declared eskrima to have reached Philippine shores via Sri Vijayan warriors, people from an ancient kingdom in what is now the island of Sumatra.

These warriors, in turn, were on the run from the Majapahit, an empire on the rise in the neighboring island of Java, both in present day Indonesia.

Now, this is definitely one of the theories proposed on the history of eskrima.

However, while tying nicely to the fighting arts of Lapu-Lapu and the historical Battle of Mactan, there is no historical work that ties Lapu-Lapu and eskrima.

On the other hand, research conducted by Dr. Ned Nepangue and “Eskrimador” Celestino Macachor, findings they published in the book Cebuano eskrima, contradicts the claim and presents an alternate theory, one that they have backed up with historical reference and fieldwork.

But masters, especially those who have viable schools running abroad, seem to like this romanticized history of island warriors and Lapu-Lapu for whatever reason.

And basing a body of work solely on the narration of some and not delving on other available data for verification or contrast, renders any journalistic work incomplete.

(knrama@gmail.com)

Rama eskrima screen

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