I PURPOSELY did not read any of the reviews about “Liway,” the biographical film written (with Zig Dulay) and directed by Kip Oebanda as a paean to his mother, because I wanted to see it with the least possible bias.

That in itself was a tall order given that I’ve known the real-life Liway, Oebanda’s mother Cecil, as well as his late father Ric, for almost three decades, dating from the then fledgling Visayan Forum, now one of the country’s foremost crusaders against human trafficking.

It became even harder not to be biased after the state’s security forces began blabbering about the incredible “Red October,” a supposed communist plot to topple the government – an aim they have actually had since at least 1968 and have never bothered to conceal – with a title stolen off a Tom Clancy thriller.

Any elementary conspiracy theorist would tell you the last thing a communist would call a plot would be “Red.” “Cherry Blossom” might work better.

And said our erudite generals, the plotters were recruiting the youth by poisoning their minds with films that showed the – surprise! – evils of the Marcos dictatorship, which Liway does do explicitly so much as use as a platform to explain why Liway and Ric, “Toto” in the underground,” ended up in the hills fighting the regime like so many of their generation and, later, languished behind bars following their capture, in the case of the Oebanda’s, with Kip, then known as “Dakip” or captured, and younger sister Malaya, their manong Eric having been entrusted earlier to the care of a sister of Ric’s.

Which, of course, means yes, Marcos’ regime was an evil that needed to be fought and vanquished, which we did.

Anyway, I wasn’t even sure Liway would be shown here in Bacolod even if it received a thunderous ovation during its August showing at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and went on to become the highest grossing Cinemalaya film ever.

Thankfully, there was a one-time screening on Wednesday, October 10, at SM Cinema 1 where, as a bonus, I had a brief but happy reunion with Liway and another VF buddy, the constant Roland Pacis.

This I will say about Liway.

For all the emotion the tale wrings from you, the story is told sans histrionics. It doesn’t need any.

The characters are not acted out so much as they are propelled by the tumultuous events of that dark period in our history even as they struggle – and eventually succeed – to keep their heads above the current.

Knowing Liway and Toto, Cecil and Ric, I loved the film all the more for not making them out to be larger than life heroes, for they certainly were not.

They were anyone and everyone driven to make difficult, often painful, choices by difficult and painful circumstances that forced them to transcend who they were, to look beyond the immediate bonds of kinship and friendship and embrace the larger calling of service to the people, even if these threatened to tear them and those they loved apart.

Which is exactly what makes them, paradoxically, larger than life heroes.

As is Kip for the courage to tell the tale and the wisdom to know that it needed no embellishment to do so.

And, as Cecil so aptly pointed out in her pre-screening talk, while Liway is not so much about the struggle she and Ric joined as it is about their family, the times, the circumstances that created this story are reemerging, making the film and all other films about that period and the lessons of the struggle against dictatorship even more relevant, even urgent.

Which is why it is a pity Liway has not been given the chance to reach the wider audience it deserves, especially among the youth who, judging by the reactions of those who watched the film Wednesday, totally got it, although many in the older crowd held soaked hankies walking out of the theater, no doubt remembering those times.

It boggles the mind why, in the very province where the story began, it was granted only a single screening.

It actually fared better, said Cecil, in Iloilo, although this might be because most of the story plays out in Camp Delgado, where the Oebandas were incarcerated.

But even in Davao City, although colleagues there say the screening there has been downgraded from four theaters to only two, that is still one more than here, although it had a better show time than Cagayan de Oro where colleagues were lobbying SM for a 7 p.m. screening because it had been set for 4 p.m. on October 11, Thursday, and 2 p.m.on October 12, Friday, practically a kiss of death on weekdays.

So yes, this is an appeal to SM, Robinson’s, City Mall and all other malls and cinemas, please, pretty please, give Liway the audience it deserves and give your audiences the Liway they deserve.

Please don’t leave our readers wondering about what the story is all about because I have not summarized it here.

Do give them the chance – and the pleasure – of finding out for themselves.

And that goes for all the other great films that have been made recently but which we have been deprived of.