US filmmaker, historians team up for ‘definitive’ Balangiga docu film

A US filmmaker and two internationally known historians have teamed up for a documentary movie “Balangiga I Honor and Sacrifice” that will provide “definitive explanation of how and why things went horribly wrong” in the Balangiga, Eastern Samar during the latter part of the Philippine-American War in 1901.

“This is a personal passion project for all of us,” said Michel Sellers, a professional filmmaker with 20 feature films as writer, producer, and director.

“In the film, we will tell the true, complete story of what happened in 1901, why it happened, and why the return of the Balangiga Bells to Samar has created a unique opportunity for a moment of healing and renewal between two countries with a complicated relationship,” he added.

“We are working together to ensure that the story we tell is factual, unbiased, and properly respectful of all parties in a difficult situation,” said the filmmaker.

Co-directed, written and screenplay by “acknowledged two top experts” on Balangiga--Rolando Borrinaga and British author Bob Couttie, the documentary film will be the “definitive, authoritative account of the Battle of Balangiga and the remarkable story of Balangiga.”

Borrinaga, the country’s known authority on the Balangiga Massacre authored “The Balangiga Conflict Revisited” while Couttie wrote “The Tragic True Story of the Balangiga Massacre of 1901.”

The film’s director of photography is Eastern Samar-based lensman Alren Jerome Beronio.

Sellers, who also authored “Warriors of Samar,” said that “by providing the deeper truth of this divisive event, the film will foster a new level of understanding and acceptance of a painful moment in history.”

Incidentally, Sellers is married to a Filipina from Lawaan, the neighboring town of Balangiga whose menfolk also participated in the uprising on September 28, 1901.

“Filipinos have been frustrated for 117 years waiting for the bells to come back; today there are some in America who are frustrated and worry that the return of the bells will dishonor the American war dead,” wrote Sellers.

“We believe this film, done with honor and respect for both sides, can help bridge the gap and promoted understanding and acceptance on both sides,” he added.

In making the film, Sellers said: “The townsfolk (not the rebels) rose up against the Americans, attacked them, killing 48 and causing Company C to abandon the town.”

“Days later the Americans came back in force, burned the town, in the process taking as war booty three bells from the church, before going on to burn virtually every town on the large, 120-mile long island,” Sellers added.

“The war would end; America and the Philippines would become longtime allies -- but the bells, taken by the Americans, would remain in American custody for 117 years, and the uprising that precipitated the taking of the bells would remain a divisive, open wound. Was it a righteous, justified, heroic uprising or an unjustified sneak attack?” Sellers said.

“In December 2018, the bells finally came home to Balangiga. With the bells home at last, now, for the first time, there is a unique opportunity Filipinos, Americans, and others, working together, to take a serious, unbiased look at what happened, and why,” Sellers added.

Tourism boom

Meanwhile, Karen Tiopes, Eastern Visayas regional tourism director said that Balangiga has already welcomed more than 22,000 visitors since the ceremonial turnover of the bells on December 15 last year.

The return of three historic church bells 117 years after has proven to be a tourism advantage to the poor and small town in the central Philippines.

As they expected the influx of both foreign and local tourists this year, Tiopes said a new tour program is currently in a pipeline after they made an assessment and identified the gaps for the pilgrimage tourism in Balangiga.

Tour expert Butz Eguia said there is “so much to do” in Balangiga, adding that the “aggressive works are being done.”

He predicted the coming of another 50,000 domestic and American tourists in the town.

Eguia said “concerted efforts” involving the tourism industry practitioners, experts from the academe and religious and parish groups has turned the tourism program for Balangiga into “an inclusive approach.”

Eastern Samar Provincial Tourism Officer Franklin Robedizo said that the launching of a new tour program in the province “will help uplift the poverty in Eastern Samar.”

Eastern Samar Governor Marcelo Ferdinand Picardal identified tourism as “key economic driver to lower the poverty incidence in the province from 46.3 percent to 25 percent.”

Prior to the return of the Balangiga bells, the province only received 80, 715 tourists in 2017. (SunStar Philippines)


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