Best. Movie. About. Philippine. History.
That’s a hard one.
In my humble opinion, no one can come close to what Mike de Leon did in his film “Bayaning Third World" (2000) in terms of accuracy. De Leon made use of extant documents, making these primary sources speak for themselves through the characters that wrote them.
Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s “Jose Rizal" (1998) came close to being a great film, but it shied away from the Rizal retraction controversy by just reaffirming that Rizal retracted even when this is still being debated upon by historians. Cesar Montano as Rizal was still exceptional though.
These two films managed to strike a balance between being accurate historically and not having a dragging storyline, a prevalent defect of most Filipino historical films who tend to follow primary sources too closely and in so doing sacrificing creativity in the part of film direction.
Another film that followed the historical documents was Raymond Red’s “Sakay" (1993), which quite frankly was a very good summary of the life of the revolutionary Macario Sakay, who fought Spaniards, and later on Americans, well-after the Philippine-American War. John Dahl’s "The Great Raid" (2005) was also a pretty good film of the successful raid on the Japanese concentration camp in Cabanatuan during the Japanese Occupation. Siri and Kiri Dalena’s "Ang Kababaihan ng Malolos" (2013) was a praiseworthy musical ‘docudrama’ about the women of Malolos who braved through ostracism and political persecution to be granted the permission to study the Spanish language. Their renown made Rizal write to them in an article in La Solidaridad. The story is told by one of the women, Basilia Tantoco, through narration and sometimes through song.
The most crappy Filipino historical film I ever saw was “El Presidente" (2012) which was dependent only on Aguinaldo’s memoir, which naturally has bias in favor of the memoirist. I don’t even want to tell of the bad acting of the actor in the film. It was really bad. Another crappy film, was Mario O’hara’s "Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (2010). The film was about the kangaroo court trial of the Magdalo military against the founder of the Katipunan, Andres Bonifacio. The film had that rare chance to uphold truth and justice for the slain hero but instead the story reverted back to absurdity and ‘postmodernism’ that to make sense of it all is just plain weird. (For the record, I am never impressed by those "isms" in film. Stop treating art for art’s sake. Art is just a medium to carry the message. Romanticizing the medium, and glorifying it, makes the message—its raison-d’etre—trivial and therefore nonsensical).
Upcoming films show some promise. Like Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna" (2015) with an all-star cast. The trailer looks awesome, and it seems the director would be faithful to the historical accounts, based on those super-accurate uniforms of the Philippine army under Luna.
There were other forgotten historical films we have. I haven’t watched them yet, but I saw some posters of them in some old quarters of Manila (Escolta, Intramuros, and Binondo). There was “Los Ultimos de Filipinas” (1945) which documented the heroic Spanish contingent who withstood Filipino revolutionaries for one whole year in Baler. There was National Artist Gerardo de Leon’s “Diego Silang” (1951) that showed the life of Diego Silang, the revolutionary from Ilocos, who sought to rebel against Spain during the British Occupation of Manila. Felix Villar’s “Heneral Paua" (1956) portrayed the only Chinese general who fought in the Philippine side during the Philippine Revolution against Spain and in the Philippine-American War.
While we have history films, we do not have much historical fiction films. There’s John Sayles’s “Amigo" (2011) which was set in an imaginary Filipino town in a countryside taken over by American forces during the Philippine-American War. There was also Albert Martinez’s "Rosario" (2010) which was a recent good attempt of a historical fiction set in the American Colonial Period, centering on the life and tragedy of the liberal Filipina pensionado. My other fellow tumblr-blogger friends might know other films I haven’t mentioned. Feel free to reblog and add to the list. :)