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Discovering ‘John Denver’

August 14, 2019

Inspired by the story of a boy who was taken by his teacher to the police after being accused of stealing an iPad of a classmate, long-time ABS-CBN teleserye writer Arden Rod Condez localized the events in his hometown in Antique to come up with a timely narrative in the age of social media. A time when anything that goes viral could either uplift or destroy the subject, whether through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube.

Titled “John Denver Trending,” Condez entered his work to the 68th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature last year which eventually won 2nd Place in the Dulang Pampelikula (Screenplay) category.

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Jansen Magpusao receives his Best Actor trophy for playing cyberbullied farm boy John Denver in Cinemalaya 2019’s Best Film. PHOTOS BY JOHN ORVEN VERDOTE

He entered the same work to Cinemalaya and was chosen as one of the 10 finalists in the 15th edition of Asia’s pioneering independent film festival.

Scouting for the actor to play John Denver (named after the late American country singer), a 14-year-old farm boy caught on video attacking a classmate — but actually shielding himself from a brawl after getting accused of stealing an iPad — Condez chose Jansen Magpusao, whose family lives in a mountain resort called Malumpati Cold Spring in Pandan, Antique.

The discovery

“May nagpadala po ng picture ko at nagustuhan daw ni direk ang mga mata ko,” the teener, now 15, told the entertainment media including The Manila Times at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Theater backstage soon after he received his Best Actor trophy during the Cinemalaya 2019 Awards on Sunday.

“Jansen didn’t want to audition because he’s too shy. But I got intrigued by his eyes the first time I saw his picture so I asked a staff to go to his house to record a video of him auditioning. I saw rawness in him,” Condez related.

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The cast and crew of ‘John Denver Trending’ with Cinemalaya Founding Chairman Antonio ‘Tonyboy’ Cojuangco and Cinemalaya President Laurice Guillen.
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The young discovery takes a selfie before boarding for his first plane ride to Manila. FACEBOOK PHOTO
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Arden Rod Condez receives the Best Film trophy with the cast and crew in full force around him.

The writer-first-time-director then had the boy undergo acting workshop through Ryanne Murcia. “Surprisingly, he did well as an actor,” he said.

Entirely shot in Condez’s home province using the local Kinaray-a language (with English subtitles), Meryll Soriano and Sunshine Teodoro are the only professional actors in the film, who Condez thanked for their generosity to realize the project. The rest of the cast are either his relatives or friends.

On the way to fame

From an unknown boy living quiet­ly in a secluded town, Magpusao was suddenly thrust into the limelight starting on the gala premiere of the movie on August 3.

“I witnessed how his eyes grew big when he saw tall buildings for the first time. He was so amazed. And it was also his first time to watch a movie in his entire life as there’s no cinema in our home town. Travel time takes six hours to Iloilo, just to see a movie,” Condez said.

Magpusao was still trembling from excitement for winning Best Actor when he faced the media, arranged like the Oscars in Hollywood on Sunday. He could hardly speak that The Manila Times told him to relax for a minute.

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The cast — save for Meryll Soriano and Sunshine Teodoro — are all locals of Pandan, Antique. FACEBOOK PHOTO

With no immediate answer whether to be based in Manila now as he became officially trending like his movie, the boy said he has to talk to his parents and Condez.

The director meanwhile said that he has no regrets leaving his job as he believes he found his calling in directing films. Thankful for the cooperation of everyone involved in the production with limited budget, he said that they just worked on what was available.

“Lahat harbat, pati si Meryll hinarbat lang namin at malaking pasalamat namin na pumayag siya,” he said, pointing to the actress who is the only recognizable name in the cast.

“John Denver Trending” was named Best Film and also won the awards for Best Original Music Score, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. It also received the NETPAC Award for full length feature.

One of those who bankrolled the production was award-winning director Sheron Dayoc (“Halaw,” “The Crescent Rising,” “Bukod Kang Pinagpala,” “Women of the Weeping River”), who also was a finalist in the Short Feature Category with “The Shoemaker” starring Sherry Luna and Soliman Cruz.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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