NPA guerrillas in a town of superheroes
NPA guerrillas in a town of superheroes
Interview with Steven de Castro, Revolution Selfie filmmaker
By Mila Astorga-Garcia
The Philippine Reporter
Filmmaker Steven de Castro is just as enigmatic as his deeply engrossing film Revolution Selfie: The Red Battalion (See Review of Ysh Cabana in The Philippine Reporter, June 14-27, 2019 issue) which he wrote, directed, narrated and participated in.
Revolutiona Selfie was screened last Dec. 29 in a community centre, The 519, in Toronto, attended by a sizeable audience of mostly millennials who apparently found the film’s content and format effective in sustaining their attention that they stayed on until the end, asked questions, joined the group photos, and even requested selfies with the filmmaker. Sponsors were Multi-Monde Film, TV and Radyo Migrante.
The Philippine Reporter had the chance to interview de Castro after the film.
He was candid and unapologetic in revealing his unusual background and decision to make a film about the New People’s Army, the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
A Filipino-American born in the U.S., de Castro grew up in New York, went to college in Ohio, lived in Arkansas as a rights organizer in poor communities, became a trial lawyer, but left after over a decade of law practice to “do something more significant in his life.”
De Castro revealed that his father, now deceased, once worked in an administrative role in the CIA “due to his idealism” thinking naively that the agency would work to “end people’s poverty;” but he left when it supported the election of the late Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos whom he did not like.
It was from his father, though, that de Castro first heard of the NPA when as a child his father would often tell him “if we did not leave the Philippines, I would have joined the NPA.”
Asked what had actually prompted him to make the movie about the NPA, de Castro said he “was concerned about justice, about human rights…about poverty,” and how the fight for justice, human rights and against poverty would tie up with the NPA’s life and struggle in the countrysides.
“I wanted to do a documentary that would be able to do that. I would talk to other people and I realized, for regular people in New York, nobody was interested in a movie about Maoist guerrillas in the jungle. The reason why this was so is the whole matrix of belief that is formed by corporate media in the form of news stories, movies, and so on and so forth, that if you have an AK 47, you’re a terrorist, an enemy, or just deluded,” de Castro said.
Challenged with this reality, de Castro thought “there must be a way to tell a story which will catch people’s interest just as much as in a video game, where it will bring people to the present. “They will not have to think they will agree or not agree with the story; they will just have to be in the present moment,” he said. Thus, the selfie format that evolved in his film.
Asked what the impact of the making of the film on his life was, de Castro said at first, he was shocked just to meet “Filipinos like them (NPA’s).”
“I was shocked. First of all, I had not really actually met peasants at all. The way they talk, walk… they’re totally different,” de Castro said, awed by their wisdom, and the disciplined way they do things.
“If you have a plan, and you want to do something today, but the sun came out and it was roasting, then you don’t have to do what you want to do – you just lie down, or you can die with exhaustion. And when it is raining, it is hard when you have to walk some place. You could harm yourself, so you have to learn how to walk with the rhythm of the earth,” de Castro said, raving about the “amazing people” he described as “revolutionary Filipinos.”
“The first thing you learn about revolutionary Filipinos is they wake up 4 a.m., go to the kitchen and work when the sun is not even out. They’re happy. They work every time. They work to improve themselves everyday. ‘I’ve got to change myself. I’ve got to be less selfish. I’ve got to learn and try to improve myself every day,’” was what he often heard from them, he said. “And you actually see it in the way they work, play, in the way they participate in activities, from sports to military drills,” he said, all towards becoming better individuals in the service of the revolution. “It’s just like being in a town of superheroes.”
“If you meet just 10 people like that in New York City, it would be amazing, and there were about 600 of them in that place,” de Castro said.
The most powerful impact on the director, he said, was that the experience of knowing and living with revolutionary people “changed the way I saw things in life…in people, in how revolutionaries are made. There is nothing special about them. It is the circumstance of society that people rise up in the population that they become revolutionaries. There is a revolutionary inside us we just don’t know it, and if the conditions are there, we rise, we become superheroes. It’s an amazing sacrifice and discipline to become one. But I find that spirit in humans. They have something that can be unlocked inside. I’ve seen that people can do it. Like superheroes.”
And remarkably, in that battalion of 600 NPA’s, 90 per cent of them local peasants, de Castro witnessed how people could live in happiness and camaraderie, even as they know they could die anytime as combatants in the revolution they have chosen to take on as their life’s mission.