[Trigger warning: The article and film tackle mental health issues.]
After veteran director Mike de Leon’s feat at the Museum of Modern Art, it looks like we have another Philippine cinema milestone tagged under firsts.
Remember Cinemalaya 2019’s talk-of-the-town film “John Denver Trending”? A few months after bagging Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and the NETPAC Jury Award at the independent film festival, Arden Rod Condez’ debut feature film flew to South Korea for the Busan International Film Festival’s New Currents section, and returned to the city in 2020 for the Busan International Kids and Youth Film Festival. Now, it’s making another comeback in South Korea, ready to pique the interest of a bigger audience.
On Nov. 15, the Film Development Council of the Philippines announced that “John Denver Trending” is screening in CGV, Lotte Cinema, and Megabox on Nov. 23. With its presence in major South Korean cities, FDCP says it’s the first Filipino film to have wide screenings throughout the country.
“Happy that this South Korean theatrical screening of our film is gaining some notice,” director Arden said on Twitter. In another tweet, he expressed gratitude to the Filipino artist who made one of the film’s alternate posters—a red one teasing the anxiety-inducing atmosphere of the film—serving as one of the Korean versions. Another one in Korean characters shown on the film’s official Facebook page features John Denver’s face—his eyes covered—set against the backdrop of social media’s seemingly toxic side.
Well, that’s one of the reasons why people continuously root for the film: It tells an important story on mental health. Set in Pandan, Antique and told in the Kinaray-a language, “John Denver Trending” shows how the online world’s harshness (and more unforgiving factors) can turn someone’s life upside down. Based on a true story, it follows the 14-year-old titular character as he navigates life in school and his community after being villainized due to a video posted online.
“It is inspired by true harrowing events and one way or another, some of the audience might have been involved in one of these incidents as spectators. It slaps us with the truth. It provokes us to do something. Cyberbullying is rapidly becoming an epidemic and I hope this film will push us to ponder and take some action,” the director told us in a 2019 interview.
Another interesting bit about the film is it features a lot of first time actors, including the lead Jansen Magpusao himself, taking inspiration from coming of age films like “Moonlight,” “The 400 Blows,” and “Kes” that did the same.
The 30-second Korean teaser of John Denver Trending. Parang lalaban sa Train to Busan kung makasuspense e.
Friends in South Korea, catch it on NOVEMBER 23 at CGV, Lotte Cinema, and Megabox in major Korean cities. pic.twitter.com/tkiiDWwjub
— ardenrod (@ardenrod) November 16, 2022
In a more recent chat with Scout, Arden shared his thoughts in relation to the milestone. “It is quite surprising for us that a South Korean distributor is still interested to screen a three-year-old Filipino film with a local langue and almost non-professional actors in their country. I just learned that he spent more than the film’s production budget just for the distribution and marketing of the film. This is how passionate he is.”
He added, “Perhaps, it is the relevance of the story up to this day that attracts him. I really hope that [the] regular South Korean audience would appreciate the film. I also hope that Filipinos in South Korea can find time to have a day off and watch the film. They say it’s the first time for a Filipino film to have this chance in SK. Sana maging proud sila (I hope they’ll be proud).”
“Perhaps, it is the relevance of the story up to this day that attracts him. I really hope that [the] regular South Korean audience would appreciate the film. I also hope that Filipinos in South Korea can find time to have a day off and watch the film.”
To watch the film in the Philippines, head to this streaming site.
“This film is going to be painful,” says this Cinemalaya 2019 filmmaker
Social media’s draining my mental health
Rating MMFF entries (as objectively as we can) based on their teasers and trailers
“John Denver Trending” South Korean version posters from the film’s official Facebook page