John Denver Trending, an independent film about cyberbullying, makes Philippine film history as the first Filipino film to get wide screenings in South Korean cinemas.
One adaptation after another, it is undeniably clear how the Hallyu wave continues to capture the Filipino audience, with South Korean movies and series dominating our screens and our conversations. So, it is quite a feat for a Filipino film, and an independent one at that, to be gracing the screens of the home of our oppas and K-Pop biases. John Denver Trending, an award-winning film from Visayan filmmaker Arden Rod Condez, makes history as the first Filipino film to be released with wide screenings in the land of the morning calm.
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A CAUTIONARY TALE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA
Set in Pandan, Antique, John Denver Trending follows the life of John Denver Cabungcal, a grade eight student who has been accused of stealing by his classmate. Pushed to his limits by persistent allegation, the fourteen-year-old assaults his accuser. John Denver’s life gets upended as the incident, which has been recorded by his peers, goes viral, earning him the ire of the townsfolk and netizens.
Featuring mostly non-professional actors speaking in Kinaray-a, John Denver Trending is the film debut of Arden Rod Condez who also hails from Antique. For his gripping and masterful screenplay, the television writer-turned-director also won an accolade from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature, the highest literary prize in the country. “I am happy that the Palanca Awards appreciates the relevance of this story today,” says Condez. “It is a cautionary tale on the effects of how oftentimes we misuse social media.”
John Denver Trending would later on premiere at the 15th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, which also funded the project and became a critical and commercial success. It won six prizes during the festival including Best Picture, the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) award, and Best Actor for the newcomer Jansen Magpusao. Not only that, the indie regional drama was also one of Cinemalaya’s box office hits, even extending the film’s limited run to three weeks, a first for the local film festival.
And then it would tour the world. John Denver Trending’s relevant theme that critiques our highly digitized society proved to be resonant across the globe as it participated, to much acclaim, in international film festivals like the 24th Busan International Film Festival, the 23rd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia, the 20th San Diego Asian Film Festival in the United States, and in the 26th Vesoul International Film Festival in France, where it garnered the audience award and the critics’ citation.
JOHN DENVER TRENDING IN SOUTH KOREA
Three years later, John Denver Trending’s powerful storytelling continues to resonate and make an impact as it is now going to screen in South Korea. In an announcement made by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) on November 15, 2022, John Denver Trending, which it described as having a “sharp gaze that captures the colorful and complex problems of modern society” and a “strong message that awakens awareness of school violence,” will be released in major Korean cities on November 23, 2022. As per the FDCP, “it will be the first Filipino film to be released with wide screenings throughout Korea.”
“Wow, our little film from our little town did that?” exclaims Condez through a Facebook post. “Super grateful for our South Korean distributor for being so eager and crazy for spending a lot for a three-year old film.” In one of the posts from the film’s social media page, it is also revealed that an eight-minute feature on John Denver Trending’s nationwide screening has been aired at Munhwa Broadcasting Company (MBC), one of South Korea’s leading television and radio stations.
Officially, the historic nationwide screening also marks John Denver Trending’s first regular theatrical screening, and it’s no less than in South Korea to boot. The film will screen in different theater chains including CGV, Lotte Cinema, and Megabox. “This is for everyone who helped us make this film happen,” continues Condez in his celebratory post. “Three years and forever, I will always be grateful.” Currently, Condez is working on Sonny Calvento’s feature film Inahing Baka (Mother Maybe) as one of the writers. Meanwhile, you can watch the acclaimed film for free on iWantTFC. It seems that John Denver is still trending, but for all the right reasons.
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