According to direk Joel: The life and times of Ka Felix Manalo

Pablo A. Tariman - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - In the special presscon for the epic film, Felix Manalo, direk Joel Lamangan admits his latest project is one of a kind.

In the same breath, he finds it quite complex and many-layered for one reason or the other.

Says he: “Let’s admit it, the film is quite complicated and the subject out of the ordinary. What Ka Felix Manalo, the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC) founder, went through is for me a lot of revelations. I am no INC member so I am talking from the point of view of an outsider looking in. As the scenes from his early life are recorded by the camera, I could feel his aspirations, his vision, his tough times and how he hurdled all the trials and tribulations of a man tied to his Bible and determined to convert the faithful to his side.

To do justice to the film, Lamangan has to do a lot of immersions. He has to read the Bible, he has to attend worship sessions and read all publications to know everything about the religion.

He points out: “As it turned, Ka Felix Manalo’s efforts paid off. His kind of faith attracted millions of followers here and abroad and that is no easy feat. And so I have to study his social milieu, the family where he came from and the forces of culture and politics that shaped him. Whether we like it or not, the rise and domination of INC is now part of the country’s history.”

The writing of the script took some time and the production meetings were as exhaustive as the research work involved.

On the set, Lamangan was guided by a minister who gave advice on how certain church rituals were done in real life. “No, their presence didn’t cramp my directing style as I needed every detailed advice on how this church came to be. The script was written by the head of evangelism of INC and I had to be guided as the story of the film can’t veer away from their church doctrine. When your knowledge of their religion is quite limited, you naturally welcome all the help you could get by way of inputs from the authority. A substantial part of the film is about their church doctrine and since this is part of their spiritual lives, I welcomed all advice and suggestions to make this special film take off.”

Before the presscon proper, the media was invited to a special preview of the trailer and surprisingly, it earned a unanimous positive feedback.

The fine elements of cinema from cinematography to production design and music scoring are noticeably present in the two versions of the trailers. The various hues of sepia gave it a simple yet arresting quality and Lamangan made sure the story is the thing, not the cast.

And yet all the who’s who in Philippine cinema are in the film giving it a casting of epic proportion.

Elaborates Lamangan: “It helped of course that I’ve been directing for some time. Many in the cast appeared in my previous films and they know my language on the set and what I want. This made things easy for me on the set. On the other hand, I also collaborated with the production designers and the cinematographer in the person of Rody Lacap. We settled for various hues of sepia to denote a past that we have forgotten already. I must say Lacap did a very good job here and so did the film scorer in the person of Von de Guzmán. We all worked closely together to give the film an encompassing theme.”

To top it all, the actor who portrayed the title role more than lived up to his expectations. “I must say that Dennis (Trillo) here virtually outshone himself. I had misgivings in the beginning but gradually as he immersed into the part, I noticed he even started to look like Ka Felix Manalo himself. It wasn’t easy of course as he has to use prosthetics as his role aged. But I am not really surprised because I have worked with him many times and I was seeing him get one award after another. He is so because he is a very focused actor. And in this role, he has to work twice as hard to achieve a certain level of acting that should be more than satisfactory to both director and church ministers. He did a lot of research even before the first production meeting. Later, he reviewed old photos and videos of the INC founder, visited museums and attended the regular church worship hours.”

Trillo tells this writer the role of Ka Felix Manalo is so far his most difficult and also the most challenging. “Of course, there was the usual pressure to not just live up to the part. Everything I do should look real. It is, of course, unnerving that the man has millions of followers and they all love him. The immersion was difficult because I am not an INC member (he is Catholic). And so I have to thoroughly study his life and his religion as well. You have to know his life and times. Some of the most difficult scenes were those where I have to deliver pages and pages of lines in one setting.”

In the editing room, Lamangan is gratified to see that the close collaboration paid off.

The director says that the project is indeed unique in many ways compared to his previous output. “After long immersion on the material, I was given a rare insight into this religion and the man who founded it. After looking at the final reels for editing, I realized that our creative team has given birth to an extraordinary baby worthy of the long nurturing we did to give this film a life of its own.”

Felix Manalo opens Oct. 7 in theaters nationwide.

Portraying the INC founder is Dennis’ most challenging role so far













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