With superstars Vic Sotto and Robin Padilla headlining their respective motion pictures, and the likes of "unkabogable" star Vice Ganda and "Diamond Star" Maricel Soriano pairing for the first time, and Jodi Sta. Maria and Richard Yap bringing their popular TV show to the silver screen, San Pedro Calungsod, Batang Martir, is, without doubt, the David pitted against all these movie Goliaths.
San Pedro Calungsod, Batang Martir is an official entry to the 39th Metro Manila Film Festival this December, under the direction and writing of Francis Villacorta.
The film presents the life of Pedro Calungsod, a young Visayan, who leaves his family to join the Spanish Jesuit priest Fr. Diego de San Vitores in his mission to the Marianas Islands (Guam) in 1668.
The San Diego Mission arrives in the Marianas where the young Pedro, a trained catechist and mission assistant, begins work for Fr. Diego de San Vitores in baptizing the Chamorro natives, preaching the holy gospel and spreading the good news of salvation through the Christian faith amidst paganism, doubt and disbelief.
Despite the longing for his father and the threats to their lives, Pedro and Fr. Diego continue their missionary work. They roam the dangerous islands and baptize many more natives and enlighten them about Christianity.
How the young Filipino survived wars and persecutions and how he played part in this divine mission are highlighted, giving viewers the chance to better appreciate the life of the new saint.
Dream come true
The result of two years of research and one year of pre-production, Pedro Calungsod is now being filmed. Writer/director Francis Villacorta is ecstatic.
"Prior to the announcement, I asked for the intercession of San Pedro Calungsod; I prayed that he (would) enlighten the selection committee and that they (would) see our film as worthwhile to view this Christmas time," divulges the amiable direk Francis.
"We really prayed that we be part of this festival because when you are featured in a festival, you are assured of a bigger audience, and personally, I feel that St. Calungsod's life deserves a bigger Filipino audience. We all must know what happened to him."
He adds, "Young people today can learn a lot from the heroic life of San Pedro Calungsod. Ordinary as he was, being a young catechist and mission assistant, the dedication to his work and his devotion to God is all too inspiring. His longing for his biological father back home in the Visayas he eventually overcomes because of his love for Jesus Christ and His teachings. This is a fascinating study of a young life all too willingly given up for the love of our Savior. Honestly, I believe our life on earth is all but a preparation for our reunion with Him, our Creator in the end.”
"Part of the attraction to filming his life is the fact that it is so cinematic," Villacorta enthuses. "There are so many highlights. There are so many dramatic arcs. There is just so much inspiration. This is a story of faith that must be told and seen."
According to him, Rocco Nacino was chosen to play lead because of his depth.
"I always look at the eyes of actors. If his eyes are saying something deep, kahit wala ka pang sinasabi, that is where I find the emotional connection and his eyes speak volumes. That, for me, is very important. And Rocco's eyes, they have it. Pinoy na Pinoy pa siya. And I know how serious he is with his craft. Of late, his TV projects are impressive. and I have watched most of them kaya sigurado akong magaling siya."
Challenged by the role
In the film, the ultimate Pinoy male super model and character actor Christian Vasquez plays his biggest role to date as Padre Diego San Vitores, the Spanish priest and father figure of Pedro Calungsod, the man instrumental to the young man's passionate belief in Jesus Christ.
"What I find most interesting about the film is the fact that is true to life, it is based on real people and events," he says. "Playing a true-to-life character, as an actor, it poses quite a challenge because you must really flesh him out. You don't only make him authentic for the sake of authenticity; you also give him a lot of heart and honest to goodness emotions."
The languages he must learn as Padre San Vitores, Spanish and Latin, is another hurdle that Vasquez faces.
"I am currently studying Spanish. My teacher is Dr. Daisy Lopez from UP," shares Vasquez. "More than reciting the lines, it is important that I understand them as well. Hindi sapat ‘yung okey akong magsalita in Spanish. I must understand them para hindi nawawala ang soul. I have a lot of confrontation scenes, with Jestoni Alarcon (Capitan Juan de Sta. Cruz). All our discourses are in Spanish, and they are very lengthy at that. Our arguments center on faith, religion, politics and God, of course.”
"This is my biggest role to date," he beams. "Feeling ko talaga, actor na actor na ako."
Chance of a lifetime
Portraying the batang martir, Pedro Calungsod is Rocco Nacino. The young actor is challenged and pressured to give life to the second Filipino saint.
"It's a huge leap," declares Rocco. "Right now, I'm doing so many characters, which are emotionally and mentally taxing on my part. I am not complaining though. The role of Pedro will take a lot of research and training. I need to learn Spanish, Latin and Visayan. That aspect alone is daunting, but I know kaya ko. One of these days, I am attending a Latin mass so that I (will) know how it feels. I want to experience it so that aurally. I will be used to it na."
He admits, "Ang laki ng pressure sa akin. I am very nervous, yes, since I play the central character, but all these are good pressure. This is the pressure that pushes you. I don't want to sound boastful pero wala akong doubts na hindi ko kayang maging si Pedro Calungsod.
"When they offered this role to me, even if I know I am the second choice, declining it never came to mind," Nacino says. "This is a role of a lifetime. It's an opportunity to learn and grow as an actor."
Other cast members are Ryan Eigenmann, Robert Correa, Alvin Aragon, Victor Basa, BJ Forbes, Carlo Gonzalez, Arthur Solinap, Mico Palanca, Cholo Barretto, Geoff Taylor, Johann Santos, Isadora Valasquez, Ruby Ruiz and Mercedes Cabral.
San Pedro Calungsod, Batang Martir, produced by HPI Synergy Group in association with Wings Entertainment, is slated for a nationwide theatrical release in December 2013.