If there is one director in Philippine cinema today who always pulls off the unexpected, it would have to be noted filmmaker Enzo Williams.
Forever etched in memory as the man who challenged history and declared Andres Bonifacio as the country’s “true first president” in his maiden feature “Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo” (2014), Williams’ follow up was the out-of-left-field erotic drama “The Escort” (2016) starring Derek Ramsay and Lovi Poe.
With a total of 22 awards for Bonifacio and a box-office hit in The Escort, there was no telling what Williams would do next until Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino announced its 12 feature films for the weeklong run that begins today. In that list, his name prominently figured beside the action entry “AWOL” from Skylight Films and Cinebro.
And so it came to be that when Williams sat down with The T-Zone almost half a year since their last conversation, he had a slightly cheeky grin on his face.
“Direk, action naman ngayon?” The T-Zone asked him incredulously. “The jump from biopic to erotic drama was surprising enough but here you go again.”
He chuckled and said, “I’ve made a decision to always choose my projects carefully, come up with something that is always new, and never play safe.”
Williams quickly added that while many find it hard to believe he has gone into action movies, he had long explored the genre even as a film student in Los Angeles City College.
“In fact, my thesis in the US was an action movie,” he pointed out. Entitled “Cain,” his film thesis won “Best Film” that semester.
A movie buff since the age of nine, Williams further told The T-Zone that he has always been a fan of the genre, and not just the ones that come from big-budgeted Hollywood studios.
“I’m really a fan of action films, those of Phillip Salvador, Bembol Roco—yung mga panahon nila [director Lino Brocka],” he enthused. “That’s why I’m happy to be able to re-start the genre somehow especially since hardly anyone risks doing action movies nowadays because of the cost.”
Admitting he still had a limited budget for AWOL, Williams said he did the best he could, which, based on the clips he showed The T-Zone, was shot in the clean and seamless style he is known for, fast-paced, and with promising adrenalin-pumping moments.
“We tried to work with what we have and I can promise a full action movie with at least five major action scenes all throughout,” Williams guaranteed.
Besides exciting his creativity, however, what makes AWOL more significant for the director is the opportunity to shed light on the difficult life our soldiers endure even beyond the war zone.
AWOL was made in partnership and collaboration with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Its lead character is Lt. Abel Ibarra (Gerald Anderson), a team leader of an elite sniper group of the Philippine Army, Scout Ranger division. He wants out of the battlefield to spend more time with his wife, Lara, and raise their young daughter, Bea. After the success of his last mission against a notorious Moro terrorist group in Mindanao, Abel is finally pulled out of operations and transferred to the camp to mentor young sniper cadets.
Believing he is about to begin a peaceful family life, tragedy strikes when a homemade explosive device suddenly goes off in the middle of a social gathering where Abel and every member of his elite sniper team and their families are in attendance. The explosion kills everyone in the area, and only Abel and his wife Lara miraculously survive.
Driven by guilt and a promise to his comrades-in-arms to find justice for their deaths, Abel does everything in accordance with the law to find the people behind the bombing. But Abel and his family are hunted down by professional assassins.
“With what’s going on in Marawi, the public has become more aware of the plight of our soldiers and their heroism. But what this movie will hopefully show them is that aside from the dangers na hinaharap nila when they go on their missions, may bwelta pa iyan sa private lives nila,” Williams disclosed.
A member of the brotherhood of Free Masonry where a large number, at least in the Philippines, come from the armed forces and the police force, it is personal for Williams to show just how much of his life a soldier gives to his country.
“They risk their lives for the Filipino in fighting a war but the truth is that even outside the battle field, their lives are as much in danger—and worse even their families’ lives are endangered too,” he continued. “Yung buwelta or ganti ng kalaban, it happens at least four times a year on average na binabalikan ang isang sundalo kasama ang pamilya niya. Hindi na lang napapaalam sa publiko.”
For his advocacy, Williams’ friends in the force gave him their all-out support. Anderson received top-notch training with Special Forces and Scout Rangers. And as the actor reveled in an interview, one of the men he trained with had died in Marawi.
“The AFP provided us with what we needed to make AWOL as accurate and realistic as possible, and they were there from pre-production all the way to shooting the movie,” said Williams. “We also secured a DND (Department of National Defense) approval and we hope this will be something they will be proud of.”
Besides paying tribute to the Filipino solider, The T-Zone asked what he hopes will be his audience’s take-away from AWOL. Williams cited two factors.
“First, I want them to be entertained by the movie as well as be awakened by it, because I want to be the kind of filmmaker whose movies are remembered not by who directed it but by the movie itself.
“Secondly, I want the movie to inspire people in the same way that my other movie Bonifacio hopefully did. Inspire them about a man’s love for country, for brotherhood and for family.”
AWOL is one of the 12 featured films of the first nationwide Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, which begins today.