From all the history lessons they have taken, Filipinos are well aware of Manuel L. Quezon — a statesman, soldier and politician who served as President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines from 1935 to 1944. He was the first Filipino to head a government of the entire country and is considered to be the second president of the Philippines, after Emilio Aguinaldo.
But little did people know, Quezon is also distinguished for his notable humanitarian act wherein he, in cooperation with United States high officials, facilitated the entry to the Philippines of over a thousand Jewish refugees fleeing fascist regimes in Europe prior to the Holocaust.
As such, in 2015, the Board of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation approved a posthumous bestowal of the Wallenberg Medal to President Quezon and the people of the Philippines for having reached out, between 1937 and 1941, to the victims of the Holocaust.
Israel also grants visa-free access to all Filipinos, a gesture of gratitude for the Philippines and even erected the “Open Doors” monument in 2009 in remembrance of Quezon’s act of kindness when the rest of the world rejected the Jews.
Since not many Filipinos today are familiar about the role Quezon and the country played in history, a film revolving the hidden chapter of Quezon’s life is produced which explores the time when he, together with his comrades, rescued Jewish refugees from the ghettos of Germany and Austria in 1938.
Dubbed “Quezon’s Game,” it has bagged 23 awards all over the world since December last year. This includes Best Director, Best Actor, Best Producer, Best Foreign Film and Best Cinematography, from several film festivals such as World Fest, IndieFest Film Awards, Accolade International Film and TV Festival and WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival in Texas, USA.
In the World Fest alone, the film bagged the following awards: Exellence in Acting for Raymond Bagatsing and Rachel Alejandro, Exellence in Supporting Actor for Billy Ray Galloon, Exellence in Directing, Exellence in Produced Screenplay, Exellence in Lighting, Exellence in Costume Design, Merit Drama Feature, Merit Color Treatment, Exellence in Original Score, Exellence in Sound Design and Exellence in Production Design.
Helmed by Matthew Rosen — who has been directing for 36 years with 50 awards for his work on commercials and music videos — Quezon’s Game stars Raymond Bagatsing as Quezon and Rachel Alejandro as his wife, Aurora.
Rosen emphasized that the film reflects the compassion of Filipinos, “This movie isn’t really about politics at all. In fact, this movie isn’t really about the life of Quezon. What this movie to me is really the culture that we as Filipinos have in a time when we shone a light of humanity when the rest of the world was drowning in the pity of their war.”
“What seems within their power at first, turns out to be fraught with astronomical obstacles —that’s what we’re going to talk in this movie. On top of this, Quezon must battle a relapse of tuberculosis. In his final days, before recollecting one of the least known but most uplifting stories in Philippine history, Quezon asks the question, “Could I have done more?” Rosen continued.
According to Rosen, the production team spent over three months on casting alone. Bagatsing spent many days immersing into the character of Quezon, studying his mannerisms, voice, and the way he talked by watching YouTube videos of Manuel Quezon over and over.
Meanwhile, Alejandro captures the regal, demure, yet stately persona of the first lady. Hers was a character who knows how to act in support of the stature of her husband.
“How were they picked for the role was the most important question for the production. When we started it, because they are such important characters to the story, they have to be right. Quezon has to be Quezon and Aurora has to be Aurora. I, as a director, believe that 90 percent of directing is casting and 10 percent is being on the set. As a director, I spent majority of the time casting compared to the amount of time we spent shooting,” Rosen recalled.
“As soon as I saw them read, they were for me, Aurora and Quezon. That was right from the first reading,” he shared.
Bagatsing and Alejandro said that while there are other actors the production team had in mind, it all came down to the actual reading of the script.
“They offered me a role but I’m not sure they mentioned the name of the movie, but during that time, ginagawa namin yung ‘Pusong Ligaw’ sobrang puyat kami ng mga panahong ‘yun. When they texted me, 6 a.m. na kami nakauwi from the shoot, but, they want me to be in the audition 9 a.m. When I got there I met the production team. Direk Matthew told me, ‘Raymond, you’re the favorite actor of my wife.’ So I thought I got the role, but they told me to still audition,” enthused Bagatsing.
“He then gave me the script. I did the speech. He had a bit of an American accent I guess but it was heartfelt. I also did with a Spanish accent. Everyone was clapping after my audition so I thought nakuha ko na, but Direk Matthew said they will give me a call. Fast forward, I forgot about the film, the whole two months, I thought wala na. But he called me back for a final audition, saying 90 percent of the film is for me na. So I went there complete with all white outfit. Finally, they said I’m Quezon,” he continued.
Alejandro also recalled, “ I was invited by them to audition. I had to come back many times. I think may mga ibang actresses din sila in mind. Maraming na-suggest ang Star Cinema. But at the end of the day, it boiled down sa reading, we also had to do a lot of scenes together to get the chemistry. It was actually being filmed as well. They have to see we looked right with each other.”
Finally, director Rosen reiterated they had tackled the particular chapter of Quezon’s life because most Filipinos today didn’t have the chance to live under the era of President Quezon.
“I came across the story 10 years ago. I went to a synagogue and found out a whole room in the back about the history of Jews in the Philippines and it was so intresting. The story about Quezon saving the Jews from Germany was mind-boggling. All of the Jewish community in the Philippines knows about it. So I said it could be a great movie so I started researching about it. I found out that it wasn’t commonly known by Filipinos and I thought, this is a story that needs to be told because it is a remarkable feat on humanity that has been lost and I need to bring it back so the people would know about it,” he said.
“Quezon stood up for the rights of humanity. He did all he could possibly do to help rescue fellow humanbeings from persecution. I believe if it wasn’t for the invasion of Japan here in the Philippines, he would’ve save a lot more lives. For that one act alone, President Quezon should be remembered forever,” he ended.
Produced by ABS-CBN Film’s Star Cinema and Kinetek, Quezon’s Game opens today in cinemas nationwide.