02 Jun 2010 (Wed) at 5:00 pm 3 comments

Faculty: The teachers

A tale of two teachers: Do our schools allow for militant education?

A part of ANC’s amBisyon 2010
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Cast: Che Ramos, Bea Garcia

At first glance, Jerrold Tarog’s Faculty is a very astute short film. A part of ANC’s amBisyon 2010, it discusses the plight of militant teachers, who are often persecuted and discharged from educational institutions because of their controversial teachings and methods. The core of the discussion is ideology, and the tactics and strategies with which to shape progressive minds.

It is the story of Joan, an activist teacher in “one of the more expensive colleges in Metro Manila” who has resigned due to friction with the school administration. On her last day, she drops by to see her friend and co-teacher Ria to say goodbye and hand in her resignation letter. In the process, a confrontation explodes between the two.

On a dramatic level, the script is well-written. Joan and Ria are both well-rounded characters, with their personalities, beliefs and histories skillfully rendered in a short dialogue. It is believable. The cinematography, while nothing special, is well-executed. The topic is controversial, and discussed in an engaging manner.

The film ends, however, with a bitter aftertaste.

Faculty: Joan and Ria

Joan (left) is the colorful upfront provocateur whose idea of a farewell gift is a shotglass; Ria (right) is the voice of reason and compassion, clad in black and white, with a cross around her neck.

Joan is the loose cannon: outspoken, somewhat gauche (matabil ang dila, so to speak), her purse loud and colorful, her statement shirt proclaiming that she is a proud Filipino. The root of the dispute is revealed to be Joan’s bringing of students to a protest rally, where one of her pupils, Julia, was injured when a policeman clubbed her during the violent dispersal. It is revealed that Joan, while “palaban,” possesses some cowardice and indifference herself after her one-week disappearing act immediately after the incident. It was Ria who took up the burden of caring for Julia in the hospital and explaining the situation to the child’s parents.

In the end, Ria, the pragmatic one, turns out to be the more “caring” of the two. Thus, the sympathy of the film leans toward Ria, the soft-spoken figure of purity. Dressed in plain white, her demeanor quiet, she is a kind soul. Just like Joan, for example, Ria also urged her students to participate in charitable relief operations. Ria advocates social involvement, but not too much. Her cautionary aside to Joan, “Wag na masyadong palaban, ha?” is what actually sparks the whole confrontation.

Ria: Walang aktibista sa college na ‘to.
Joan: So?
Ria: So, misguided yung ginawa mo. Yung ginagawa mo. Hindi realistic.
Joan: Bakit ikaw, realistic ka?
Ria: Bakit, sino ba tong mga batang to? I mean, mahal ko sila, but they’re spoiled rich kids! Class A students from class A families!

While Faculty recognizes Joan as the more ennobled teacher, Ria is portrayed as the more reasonable, more compassionate one. Ria is more “realistic” about her expectations of her elite students, while Joan is the “misguided” one.

It is tempting to agree with Ria, empathy and all, but her pragmatism is founded on several doubtful assumptions. First, Ria seems to equate “social awareness” with rallies alone, as if violence and street protests are all there is to social involvement. Obviously, there is an oversimplification of activism here. Joan, on her part as supposedly “progressive,” does little to dispel this notion, instead harping on “critical thinking” and other abstract concepts to defend herself—as if social awareness was not concrete, as if it was not about introducing her students to new ideas, new contexts, new situations and new people outside of their class/room. If she can’t even properly defend her immersion activities, is she even progressive in the first place?

Second, Ria basically argues that social awareness (like Joan wishes to imbibe) is a lost cause for college students, that any social concern should’ve already been taught by parents at an early age, or at least in high school. Cynical, Joan accuses Ria, and rightly so, for is there no hope for college students? Is social concern just another one of those “values” that are assimilated in childhood, alongside politeness and being God-fearing? Or is it not a responsibility that constantly challenges us with its daily urgency, well into adulthood?

Third, Ria faults Joan for Julia’s injury. “Sino’ng nagdala kay Julia sa mga rally?” Ria asks, asserting Joan’s responsibility for the incident, to which Joan only manages a repetitive and feeble reply: “That’s not my fault.” But Joan appears to acquiesce to Ria, and lowers her gaze, guilty as charged.

There is something amiss. While it is reasonable for Joan to feel guilt—after all she is a teacher, and Julia was under her care at the time of the dispersal—it is wrong for Ria to blame Joan. Whose fault was it, really? Did Joan bring her students to the rally with the knowledge that they will certainly be met with violence? Was it Joan herself who attacked Julia? Is Joan to blame—or is it not the fascistic state and its repressive police force?

Faculty: The Shotglass

The shotglass as metaphor: Joan gifts Ria with "pride," (left) only to have it shattered (right) a few minutes later.

“Ano ka ba, Joan, walang kontrabida dito,” Ria says in an attempt to evade the inevitable confrontation. A few minutes later, however, she ends up implicating Joan as the villain, and while Ria apologizes for hurting Joan’s feelings, she is not apologetic for her accusatory statements.

Ria is right; neither Joan nor herself are the enemy here. However, she ends up blaming the easy target: Joan, and not “the system” towards which she claims to have attuned her expectations. In short, it is not the system (fascist school administrators and state forces) but they, the teachers, who must change.

And what kind of change do teachers have to undergo? Ria puts it succinctly: “Yan ang trabaho natin dito: yaya.”

Faculty leaves a bitter aftertaste because both of its characters end up hopeless. Ria, who is content with indulging her students, the children of the ruling class, within the comfortable ideological zone of the gentry, accepting her demotion from educator to nanny. Joan, on the other hand, looks to high school as a greener pasture to sow her progressive seeds, but is in for impending disappointment because she will realize that pampered high school students are not really any different from the pampered college students she abandoned. Joan will only encounter the same overprotective wealthy parents, the same repressive and conservative school administration, and the same social ills which will inevitably amount to violence.

One day, Joan will have to hold her ground and confront this violence. She can only retreat so much.#


Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Filipino films, Short films. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jerrold Tarog  |  03 Jun 2010 (Thu) at 6:25 am

    For the first time, somebody saw what FACULTY was all about. It’s not about the passionate activist kicking the cynic’s ass. It’s about two people trapped in an oppressive system and in their own ideologies. I did say in the amBisyon interview that Education was a starting point…and FACULTY is about where that education should begin—with the teachers (and the audience). The degree to which one takes sides in this film is the degree to which one needs to realize how trapped we are in a vicious circle. But, in spite of this view, I don’t consider the situation as hopeless. The wheel has to break at some point. :-)

    But enough of that. FACULTY is a prequel to a feature film called SENIOR YEAR. Do watch out for it. :-)

    Jerrold Tarog

  • 2. Athan Obs  |  07 Jun 2010 (Mon) at 1:14 pm

    I like this short film. I saw this aired through ABS-CBN before the election 2010. Indeed, the argument of the two faculty members should wake up the minds of those people who lead and educate.

    I am hoping to see more of these kind of short films that makes sense!

  • 3. Edgar Allan Paule  |  21 Jun 2010 (Mon) at 12:57 pm

    @Jerrold (sorry for the very late reply), thank you for dropping by! I do agree with you that it’s about two people trapped in an oppressive system, but I’m not sure what you mean about being “trapped in their own ideologies.” Can you really be trapped in ideology? One can’t really escape ideology, it’s just a matter of choosing, consciously or not, what to ascribe to. Also, in my opinion, the two characters aren’t that ideologically disparate.

    I’ll be looking forward to Senior Year! Is it showing anytime soon?

    @Athan, yes, I hope to see more of these well-made short films, too!

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