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"A Moment in the Sun": An Extended Interview with Filmmaker/Author John Sayles

Amy Goodman discusses race, class, labor, and sexuality with the legendary filmmaker-turned-novelist.

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AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip of  Amigo, because it is related to this book, and I want to talk about how it is afterwards. But from the beginning of this film that’s coming out in August, shortly after American soldiers have taken a small village in the Philippines, they’re visited by their commanding officers.

 

COLHARDACRE: Everything locked down here, Lieutenant?

LT. COMPTON: Yes, sir. We took the barrio with no resistance. Only a couple of runaways.

COLHARDACRE: Pick 10 you can trust, and work out the billeting.

LT. COMPTON: Sir?

COLHARDACRE: Can’t have the monkeys sneaking in behind us while we’re chasing Aguinaldo off the island. I need a garrison here.

LT. COMPTON: My boys are hot to go, Colonel. Staying here would mean—

COLHARDACRE: I need a garrison.

LT. COMPTON: Yes, sir.

COLHARDACRE: Hell, for all I know, ol’ Aggie’s hiding right in this village. Smoke him out, and end the war. Lord knows I can’t tell one from the other.

PADRE HIDALGO: May I thank you, Colonel, that you deliver us from captivity?

LT. COMPTON: This is Padre Hidalgo. The local insurrectos had him caged up in the bodega, along with a couple of dons they had caught.

COLHARDACRE: We’ll get you back to Manila as soon as we can, Padre.

PADRE HIDALGO: These are my children. Their souls are in my care. Cannot leave this place.

COLHARDACRE: You’ve got yourself an interpreter, Lieutenant. Zuniga!

ZUNIGA: Si, jefe.

COLHARDACRE: Vamos with us.

ZUNIGA: A sus órdenes, Colonel.

COLHARDACRE: You hold on to [inaudible] and some coolies to hang the wire tomorrow, and you keep it singing. Get these people up out of the dirt, for God’s sake. We’re supposed to be winning their hearts and minds!

LT. COMPTON: Yes, sir!

 

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from John Sayles’ upcoming film called  Amigo, which is also the subject of, well, part of his tome, his remarkable novel called  A Moment in the Sun. Explain what we’ve just listened to and watched.

JOHN SAYLES: Yeah, the policy, somewhat like in Vietnam, the military policy in the Philippines changed two or three times. The first part of the war was a more conventional war. The Philippine Republic had an army. They had a constitution. They had taxes. I don’t think most Americans knew that at the time. They thought they were fighting a bunch of, you know, savages. And certainly, in  A Moment in the Sun, one of the things that you see is the media of the time, including the political cartoonists, that, from the beginning of the conflict, when the Filipinos were still our allies against the Spanish, they were drawn as something close to a Cuban or a Mexican—off-white, raggedy clothes, straw hat. And then, within weeks of the beginning of the Philippine-American War, they were drawn as coal-black savages with grass skirts and bones in their nose and crazy hair and wooden spears.

What happened at the very beginning was there was a conventional war, which the Filipinos lost badly because they had no artillery, among other things. They were very badly trained and armed. And then it turned, after the first year, into a guerrilla war. This was the beginning of the guerrilla, when there was at least an attempt, at first, to win the hearts and minds of the people. That’s a phrase that goes back to Teddy Roosevelt, and even further back to the Bible. We associate it with Vietnam, but it gets resurrected not just by Americans but by other people whenever they occupy a country. When that doesn’t work out, there’s usually a second phase, which is the kind of tough love. "Hamletization," we called it in Vietnam. In the Philippines, it meant usually surrounding people with barbed wire, killing all their caribou, burning their rice fields, and saying, "From now on, you eat American canned goods, like our soldiers do, so we can keep track of you." And, you know, that’s common in most wars of occupation, not just American wars of occupation.

 
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