August 08, 2019 – Vinz Lamorena
“John Denver Trending” doesn’t allow closure. It’s the type of film that hounds your conscience as it dissects the progression of prejudice that is pushed forward by the callousness of words thrown in the false void that we know as social media.
It is a story inspired by real tragedies, by real losses of dignity, of civility, and of humanity that we blindly witness daily. While it is a story that is founded on social relevance, it does not rely on it alone. It shows great dependence on quiet and stirring emotions that latch themselves to its audience.
The film puts its focus on John Denver Cabungcal who was accused of stealing an iPad by his classmates. He fights fire with fire, throwing punches in his attempt to establish his innocence. In their scuffle, a young boy became busy documenting the fight on his phone instead of helping break up the brawl.
John Denver then goes home with a clean conscience, unaware that a conspiracy is about to blow up online. We see the shift from the lead’s state of oblivion to a lasting, unnerving tension. The truth is a frustrating piece of knowledge that will move viewers to feel nothing less than compassion for the mother and son.
Jansen Magpusao, in his acting debut, was made to play a role that didn’t need words to make us feel. It is sometimes in his silence and lack of motion that we sense his entire world spin, and experience the turmoil that has made a home in his head.
“John Denver Trending” isn’t a film that tries to resolve the questions its own narrative picks up, instead it asks us to reflect on the self-righteousness people gain when they’re in front of their screens. It enables us to think twice about how we react in scrutiny when the supposed truth is presented to us on social media. It doesn’t even bother letting us know who the true culprit is, but the revelations it brings to the screen transcend its own story and embeds itself into digital culture instead.
It is a painful dose of reality that director and screenplay writer Arden Condez makes us endure alongside the young John Denver. But it is the kind of pain we ought to feel and learn from.
“John Denver Trending” won as the 2019 Cinemalaya Best Feature in the full-length category. Photos courtesy of Arden Condez.
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