John Denver Trending is the movie we all didn’t know we needed. Director/screenwriter Arden Rod Condez makes his eye-opening message perfectly clear about perils of social media and the Filipinos’ obsession with online fame in this Cinemalaya 2019 feature film and I don’t think anyone sitting in the theater would see Facebook in the same way again after seeing this film.
Synopsis: John Denver is an eighth-grade student at a Catholic school in Antique. Even though they are poor, his mother tries to get him the best education possible. However, when a classmate uploads a video of him beating up one of his classmates under false pretenses, the teenager becomes the target of nationwide outrage and his name is dragged to the dirt by anyone who has access to social media.
I am still reeling from watching John Denver Trending last night. I thought the film was brilliant, not because of its effective technical execution or its stylish approach. What made the film stand out was its familiarity. It was a story that everybody knew all too well and for some, may even have played party to.
John Denver Trending was a film inspired by recent trending events and news involving videos uploaded online. Only, this time around, the film shows the flipside — what actually happens when one is targeted by an online mob of opinions, self-righteousness and censure, especially when one is not equipped with the mental and emotional tools to withstand its onslaught.
There were no big-name stars in John Denver Trending. The titular role was played by an amateur actor Jansen Magpusao and the only familiar face that we will see on screen is that of Meryll Soriano, whose effective portrayal of her role as John Denver’s mother was no less than stellar. Meryll Soriano’s strength and faith in her boy was the only ray of hope for John Denver. She was the avenging angel that spoke the truth and called for justice but even her voice was not enough amid the slew of all-knowing netizens who took on the cape of self-righteousness because of a trending video. Her portrayal of her anguish and pent up emotions was pain personified.
The message of John Denver Trending was so strong because it relates to anybody who has ever shared a video on social media, commented on a photo, trolled a post. Yet, many are guilty of not considering the full story behind each incident before hitting the share button. In John Denver’s case, he was wrongfully accused and publicly crucified for a crime he did not commit. And because netizens see these videos as the gospel truth, he never really stood a chance against the collective opinions of society.
John Denver Trending tackles the issues of fake news and misinformation that the public laps up readily at the first opportunity and it continues to bank on this message with every new scene. It was also a social commentary on public opinion and stereotype. Because John Denver’s family was poor, they were quick to judge him as a thief. Because he lost his dad, he was immediately dismissed as a problem child. Teachers who were supposed to protect and nurture the children were the first to cast the first stone (in fairness, there was one teacher who seemed genuinely concerned), social workers who were supposed to be present during the questioning readily left the child at the mercy of a police officer who made it no secret that he already formed an opinion about the boy. Public service programs who were supposed to mediate issues fan the flames of public outrage by deliberately editing video footages to depict a lie.
Apart from these horrors, John Denver Trending effectively raises the issue of lowering the criminal liability from 15 years of age to 12 or 9 years old. This film effectively highlights the mental state of a 13 or 14-year-old child and how they handle trauma.
The numerous scenes that reference the pledge of allegiance to the flag also calls to question how effectively the state protects its citizens, especially those who are too weak to protect themselves.
John Denver Trending was just a tragedy waiting to happen. It did not have big stars in its roster to play the villain. It did not need to. It effectively made audiences think about their own culpabilities and their own callousness in the use of social media. It made them angry at the injustices suffered by this fictional character and his family, and made them re-evaluate their role in a society that puts public opinion above everything else. In this light, are we not the villains?
John Denver Trending is still showing throughout Cinemalaya 2019 from August 2-13 at the CCP, select Ayala Malls and Vista Mall Cinemas. It’s a film experience you don’t want to miss.