Film Review | AMIGO

Sayles shot Amigo on location at Bohol, a scenic island located in the Visayas archipelago. During a Q&A after the Nov. 6 premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater as part of L.A.’s AFI Film Festival, Sayles spoke highly of the Filipino film industry and of the Philippines as a location, which often doubles for Vietnam as in Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Apocalypse Now. Sayles told a questioner who asked that most asked question of indie filmmakers at filmfests that the budget of his runaway production was only $1.5 million.

Most of Amigo’s crewmembers were Filipinos, including its cinematographer, Lee Briones-Meily, and production designer Rodell Cruz. An exception were soundmen Sayles imported because, he said, “ sync sound” and Dolby technology, are not widely used in the Philippines. Sayles added that while the Filipino crew was paid on par with or slightly more than what they’d get for working on a local production, they worked shorter, more regular hours on Amigo.

John Sayles directs Joel Torre as Rafael Dacanay. (Photo by Mary Cybulski /

Sayles’ longtime producer Maggie Renzi told the screening audience that U.S. distributors should pick up Amigo because there are so many Filipinos in the U.S. This is probably due to the colonial history of the Philippines and U.S. After people of Chinese origin, Filipinos are the second biggest Asian-American groups. About one fifth of all people of Asian ancestry in the U.S. are Filipino. Many theatergoers at the Amigo premiere in the Asian-themed Grauman’s Chinese Theater were Filipino.

Prior to the screening, at the Roosevelt Hotel’s lobby Sayles enthusiastically expounded upon Amigo’s use of RED digital cameras to two-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who previously worked as Sayles’ director of photography on 2004’s Silver City and Matewan and attended the Hollywood premiere of Amigo.

At the Roosevelt, the tall, graying Sayles also discussed the vicissitudes of the economics of filmmaking and publishing, considering the latter to be in an even worse state than the former. Amigo grew out of Sayles’ soon-to-be-published sprawling novel called A Moment in the Sun about the era at the end of the 19th century, which marked a key turning point for the United States. Having utterly routed the Mexicans in the Southwest and the American Indians from coast to coast, Washington looked overseas to fulfill its “Manifest Destiny,” as Westward Expansion inevitably led to the Pacific. As the U.S. land grab grabbed Hawaii, Guam, the Philippines and beyond, America arguably went from being a republic to becoming an empire.

Sayles, who is an accomplished author of fiction, as well as a screenwriter, lamented that he’d finally found a publisher for Sun but was only being paid “a $3,000 advance. I spent more than $5,000 on research,” he laughed. Meanwhile, as of Nov. 6, Amigo – which is now making the rounds of international film festivals — had not picked up a distribution deal anywhere in the world, except for the Philippines.

At 59-years-old, Sayles may no longer be Hollywood’s enfant terrible, but he remains terribly committed to making independent minded, thought provoking films (and books) his way and on his terms, outside of the Hollywood studio system. To paraphrase the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, there’s no gray hair in this cineaste’s soul.

L.A.-based film critic/historian Ed Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii and Micronesia for 23 years, reporting for Radio Australia, AP, Radio New Zealand, Newsweek, Reuters, etc. Rampell covered Philippines Pres. Corazon Aquino’s press conference during Col. “Gringo” Honasan’s attempted coup in 1990. Rampell co-authored two film histories, “Made In Paradise, Hollywood’s Films of Hawaii and the South Seas” and “Pearl Harbor in the Movies,” and is the sole author of “Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.” Rampell appears in the 2005 Australian documentary Hula Girls, Imagining Paradise. His Samoan daughter Marina is releasing her new CD Precious Penina this month. Posted by (

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