By Nickie Wang
There is no particular film dedicated to cockfighting as part of local culture and heritage. It has been around for centuries and enjoyed both as a sport and a hobby by millions of Filipinos. In fact, it is already a thriving multibillion peso industry and there are about six million registered sabungeros or cockfighting enthusiasts in the Philippines.
To JB Bernardino, a first-time movie producer, making a film dedicated to cockfighting doesn’t just give him some sense of pride as a certified cockfighting enthusiast, it also gives him an opportunity to send a message to everyone that cockfighting is just like any other recreation, there are numerous worth telling stories beyond it.
“I asked myself, why the Philippines doesn’t have any movie fully dedicated to this kind of sport, it’s been around like forever. It’s featured in different films but just as a small part of a scene. So we thought of making a movie that depicts the life of cockfighters,” Bernardino told Standard Today in an interview during the press conference of independent film Sabungero: Dangal at Tibay.
Bernardino has been a cockfighting enthusiast and breeder for more than 20 years now, that is why he considers his maiden attempt in producing film very close to his heart and at the same time a challenge.
“For sabungeros, I hope I can make them feel proud, and for those who are not involved in this kind of recreation and sport, I believe they will enjoy the movie because aside from we have a very good story, we have a great cast,” the producer said.
Movies that use animals as part of the story have always been slammed by animal rights organizations like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or Peta. Bernardino is aware of that fact and is ready to face disapproval from the group.
“I don’t care about what Peta is going to say about the movie. But I must say that we’ve got a very nice movie and we are telling a story that almost everyone in this country can relate. Sabungero paints a realistic picture of cockfighting in the Philippines,” Bernardino elaborated and furthered that it took his team two years to finish the entire movie because they also allotted ample time for research and data gathering.
The film is about a man named Paco (Joel Torre) who struggles to bring his life together, according to the producer. His family left him in the middle of his growing addiction to cockfighting. At first his family is supportive of him being involved in cockfighting but then sporting becomes a gambling addiction. He loses his job and becomes deeply in debt. The whole story revolves around how Paco got into highs and lows, while being involved in the blood sports between two roosters.
“I’m happy because they gave the role, and we had a lot of fun while filming the movie. It’s been a long time since I got a leading role that I’m almost part of every scene. So it’s a great opportunity again to give justice to this character,” shared Joel Torre who had to undergo training at a cockfighting academy in the province of Cavite.
Sabungero is under the helm of young directors Miguel Kaimo and Rozie Delgado and features seasoned actors Ricky Davao, Mark Gil, Nonie Buencamino, Robert Arevalo, Leo Martinez, Maritoni Fernandez and Sid Lucero.
According to Bernardino, most of the cockfighting scenes were shot at actual derbies at local cockpits with genuine sabungeros; which included a location shot at the World Slasher Cup invitational 8-cock Derby at the Araneta Coliseum last May.