During the American occupation in the Philippines in the year 1906, Culion was pegged as the “land of the living dead”. A leprosarium was established with the belief that by isolating those who were infected by “leprosy”, they would be able to save the rest of the population.
As a result, people were pressured and forced to be exiled to the island because of a disease that was misunderstood and stigmatized.
The film “Culion” follows the story of three best friends, Anna, Doris, and Ditas and how they ricochet between hope and despair, afflicted with Hansen’s disease and living like prisoners in the 1940’s leper colony.
Written by Ricky Lee and directed by Alvin Yapan, the film captures the rich history of the island and its significance in the world medical history. More than that, it captures the legacy of “hope” during the time of violence from the colonial period.
“It was a project I couldn’t say no to,” Direk Alvin Yapan said when asked about working for the film Culion. “It was a big responsibility that I get to tell the story of the people of Culion, the history of the community on that island.”
Yapan and most of the film’s cast were at the film’s Palawan launch on Thursday at the Hue Hotel in Puerto Princesa City, which featured the showing of an exclusive except the movie.
One of the goals of the film is to raise awareness about a highly misunderstood disease and to shed light on the beautiful story the small island of Culion, in Palawan, has to share.
“When the producers approached me to take on this project, they already had this honorable plan to highlight the history of Culion that we always forget because of the stigma surrounding Hansen’s disease so Culion, as a leper colony, established during the American period became a microcosm of the colonial history of the Philippines under the Americans,” Direk Yapan said.
Direk Yapan emphasized the importance of Culion’s history as it highlighted so many aspects of being Filipino, “I think as Filipinos, as ordinary citizens of this country, we have this responsibility to know this little history of that small island in Palawan.”
“It is that legacy of building a community, of not losing hope amidst that violent district we had as a nation. And I think we should remember Culion for that because that is an achievement of Culion,” he said.
From the resilient and hopeful Filipino nature to Culion’s success in finding the cure for the island, Direk Yapan said it is “our legacy as Filipino people”.
“Sabi nga ng mga historians, ng mga medical historians, Culion is the most successful and greatest leprosarium that we have in the entire world so, that small island that we have in the Philippines is actually instrumental in finding the cure for Culion,” he said.
“We should not forget that the history of that small island is a microcosm of our history.”
On working with Sir Ricky Lee
Direk Yapan, in his years in the industry only directed films he wrote himself. Now, taking on a project written by award-winning playwright Ricky Lee, Direk Yapan said this is a project he couldn’t say no to.
“Ricky Lee is a legend in the Philippine cinema. He’s been writing scripts for so many national artists. The last time he went to Culion, they were actually doing a project with Lino Brocka, before he [Brocka] sadly passed away,” Direk Yapan narrates.
According to Yapan, this is Ricky Lee’s time again to go back to Culion for another project and said the project is “really such an honor and really scary” for him as a young director to be able to take on his project.
“Pero syempre, with Ricky Lee at the helm writing the script of the story of Culion, how can I say no? How can I say no?”
Culion is MMFF hopeful
The film Culion, in its advocacy to break the stigma, raise awareness, and showcase the beautiful story of the island, is hopeful they will make it to the “big eight” in the Metro Manila Film Festival 2019.
“If the aim of the producers is to highlight the history and make Filipinos remember that history of Culion, as the history of the entire nation, what more can you ask for than the Metro Manila Film Festival?” Yapan said.
“We have to get in. Pag pumasok ka doon, talaga you will be heard. People will really watch you. So if the aim is to be heard and to be seen, MMFF is the platform for it.”
Direk Alvin Yapan is inviting everyone to support this film, noting that Palawan is more than a tourist destination. It is rich in history that we all should be proud of.
“Iniimbitahan ko ang mga Palawenyo, ang bawat Pipilino, na manood ng pelikulang Culion dahil ang Palawan ay hindi lamang tungkol sa mga isla, sa dagat, sa mga kweba na puwedeng ipakita natin sa mga turista,” he said.
“May natatagong mayamang kasaysayan sa Culion na puwedeng ipagmalaki ng buong Palawan.”