Sayles' 'Amigo' Takes On Little-Known American War

Director John Sayles shot his latest film, Amigo, in the Philippines with a primarily Filipino cast. i i

hide captionDirector John Sayles shot his latest film, Amigo, in the Philippines with a primarily Filipino cast.

Mary Cybulski/Variance Films/Anarchists' Convention
Director John Sayles shot his latest film, Amigo, in the Philippines with a primarily Filipino cast.

Director John Sayles shot his latest film, Amigo, in the Philippines with a primarily Filipino cast.

Mary Cybulski/Variance Films/Anarchists' Convention

Indie director John Sayles' latest film, Amigo, revisits a little-known chapter of U.S. history: the 1899-1902 Philippine-American War.

The movie traces the war's impact on a small Filipino village where the mayor feels pressured to help Americans root out Filipino guerrillas, while harboring the knowledge that his own brother is a local guerrilla leader.

Sayles tells NPR's Neal Conan that the war influenced an important part of the American psyche.

"We went from being the people who considered ourselves the champions of liberty — the anti-imperialists — to proudly saying, 'Oh, now we've got a colony, just like Britain and France and Russia and Japan,' " he says.

In researching the film, Sayles says he was also surprised to find parallels with other American wars.

"This is the war [that introduced] waterboarding — it was called 'the water cure' back then — [and it] was controversial in its time," Sayles says. "There were congressional committees about it, and a lot of back and forth."

In his research, Sayles also found numerous references to the phrase "hearts and minds," which he included in the film. He says he had always associated the term with the Vietnam War, until he found that Theodore Roosevelt had also used it. "It actually goes back to the Bible," he says.

Indeed, viewers of Amigo are likely to find many parallels between the Philippine-American War and the one in Vietnam.

"We got into an imperial war in a place where we didn't understand the culture — really didn't even understand the political situation," he says. "But once we were there, once the flag was planted, there was this idea: 'Well, we should stay here.' "

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