The story of a film and the fans of its story

The mission: Create buzz for the non-Hollywood, not-exactly indie film There Be Dragons, which I first mentioned on this blog in my 2011 Films to Catch post earlier this year. I never imagined I'd really get involved in this picture's affairs -- at least from a distance, and through my much-preferred medium: the Internet.

I'm guessing that there should no place in this blog for professional matters outside the realm of the humanities, which I've deliberately forsaken while time and space are dedicated to a few, small "personal" projects and to helping manage an online community around the Philippine release of Roland Joffe's film. So I'll talk about the cultural products--the film, the people and the concept--and not the work involved. But before I do that, I'll let you in on a little backgrounder ...

When There Be Dragons was finally released in the United States in May (pre-prod is another inspiring story altogether), it ran like a cult film, with a rather indifferent critical reception and unremarkable commercial achievement, but with moved and driven sets of moviegoers.

As a film industry observer, I don't think this turnout is disappointing, because loyal followers never fail to turn some odd limited-release films into cult classics. And Joffe's "epic" creation has the look and feel of a sleeper. And so, inspired by Malcolm Gladwell's essays on sleepers, we realized that, in a nutshell, there really is one big solution for this movie's Philippine screening: Mobilize a niche.

Actor Rodrigo Santoro playing the role of revolutionary leader Oriol. There Be Dragons regular Philippine screening starts on November 9 in SM Megamall, SM North, SM Southmall, Trinoma, Glorietta 4 and Festival Mall. 
It would be a rather dumb move to make a local official website for the film 'cause that's short of innovative. Even if the picture is nothing extraordinary in terms of filmmaking (while its technical qualities are worthy of note), what makes it outstanding is its simple but timely message: Forgiveness. And the idea that dragons dwelling within each one of us have to be slain, especially when caught in tumultuous periods in history as wars.

And this is stuff enough for an advocacy--a purple cow--and a community site to go with it. Thus was born, and to gather a niche that would rally behind its message.

"Slayers Speak" is a collaborative microblogging feature where site visitors can contribute dragon slaying tips. The format was patterned after St. Josemaria Escriva's classic book The Way on how ordinary Christians can find God in their everyday lives.
In a week's time, we've gathered enough entries from random "slayers" or site visitors who gave tips on how to conquer a dragon, whether it be doubt, anger, fear, lust or sadness to truthfully call it a collaborative blog. It was amazing how the contributions related users' personalities and ways of thinking, and maybe even spoke of some personal dragons they have successfully slain. What made these blog posts livelier were the public domain images curated by the Team.

Things got more and more exciting on a daily basis, especially when some users got addicted to sharing their entries via social media for the overkill--which eventually led them to win a gadget and a limited edition shirt, but that's beside the point. The site even got written about in the Inquirer and in Bulletin, and then later on in Catholic News Philippines.

It was a lot(!) of work but it was also like working in a creative playground with space enough to roam and play. Best of all, it brought out something good in visitors. They weren't used to achieve our own goals for the bottom line or analytics, because in the end they benefited from the on-site activities. Some even submitted entries more than once.

When most productions today are made solely to entertain, this film must stand out for its power to inspire initiatives as this site that are autonomous enough to be taken on its own. You see, the site was for a film, but it wasn't exactly about the film. After all, a film as a mere medium can point to larger realities and reach out to the human spirit.

Works of art soar in this way when they were not created just to earn and ride on the vicious wave of consumerism but to carry a message beyond itself. And isn't this film's noble achievement enough to make you watch it? #

View showtimes of the Philippine screening of There Be Dragons »