On Friday, August 21, the 37th anniversary of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.’s assassination, a new digitally-remastered HD version of “The Last Journey of Ninoy,” the internationally acclaimed 2010 documentary which followed the final eight days of the slain senator’s life, will be streamed for free on ABS-CBN’s iWant (www.iWant.ph) for a limited time only.
Produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker and top advertising director Jun Reyes of Indie.Go Media with the Ninoy & Cory Aquino Foundation (NCAF), the 55-minute film was nominated for Best Documentary at both the 2010 New York Festivals Film & TV Awards and the 2010 Al Jazeera International Film Festival.
“The Last Journey” recounts Ninoy’s riveting, multiple-flight journey from Boston to Los Angeles, Singapore, Johor, Hong Kong, and Taipei before his assassination at the Gate 8 tarmac of the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983.
Three years in the making, the landmark film featured never-before-seen footage of lost television interviews, courtroom hearings, military tribunals, and phone conversations, as well as revealing excerpts from the exiled statesman’s private diaries and personal letters.
In her final interview before her death in 2009, Ninoy’s wife, former President Cory Aquino, also faced the cameras between chemotherapy sessions and candidly narrated the most gut-wrenching period of her husband’s life.
“In 2006, I stumbled upon an old article, ‘Aquino’s Final Journey,’ by ABC News correspondent Ken Kashiwahara, Ninoy’s brother-in-law, who accompanied him from Taipei to Manila,” shared director Jun Reyes, founder and CEO of Indie.Go Media (indiegomedia.asia), one of the country’s top creative content agencies and media production companies. “I felt that it was a strong foundation to tell Ninoy’s life story. It had all the elements of suspense and tension.”
Reyes immediately pitched the concept to his cousin, Rapa Lopa, executive director of the NCAF. “It soon became a personal project for Rapa and I,” says Reyes. “We both believed that an updated film on Ninoy was needed — especially for the youth and given the country’s political situation at the time.”
“The Last Journey” follows two timelines. First, it narrates Ninoy’s physical, six-leg journey back to Manila from his exile in the United States — a heart-stopping account which had never been told in detail until the documentary was made. Simultaneously, a parallel narrative of Ninoy’s personal, spiritual journey while in prison also unfolds.
“His trip from Boston to Manila was used as a dramatic spine to convey this personal evolution,” says Reyes. “The seven years and seven months he spent in prison brought about a cathartic transformation. If that did not happen, he would have never decided to return home and look death in the face. This was the story Auntie Cory wanted to tell through the film.”
Cory was remarkably frank in her last interview, which was filmed in multiple sessions by Reyes and Lopa between 2008 and 2009. Additional narrations from the former president were extracted from a set of private video interviews conducted by writer Rhona Lopa-Macasaet, when she was compiling raw material for a possible biography on Mrs. Aquino in 1996. (These unpublished interviews by Macasaet were recently turned into a book, “To Love Another Day: The Memoirs of Cory Aquino,” published in December 2019.)
Sourcing and restoring the archival footage — which included family visits in Fort Bonifacio, Ninoy’s memorable “Face the Nation” TV interview with Ronnie Nathanielsz in 1978, home videos in Boston, and tense moments at the Taipei Grand Hotel and Taiwan immigrations — proved to be major undertakings.
All the footage was fully restored and color-graded by Reyes at his media company’s post-production unit. A remastered recording of Ninoy’s last phone conversation with Steve Psinakis (a leading figure of the Movement for a Free Philippines), which took place during his layover at the Los Angeles International Airport, was also used.
“The airport scenes were shot at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport,” says Reyes. “NAIA does not normally allow shoots, but they gave us special permission given the subject. I think they had the impression we were shooting the assassination scene. But in reality, we only used NAIA to recreate the airports in Singapore, LA, and Taiwan.”
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“‘The Last Journey’ was a real opportunity to tell the story of a real Philippine hero through moving pictures — something we cannot do for Rizal or Bonifacio,” adds Reyes. “Through this film, we hope the next generation will get to know the man and continue his great legacy.”
Viewers need to register and sign-in for a free iWant account (www.iWant.ph/login). After registration, “The Last Journey” can be streamed directly from the iWant website or through the iWant app, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store (rb.gy/pp6qvf) and Google Play Store (rb.gy/nljf8y).