How many know of the Filipino Oskar Schindler, who is no less than President Manuel L. Quezon? Director Matthew Rosen rectifies this through his feature film directorial debut Quezon’s Game, which premiered in May 2019 in the Philippines. Manuel Quezon was the President when the country was a Commonwealth under the United States’ jurisdiction. At a time when most countries were reluctant in assisting Jews who were being sent to death camps, Quezon worked to grant asylum in Manila despite various setbacks (his failing health due to tuberculosis, resistance from colleagues, Philippine-US politics), even housing them in his family property in Marikina. Although Quezon’s intent to rescue 10,000 Jews was abruptly curtailed by the Dec. 8, 1941 invasion and three-year occupation of the Philippines by the Japanese, he succeeded in welcoming more than 1,200 refugees.
Quezon’s Game director, Matthew Rosen, is a British national residing in the Philippines, and with Filipino wife Lorena Rosen, co-producer for the film. They first heard about Quezon’s efforts in 2009 from members of the Jewish Association of the Philippines. “I am a Jew who grew up in England and have experienced bigotry,” Matthew Rosen comments, “but after 37 years in the Philippines, to this day, I have never come across prejudice, dislike or distrust because I am White or Jewish. I’m Pinoy at heart and this was truly a passion project for me. The story behind Quezon’s Game remains a reflection of the Filipino people today, a warm and welcoming culture. In a time of war, when the rest of the world was in despair and apathetic, the Filipino people—who were suffering their own hardships—shed a light on justice and morality to lead others. Quezon fought a lonely battle for what was right up until his untimely death. The message of this amazing story, which was largely forgotten, is more important than ever in today’s growing climate of intolerance—and my wife, Lori, and I wanted to tell it. It’s my ‘thank you’ to the Philippines.”
The film is abundant in symbolism and intentional in honouring the people in this tragic moment in history. It’s theme song is performed by Shulem, a rising star of the Jewish music tradition, backed by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra. The original soundtrack features songs composed by concentration camp prisoners, Karel Švenk and Z. Stryjecki, granted by the Terezín Music Foundation (TMF), a non-profit dedicated to amplifying the musical legacy of the artists imprisoned at the camp, where a group of prisoners composed and performed music that nourished spirits amidst the great suffering around them.
Quezon’s Game has garnered awards at international film festivals for acting, direction, cinematography, original score, lighting, screenplay and design. It is critically acclaimed: “...the scope and enormity of Schindler’s List ... Quezon’s Game delivers the same powerful message against racism, bigotry and discrimination … a very compelling and deeply moving film …” - Esquire Philippines; “the story of Quezon’s Game is nothing short of magnificent.” - Business Mirror; “Gripping performances …” - ScreenRaven.
"The difference between Schindler's List and Quezon's Game is that the former studies the horrors of war and you feel broken about humanity when you leave the theatre, while the latter is about hope and the humaneness of the Filipino people. When you watch Quezon's Game, you'll feel proud as a Filipino," Matthew explained.
In recognition of Quezon’s moral courage and the consequent deep ties between Israel and the Philippines, Israel instituted an open-door policy with the country, permitting visa-free visitation by Filipino tourists. In 2009, an Open Door monument was erected in Tel Aviv in commemoration of this act of humanity. Today, the Jewish diaspora in the Philippines remains a vibrant and welcoming community, with the descendants of refugees rescued by Quezon numbering around 8,000, according to a 2017 estimate by the Israeli Embassy.
This is the kind of story we need In today’s climate of tenuous, intolerant and cynical humanity and politics. That we be inspired by this story of doing what is right despite astronomical obstacles, of an act so selfless and remarkable, yet makes one ask to his dying day, “Could I have done more?”. Quezon’s Game then is a study of not only history, but of benevolence.
Quezon’s Game is a Star Cinema/ABS-CBN Film Productions production in association with iWant and Kinetek. For further details on the US/Canada screenings, visit quezonsgame.com.
* This article was published in the December 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.