Festivals, Reviews

A Festival in Review: Cinemalaya 2021’s Dokyu Program A

I remember reading once this quote about cinema: “The cinema is truth 24 frames per second.” It felt, to me, like it came from the early Soviet filmmakers, perhaps the person who did Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis. (The quote comes from Godard, which makes more sense than my first assumption.)

Even in a world where you can deepfake and manipulate images to mean anything you like, something about the quote still rings true. Sometimes, it feels like the cinema is the only way we can truly examine how we feel.

Well, today we’ll look at films that attempt to find the truth in what we experience. It’s the Program A of Cinemalaya 2021’s Dokyu exhibition, and hopefully, you can find a semblance of truth in the stories that Cinemalaya imparts.  

Yugto: Looking Back to A More Hopeful Lockdown

The Philippines has been in lockdown for more than a year. 

As of writing, the country is going through the nth wave of rising COVID-19 cases, and over 30,000+ people in the country have died. Our government’s vaccination numbers are still too low to matter, and the lockdowns haven’t dampened the effects of COVID-19 variants running amok in our society. 

It doesn’t seem like the country will go back to normal anytime soon. 

And it’s not like normal was any good to begin with, but the fact that we risk dying every time we go outside because of a plague that the government can’t control pushes things to the edge.

Filmed in what seems like a more optimistic time when the lockdowns could still be viewed in a positive light, Yugto was directed by Joanna Reyes, Cristy Linga, and Ja Turla with compiled footage from hundreds of people talking about their experiences with the General Community Quarantine in what was presumably early May to late June of 2020. 

The footage edited together is kind of fun, showing us how people coped with the pandemic upending their lives. One person has a small hill of melted wax from all the candles she had lit while meditating. Another wakes up late every day as his school has mostly shut down. People early in the pandemic generally felt caged and useless, and a lot of them just had no idea what to do with their time. 

We get a fun montage of people exercising and doing activities together, while an original rap performed by Dominic Cortes Piodos exemplifies the necessity of wearing masks and social distancing. A lot of people filming here seemed to think that the lockdown is just a temporary thing to suffer through before normal life returns, and that kind of optimism feels especially distant from the tired and sucky vibe that we have today. 

A lot of the footage comes from Filipinos abroad, which juxtaposes the dazed and hopeless feeling that the Philippines went through versus the inspired, fight-like mentality of Filipinos working abroad during the pandemic. 

One of the Filipinos abroad complains that they feel useless because their skillset isn’t frontliner material as they freely run in their city, while a few minutes later someone in the Philippines dejectedly says that they were carpooling to work with their boss because they opened up offices again without allowing public transportation. 

It’s a well-made, hopeful film, but I can’t help but look at it cynically after going through the second August that we have to spend under lockdown. People are still getting infected and dying while the government fumbles around mismanaging funds and barely enforcing quarantine rules and providing vaccines for everybody. 

Yugto, which would have made me smile a year ago, just reminds me of how much time we lost and how, more than a year later, we’re still stuck in the same goddamn situation as last year. 

A House in Pieces: Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s hard to fathom what extended armed conflict can do to a community. These long-term spurts of violence create wounds in the psyche that never heal, and it scars a community and forces them to live in fear of the next conflict; the one that they may not survive.

The Siege of Marawi is one such harrowing case. When members of the Islamic State attempted and the Maute group tried to claim Marawi for their jihad, a five-month-long firefight and siege between the Philippine military and the Maute fighters ensued. The military ended up winning the fight, but according to Amnesty International, at least 1,000 people died in the conflict, including at least 47 civilians. The government has stated that estimates put the restoration of Marawi to over PhP80 billion and at least 15 years.. 

In A House in Pieces, we reckon with what a tragedy like that really means for the community. Jean Claire Dy and Manuel Domes’ documentary provides an in-depth look at the lives of a family and two individuals as they attempt to return to normal living in Marawi. It’s insightful, as the documentary follows a family from the evacuation center up to their return home, trying to process the trauma of what they experienced.

The man of the family could not fathom how close to death they were, and the family counts themselves lucky to be alive. We see them try to return to normal, as he raises pigeons for competition and chickens for eating. We see the woman cook the chicken, as well as pray while taking care of the children. They talk about the fear that they experienced, and how their city feels permanently scarred–they can’t even go to the market anymore because the siege destroyed the entire place.

One of the subjects was a woman who lived in the center of Ground Zero when the siege began. She barely escaped, and she almost got killed by a Maute fighter for not having her hijab up, but she survived and is now working as a volunteer in the evacuation center where she’s currently living. 

We get to see her react to the remains of her house, and it is just the saddest thing to watch. The quiet grief that engulfs her as she sees the remains of a bedroom-turned-makeshift fortress for the Maute fighters is devastating, and those moments paired with the footage they have of the rubble and the people working to clear it up allows the magnitude of the loss to sink in. Any person would be reduced to a blubbering mess watching this.

It’s hard to fully articulate the kind of generational devastation and trauma that the people of Marawi will have to deal with. But Dy and Domes have a clear perspective, and they are able to convey these stories of ruin and restoration without overwhelming the viewers to the tragic loss of life, culture, and normalcy that the people of the area feel.

Near the end of the movie, the filmmakers interview a Maute fighter who surrendered in the conflict. He talks about how his 17-year-old son died in the firefight–and how he feels good knowing that his son is in paradise. Then, he talks about how he surrendered for his family, a tinge of regret for not being able to join his son dying in jihad and claiming paradise. 

The Maute fighter talks about it as if he has no regret in invading Marawi. And in fact, the film points out that they believe that they were doing the right thing as they claimed the city of Marawi for Allah. It’s complicated, and as someone who is not Muslim, I don’t feel comfortable commenting on what the film insinuates. 

I will, however, say that, for whatever religion, when we put our faith and our desire to enter an afterlife before the welfare of the living, and when we disregard the peace of communities and the lives of others for our own selfish agenda, then instead of flourishing, the world deals with another traumatizing event impeding the lives of others. 

That’s the whole point of the documentary, I think. Your supposedly righteous actions can actually be harmful to ordinary people. Violent actions have violent consequences, and the consequences of the actions in Marawi will affect its citizens for a long time.  

A House in Pieces is an incisive look into the trauma suffered by the people of Marawi, cutting through the government rhetoric and narratives to show what it takes to survive an event of that magnitude–and what parts of yourself you might lose as a consequence of it all.

Cinemalaya films are available to stream on KTX.PH until September 5.

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