The Philippines in the eyes of its documentaries

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A STILL from Arumpac’s Aswang.

AS the country continues to celebrate the 100 years of Philippine cinema, many might have forgotten that along with the country’s rich feature film history, the country has an equally rich history of producing documentaries. So for six days, from March 16 to 21, at the University of the Philippines Film Institute’s (UPFI) Cine Adarna, Filipino documentarists are paying homage to the art form that “continues to capture what is happening and document more than what news has the airtime for,” according to a festival organizer.

The festival called Daang Dokyu will be featuring more than 50 documentary films including the Philippine premiere of Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s Aswang, a years-long effort to document the story of the drug war waged by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to rid the Philippines of drug addicts and dealers.

“I was one of those affected greatly when the first photos of the casualties of the drug war surfaced,” Ms. Arumpac said in vernacular during a press conference on February 19 at Limbaga 77 Restaurant in Quezon City.

Aswang was the lone Philippine entry in last year’s International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) Competition for First Appearance held in the Netherlands. It won the FIPRESCI Award at the festival.

“A quietly nightmarish vision of dystopian social breakdown, Alyx Ayn Arumpac’s debut feature-length documentary Aswang paints a grim but compassionate, compelling picture of present-day life on Manila’s exceedingly mean streets,” the Hollywood Reporter’s Neil Young wrote in December 5.

It started in 2016 after finishing her day job as a television producer, Ms. Arumpac would accompany photojournalists and the foreign press at night covering the people killed during the drug war.

During one of her outings, while a corpse was in the middle of the street, she heard a woman praying softly, continuously. She looked for the woman and heard that she was praying for it not to be her son who disappeared earlier.

“That was at that moment I realized we do have a certain power of telling our own stories. There’s a certain understanding and feeling. We have better empathy if you understand everything: not only the language but also the context,” she explained.

And this is why Daang Dokyu was created — to show Filipinos Filipino stories.

“Daang Dokyu is a collective effort and is a task that needed to be done, made public and made bigger than any that have been tried in the country,” filmmaker Jewel Maranan, one of the festival’s organizers, said in the same conference.

Ms. Maranan alongside other documentary filmmakers — Baby Ruth Villarama, Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, and Coreen Jimenez — noted that the festival is about “six days of looking back and six days of thinking forward into the future.”

“Daang Dokyu is about three things: it’s about memory, it’s about community, and it’s about confrontation. We want to claim that the 100 Years of Cinema is not just for the cinema people. It is for the public, it is for the youth. It is the 100 years of Filipino stories told in moving images,” Ms. Maranan said.

The 55 films to featured in the six days are split in several categories: Ecology and environment, will reflect on different catastrophes and how the planet is facing a climate and ecological crisis, and the Philippines, along with other struggling nations, is in a very vulnerable position; the environment of “fake news” and an in-depth look at historical revisionism and how images, media, and education are used to secure more power; and the taboos of religion, politics, and the human body.

“It also ponders on the question if documentaries are safe spaces to tackle these issues and how it can serve to prompt dialogue and public conversations,” the festival release said on the taboo section.

Another section is meant to highlight documentaries from the regions “where differences comprise the texture of the nation.”

The documentaries shown in the festival are curated by Teddy Co, Commissioner for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and an archivist for more than 30 years; Sari Dalena, independent filmmaker and director at the UPFI; and Adjani “Jaja” Arumpac, an award-winning documentarist and filmmaker.

Aside from featuring documentaries, the festival will also be hosting panel discussions at the end of every screening day as it attempts to be the “largest gathering of Filipino documentarists.”

Also included in the festival is the coming home of century-old Philippine documentaries stored at the British Film Institute. The films include the 1911 films Fabrication Des Chapeauz De Manile and Industrie de L’abaca A L’ile De Cebu, the 1926 film Manila Street Scene, the 1929 film Glimpses of the Culion Leper Colony and of Culion Life. The festival organizers did a fund-raising event to bring the films home and get screening rights from London.

The festival will also be launching Dok Book, a “collection and recollection of histories and stories, as well as views and interviews, centered on the rich landscape of the Philippine documentary in film and television,” said the release.

It includes details and historical accounts from the arrival of cinema in the late 1890s to the shutdown of the press during Martial Law as well as the advent of digital technology in the 2000s. The book contains contributions from scholars and practitioners in the field including Nick Deocampo, Teddy Co, Adjani Arumpac, Patrick Campos, Ed Lingao, Howie Severino, Kara David, Kidlat Tahimik, Kiri Dalena, Sari Dalena, Gutierrez Mangansakan II, and many more.

Daang Dokyu is on March 16 to 21 at the UPFI Cine Adarna in Quezon City. For more information on screening and panel schedules, visit the Daang Dokyu Facebook page. Admission fee at Cine Adarna is at P100 per screening but panel discussions are free. — Zsarlene B. Chua