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KODAO TO PREMIERE FILM ON BABY RIVER

Today, October 9, marks the first death anniversary of Baby River Emmanuel, the three-month old infant who was born in detention by her political detainee mother Reina Mae Nasino. Mother and child were separated early and the infant died weeks later due to the State’s denial of maternal care for her.

In a display of State cruelty, the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Jail Management ran away with the infant’s remains on October 16, 2020, during her burial. It shocked the country and the whole world.

In partnership with human rights groups Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights and Kapatid, Kodao Productions will premiere a film based on the events surrounding Baby River’s death and burial.  It will be held next Saturday, October 16, at four o’clock in the afternoon.

The video-documentary “River of Tears and Rage” is directed by multi-awarded filmmaker and former political prisoner Maricon Montajes and written by journalist Raymund Villanueva. It is based largely on Kodao Productions team’s Facebook Live coverage of the controversial burial, led by Jola Diones-Mamangun, Sanaf Marcelo, Jek Alcaraz and Joseph Cuevas. Music was by Jhoc Jacob.

The premiere will be streamed live on Kodao, Kapatid and Karapatan’s Facebook pages.

The film is dedicated to the memory of the recently-departed National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, Kodao’s long-time Board of Directors chairperson. #

How Darkness Lit the Way for a People’s Film Collective (An interview with Sine Sanyata)

By L. S. Mendizabal

“Kung ang artista ay nagsasabing ang sining niya ay para sa taong bayan, kailangang makilala ang taong bayan. At magagawa mo lang kung pupunta ka sa kanila. Kailangan ng integrasyon sa masa,” says multi-awarded writer and human rights activist Bonifacio Ilagan in the short documentary and first ever Sine Sanyata production, Sinipi Kay Boni (2019). (If the artist claims that their art serves the people, they must know the people. To do so, they must go to where the people are. Integration with the masses is necessary). Ominous in mood, poised in its clever storytelling that eschews conventional methods, and armed with a message so clear and sharp that it can cut a fascist, Sinipi has set the tone and style of quite a number of shorts the independent film collective has made since. Though this was not a deliberate artistic choice, as I’ve come to learn, Sine Sanyata’s fearless mission to steer the spotlight in the direction of the persecuted, the often overlooked and unheard, is not lost on the viewer.

“It should always be pro-people—”

“Yes, that’s the basis of all the decisions we make.”

“—And that you should always be somewhat aware of the oppressor while highlighting the oppressed sector.”

“For whom are we doing all this and will continue doing it? That’s it.”

Three of Sine Sanyata’s members, Maricon Montajes, Eric Sister and Juan Carlo Tarobal finished one another’s sentences as they sat with the author on Zoom last Friday to talk about the film collective’s beginnings, current achievements and filmmaking process, among other things.

Starting with a small core group assembled in 2019 by film director and University of the Philippines Film Institute professor, Choy Pangilinan, and friends, the film collective was named after an old Ilokano word, “Sanyata,” which translates to “illumination.” Since March 2020, as the government weaponized a global pandemic, abandoned the people and forced us into isolation, Sine Sanyata has grown to around 15 members who have consistently made videos on the Filipino struggle in the thick of the spread of Coronavirus as well as that of a larger menace, the “veerus” that is Duterte’s fascist authoritarian rule.

“Veerus” (Screenshot of a Sanyata video)

Sine Sanyata’s creative process takes a nontraditional yet organic route. Rather than being dictated by a single director, each project is an amalgamation of artistic visions of the creators involved.

“Depending on the latest people’s issues, we brainstorm. From there, we keep birthing concept after concept until a narrative is formed,” Sister explained.

“The editor makes sure that the collective vision is executed before it goes through another round of collective criticism. In the process, we sort of found a distinct style of our own,” Montajes, who also documents at Kodao, added.

But more than their trademarks of theatrical elements thrown here and there, spiral-like loops of images as if in a dream, raw, unpolished cuts and the recurrence of the color red, Sine Sanyata has also utilized an agitprop format across its productions that is unlike the traditional slogan-heavy material. Defamiliarized themes such as social inequity (the urban poor perspective through playful voice-over narration and animation in Yawyaw), death and sacrifice (both unjust and unnecessary as depicted in Semana Santa which shows the Calvary of the most vulnerable sectors of COVID-ridden society), among others, make their riveting images even more thought-provoking, disturbing, rousing. This skillful marriage of political content and avant-garde technique is what makes Sine Sanyata’s works stand out from the onslaught of #lockdowndiaries videos uploaded online in a time when people isolated from one another are able to choose between entertainment and reality—vloggers’ pranks on YouTube or the endless list of human rights violations on the news, a mother with an RC Cola bottle for a head or a beheaded farmer somewhere in Bulacan. Sine Sanyata gives us the same old bleak news yet in new ways that shake us from our desensitized collective psyche.

Pag-aalay: webXhibition and Festival trophies won by Sine Sanyata.

It comes as no surprise that the film collective was able to sweep awards in UP’s recently concluded Pag-aalay: webXhibition and Festival, a global online video competition that showcased “stories of resilience, inner strength and humanity of everyday Filipino heroes.” Four out of Sine Sanyata’s seven entries—for which all of the sound design was provided by the group’s very own Jhoc Jacob—garnered the highest recognitions in four categories, namely, Sister’s Obrero (First Prize in “Animation” and “Best Video”), Montajes’ Sining Sandata (First Prize, “Experimental”) and Salugpongan (First Prize, “Documentary”), and Tarobal’s Ang Ating Tsuper (Second Prize, “Documentary”). Their other entries were Nars ng Bayan by Montajes and Tarobal’s Hate of the Nation Address (HONA) and Pandemya at Pag-ibig. All said entries were uploaded to TVUP’s YouTube channel. The rest of Sine Sanyata’s works, meanwhile, can all be viewed for free on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3tKaiGJ and on their Facebook page at facebook.com/sinesanyata.

Obrero captures the Filipino minimum wage earner’s already harsh, precarious working conditions made even worse by the Duterte regime’s anti-people response to the pandemic. Narrated by Kilusang Mayo Uno Secretary-General Jerome Adonis, it pays tribute to the 40 million workers who keep our economy afloat by calling attention to their plight without romanticizing it. Small jeepney drivers and operators are also part of the workers’ population, whose situation during the enhanced community quarantine’s Tigil Pasada took them to the streets, only this time, to beg for money. We see heartbreaking glimpses of this in Ang Ating Tsuper. “Kahit wala na pong ayuda, basta po ibalik lang po ‘yung tradisyunal na jeep lang po, masaya na po kami (It’s okay if we don’t receive government aid, merely lifting the ban on traditional jeepney routes would mean a lot to us),” a driver says before the video cuts to a black screen and nothing else.

Screenshot from “Ang Ating Tsuper”

In Salugpongan, we are taken to UP where the Lumad people have sought refuge after enduring constant state-sponsored attacks. Two young girls talk about how they miss their school back in their homeland, how the community maintains a basic healthcare system within the camp and how they have gathered what little resources they have to sew face masks for those in need (“hospitals” and “the homeless” in their own words). This simple, inspiring and impactful little docu shows the viewer how even the most downtrodden are still able to want to help. And as if to encapsulate the objective of all seven of Sine Sanyata’s entries to the video festival, Sining Sandata features social realist painter, printmaker, critic and UP Fine Arts professor, Neil Doloricon, saying that “only when the artist participates in the social movement for change can their art realize its full potential in serving the people.”

These short films couldn’t be more different from one another but Sine Sanyata’s razor-sharp messaging runs through all seven narratives. In a video festival themed heavily around good ol’ Filipino resilience, Sine Sanyata managed to honor that and more. Sister could not have said it better: “Calling our workers “heroes” is music to their ears, sure, but for what? They don’t go to work to become heroes. They labor in order to survive and feed their families.” The film collective has succeeded in making the viewer understand that all of these heroes’ sacrifices will be for naught unless we align ourselves with the marginalized. Sine Sanyata pushed the viewer to see through the art and beyond the screen by mirroring the true state of our nation without resorting to the oft-used roseate filter of peace and Pinoy pride. After all, where is peace and pride in the genocide of the poor?

In Sinipi, Ilagan says, “Propagandista talaga kami. Ang usapin lang diyan, propaganda para saan at para kanino (We are indeed propagandists. The only difference is for what and for whom the propaganda is).” Sine Sanyata is without a doubt a people’s propaganda machine naturally borne of the collective Filipino dissent that state repression tries desperately to silence. History has proven without fail that the oppressed always take up arms to defend themselves. They may take the gun, the pen, the paintbrush, the megaphone, or in this case, the camera. Agitation propaganda is essential in fighting state propaganda—the one that says we should all just obey without question if we do not want to die while they kill us anyway, one by one, but often in batches; the one that blocks public scrutiny of Duterte’s incompetence and terorrism by bombarding us with showbiz controversies or a young Pacquiao rapping in Ebonics. There is an ongoing war to win the hearts and minds of the masses. Sine Sanyata’s body of work, marked by courage and genuine inspiration from the people with the intent to give back to the people, is the kind of filmmaking that we need now. And especially now.

When asked how they were able to make all these productions possible while on lockdown, Sister shared that a few of them would find the time to physically meet to brainstorm and shoot, while sharing footages and files were mostly done online.

“At the end of the day, we respect any member’s decision if they can’t go outside because of COVID so we depend on those available for the time being,” Montajes said.

They don’t find the current political climate and health crisis to be serious deterrents in their work, either.

Maricon Montajes’ Sining Sandata.

“Of course, when I go home to my wife and children from filming outdoors even though we’ve followed safety protocol to the letter, there’s always that nagging fear: What if I got infected? I just do my best to disinfect thoroughly,” Sister said. Like him, other Sine Sanyata members also have their own families. “Honestly, it’s not that hard during lockdown because it’s almost like everybody genuinely wants to convey their feelings. It’s easy to get people to express their discontent, rage and frustration [with the government]. It’s pretty easy to relate.”

“There are so many stories out there that deserve to be told, so many voices that need to be amplified,” Tarobal added.

“Most filmmakers tend to be individualistic towards their work. There are times when they try to tell a story but make it about themselves instead of actually making it about the subject, which personally pains me. At the same time, it challenges me since we have this privilege of making films like the ones that we do, so I might as well just do it,” Montajes said.

When I asked them if they’re shooting at the moment, Montajes teased that they are in fact currently working on not just one project.

“Abangan mo na lang ang susunod na mga kabanata. Malupit ‘to! (Watch out for the next chapters. They’re going to be fierce!)” Tarobal said in half-jest.

What they can safely say right now, though, is that we can look forward to their first full-length documentary. Clearly, Sine Sanyata is just getting started. #

GOYO: A review

By John L. Silva

The cineaste in me had some trepidation viewing Goyo, the nickname for General Gregorio del Pilar, coming on the heels of the box office hit Luna, that irascible General Antonio Luna who, like del Pilar, fought under President Emilio Aguinaldo (played by Mon Confiado) in the Filipino-American War.

Would a successful film dilute the creative juices of Jerrold Tarog for this next film, about a 23-year old “boy general” who takes up the cudgel of fighting for the newly formed Philippine republic after Luna’s untimely demise? Would more access now to funding complicate the script, be more nuanced, erratic and become an ego stroke for the director and producers?

Well, as I return from the movie premier, with a notebook full of scribbles, I confess to be quite taken by the depth of this cinematic experience. Goyo is a study in historical profundity, in dialogue bordering on poetry, in the cinematography of verdant mountains that chokes the heart, and in actors that have managed to approximate the heroes and villains we study and revere. In effect, director Tarog, the producers, the cast, and the crew outdid themselves.

The movies cuts to the chase at the very beginning. Luna has just been butchered by Aguinaldo’s soldiers, interesting in that this movie lays Luna’s death directly on Aguinaldo’s lap, the last one having pussyfooted on the issue. There’s a massive roundup of soldiers under Luna’s command including a high ranking officer, Col. Manuel Bernal (Art Acuna) who refuses to change his allegiance. For that he is tortured under the unfeeling eyes of Gen. del Pilar (Paulo Avelino) but still manages to throw insults at del Pilar, accusing him of following whatever Aguinaldo commands. He yells hauntingly at del Pilar, that he is, in effect, “not a soldier but a dog.” As del Pilar leaves the cell, the bloodied Bernal, at the point of snapping, yaps like a loyal dog with a humiliating bark which would stick with him, and haunt him.

In 1899, Less than six months after the start of the war, Aguinaldo’s forces suffer setbacks and flee to the north, to Dagupan in Pangasinan. They are there for five months providing respite and developing a more developed profile of del Pilar who it turns out is a sly flirt and a ladies’ man having broken many hearts in the towns they retreated to, as evidenced in the many pained letters from the ladies found in his sling bag.

Del Pilar as national lothario makes his real life boy-next-door image a lot sexier with the local lasses in their voluminous trailing ternos, fanning nervously, in near faint, with very apparent repressed desires. Casual sex hadn’t been introduced in those days.

There is one young lady that takes del Pilar’s fancy and probably every other gender and gender variation in the audience. She’s Remedios Jose (Gwen Zamora), the daughter of the town’s politico, and their first encounter is a study in 19th century Victorian encounter. As was the manner in those days, she communicates with her eyes, aptly described in 19th century literature as “Mapungay na mata” (dreamy, tender, liquid eyes).

With slight stifled breaths they are disarmed with one another but must keep a pretense, a nonchalance. Later, over dinner, he breaks the staring across the table and apologizes for the rude behavior displayed earlier. She politely says, to paraphrase, that she can handle any situation. Her father cheerily chimes in about having a strong daughter and this is Goyo first warning. She’s gorgeous but there’s going to be some serious hoops before she is “conquered.” Goyo, probably used to fainting violets had met his imperturbable match.

Months into the courtship, Remedios does not let up. In her self possessed way, she probes his past and wonders whether she’ll be conquest number 101. In a romantic and sensual court dance in the family house, as they slowly sway, hold hands, uncouple, approach, take in each other’s cologne and sweat tinged with yearning, she continues with her sweet and earnest inquisition. She not only chides him for being a potential heartbreaker but may possess heroic delusions that will get in the way of her just wanting a man, for keeps, at her side.

Del Pilar pledges fealty while Remedios must now deal with one ex of his, Felicidad Aguinaldo (Empress Schuck) who, in a market scene with Remedios, does a tit-for-tat with sharpened verbal claws. Remedios notes that many of the over ripe mangoes may have to be disposed. Felicidad snidely suggests to Remedios she could be one of them warning her of Goyo’s record of dispensing many other “mangoes.”

Oooh, this scriptwriter has an ax to grind. But Remedios is unfazed. She responds gently back, eyebrows raised, how ever could Felicidad think such, since she’s not a mango. Touche! Three snaps.

Photo: General Gregorio del Pilar, from Our Islands And Their People, 1899. Ortigas Library Collection

With Goyo’s peccadillos revealed and accepted as the masculine norm, we return to the crucial Philippine American war.

Apolinario Mabini (Epi Quizon), prominent in Luna, continues his sphinx-like pronouncements of the state of the nation. He has left the Aguinaldo cabinet soon after Luna’s death and was also to the left of Aguinaldo’s growing pro-American cabal. He has some profound, hurting lines about his countrymen, apropos still to today’s current congress. He calls Aguinaldo’s people a bunch of clowns. And given the behavior of the populace, a propensity for a good time over serious affairs, Mabini declares not once but twice that we are deserving to be called children. It’s an “ouch” but an irrevocable one till, perhaps, we get our act together.

Mabini has grown since the last movie, only fitting since he was at the early stage of the Aguinaldo cabinet very confident of its independent direction. Now, it seems unlikely. When eventually, Aguinaldo pays him a call, goads him to return and offers him the position of chief justice, Mabini accepts with a heavy heart uttering his acceptance only for the country’s sake.

Meanwhile, Goyo has flashbacks of a bloodied Col. Bernal yapping and tormenting him, literally dying of laughter. One night, in a drunken stupor in the river he deludes himself with blood coming out of his mouth, thinking his life is over under water. We witness a premonition of his death and possibly, the failure of his allegiance to Aguinaldo.

These intermittent nightmares are exacerbated by news of the Americans in Manila playing hardball: they first push the Filipino soldiers further away from laying siege on the Spaniards in Manila. In a meeting between Aguinaldo’s emissary, General Alejandrino (Alvin Anson) and American Generals Elwell Otis (Edward Rocha) and Arthur MacArthur (Miguel Faustmann) the Americans have only the mindset that the Filipinos possess a rogue president thus insinuating its army illegitimate and the fledgling republic an illusory sham to be vanquished. Luna, sadly six feet under, seems to have been right not to trust the Americans at all.

The American forces head north to put to rout the remaining Filipino forces and capture Aguinaldo. It is a demoralizing spectacle, a long trail of soldiers and civilians, on foot, reaching towns friendly or otherwise, scrounging for food moving northward and arduously ascending the Cordillera Mountains.

The sacrifices and misery inflicted on citizens are visually articulated in this movie with extras in the hundreds if not thousands, multiplied ably by visual effects. As a photo-historian, I find several instances in the movie where the melding of a scene, replicating a pose, imprinted as a photograph quite moving. Gen. del Pilar poses with an air, leaning on his sword. In another, in full military regalia astride his favorite white horse and flanked by his men the moving act of the pose and later, stilled and embedded in an albumen print galvanizes in the viewers the authenticity of the Boy General. He is a real historical figure, the army commanded was real and their earnestness in the love for a country real as well.

In the mountains, Aguinaldo moves ahead to elude capture ordering Gen. del Pilar with 60 men to be the rear guard on a mountainous pass called Tirad. Despite the ideal vantage point, seeing where the enemy is, the Filipinos are outmanned and sharpshooters of the 33rd Volunteer Infantry manage to take deadly aim even from below, at the Filipinos up on the ridge.

This last of the fighting scene is excruciating and as every Filipino soldier falls dead, the enchanting Cordillera mountains undulate in gratitude and sadness. The sharpshooters reach the top and Gen del Pilar is the last to retreat and eventually shot, and his whole body stripped of his possession and clothing. The Americans recognized the young general’s bravery and scrambled for mementoes of him.

Aside from the exquisite needle-point handkerchief given to him by Remedios, stripped by the soldiers from his bag, there was his diary with a last entry the day before. There are several varying accounts of his entry but I rely on Marcial Lichauco’s American Conquest of The Philippines which cites the war correspondent Richard Henry Little’s transcript of Gen del Pilar’s diary.

It reads “The general (Aguinaldo) had given me the pick of the men that can be spared and ordered me to defend the pass. I realize what a terrible task is given to me. And yet I feel that this is the most glorious moment of my life. What I do is done for my beloved country. No sacrifice can be too great.”

This movie’s historical period has parallels with today’s troubling events. The American forces, the ascending imperial power then, went land-grabbing and eventually took over the land. Today’s new Chinese imperial power, is starting with some of our islands and we are in bated breath as to what’s next.

Unquestioning loyalties to strongmen like Aguinaldo resulted in numerous failures and even needless deaths. There seems to be a thread with that and today’s strongman Duterte.

Mabini has the most unkind cut of all, declaring us as unfit children not to be trusted. Are we still that today, Lacking a a mature political will and incapable of making our country liveable and fulfilling to all? I’m afraid it’s still a long way off.

The movie is powerful and blends the right amount of romance and levity in a serious historical narrative. It will require thinking caps for all who want to see the best of outcomes for our country. Goyo soberly points us in the right direction. #

The author is the executive director of the Ortigas Foundation Library.