The documentarians write and speak

DAANG Dokyu ended with a book with the same title, Daang Dokyu: A Festival of Philippine Documentaries.

Important events in the country always suffer from the lack of documentation. For all the films being material, there is an ephemerality in the medium. One needs to screen the film before we can experience the cinema created by the filmmakers, before we can appreciate, for example, the cinematography or the performance. A book or a written material about a festival or a conference grounds the same and locates it for easier access. A book allows a double take, which is always beneficent.

What happened with Daang Dokyu, the documentary film festival, was near ideal. The festival ended last November; immediately after that, the book was made available online. Limited copies were printed soon and by December last year, books were being sent to partner schools and supporters of the festivals.

The festival, as I have written earlier, was a watershed of a project, as it made up for the long neglect of documentaries as a practice and a medium. The book, therefore, is a gem of a resource all film scholars, film teachers and practitioners must have.

The Note from the Editor succinctly puts it: “This DokBook, as the Daang Dokyu team lovingly calls it, was intended among other things to accompany festival-goers, a tangible item to remind them of the physicality of encounters even in this massively digital world.”

The content of the book is described as “a collection of essays, memoirs and proofs of life.”

Under the label of “Origin,” Monster Jimenez narrates the provenance of the project, that moment where she encountered and bonded with like-minded people—Jewel Maranan, Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, and Baby Ruth Villarama.

Then comes that blurb of an insight: “Women run the docs.”

The words of Jimenez: “If there is a woman for every 10 directors in narrative filmmaking, I estimate it would be the opposite in today’s documentary world.”

Jewel Maranan articulates the rationale of the project as she collects her thoughts and ideas with the essay “Prompting the Imaginings of Futures”. Maranan does not so much problematize history as positing the kind of history we have: a nation’s memory “officialized by the powers that be,” “one that revolves around the centers of culture, economy and politics and obscures or hegemonizes the peripheries.”

The quote is important because more than the fiction and artifice of feature films, a documentary with its vaunted realities can suffer when controlled by the falsity of a dominant class or culture. While in feature films realities can be held up for a critique, the loss of real events in a documentary whose directions have been altered and tampered with by individuals or institutions out to preserve their own interests is tragic.

Maranan goes on: “The underappreciated power of the documentary lies in its capacity to offer material fragments of memory and usher us into a space of visibility between the past and the present.” The same visibility provided by the histories contained in the documentary resonates in the acute ruminations of Nick Deocampo in his essay “In the Uncanny Resemblance of Reality, the Philippine Reality Finds Itself in a Portmanteau of Cultures”.

According to Deocampo, “the history of the documentary reflects the history of the emerging Filipino nation.” He continues: “Told in it are narratives of colonization, struggle, and the life of the Filipinos lived since their independence…Among films, none revealed a more uncanny resemblance to Filipino reality than the documentary.”

For Adjani Arumpac, historicizing documentaries in her essay “Herein Lies Movement: Locating the Documentary in the Philippine Digital Cinema Landscape” meant calling our attention to a new form that is also a product of another point in history—the arrival of digital cinema. Interestingly, even as the new technology “revolutionized and democratized Philippine [cinema] in 2000, citing in the process the work of Hernandez on digital cinema in the Philippines, for Arumpac, the same technology “only made visible and intensified Philippine cinema latency.” As independent cinemas arose with the advent of accessible technologies, many problems with classifications remain. One of these crises is the marginalization of cinema in the new order where mainstream still corners the capital and the audience. With documentaries being realized because of the new techniques, the form remains a separate domain, unable to penetrate the superiority and acceptance in film concourses dominated by cinema of artifice and actors.

The same access to technology, however, is reviewed by Gutierrez Mangansakan II in his “Resisting Dominance and Oblivion: Reflecting on the Documentary Practice in Mindanao”. For this documentarian, the new technology “allows the periphery to become its own center, locating Mindanawon cinema in the greater scheme of things,” which becomes “its own liberation.”

The history that gave rise to the documentaries is faced head-on by Patrick Campos in “Thinking About Philippine Political Documentaries Today,” where he maps the contexts and situations where we produce and consume political documentaries in the country. For Campos, a singular reality, one that is presented by the documentarian at the expense of other voices, is not anymore tenable. For him, the documentary cannot promise what its old form has assumed as given—a fidelity to reality.

What Campos proposes is practical: “The documentary, then, should be reflexive, acknowledging rather than concealing contradictions even in its very own constitution.” How important then is the documentarian? For Jewel Maranan, the presence of a documentarist promises that someone is chronicling; the absence means many things.

Here is a suggestion to the people behind Daang Dokyu: consider having a webinar where participants can engage the documentarians with the essays in this book as talking points. The discussion can be solid with people expected to have read the essays before they asked their questions.

The book Daang Dokyu can be accessed for free at www.daangdokyu.ph.

Home Life The documentarians write and speak

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