Posts tagged ‘pin@y’

Violence Grows: Kinatay and the Abduction of Melissa Roxas

Kinatay, still from movie, 2009, Brillante Mendoza

Kinatay, still from movie, 2009, Brillante Mendoza

When I first read the description of Pilipino director Brillante Mendoza’s new film Kinatay (Butchered) I thought, “That sounds kind of wack.” Shot on HD video with a budget of $100,000, it’s a down-and-dirty, graphic representation of the rape, murder and dismemberment of a prostitute in the Philippines through the eyes of an idealistic, greenhorn cop. The controversial film just won the Best Director award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where the announcement of the award was greeted by boos and gasps of shock. Roger Ebert calls it “the worst film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival,” and extensively details his disdain for the picture in his blog.

But after I read a few interviews with Mendoza about the film, I started to change my opinion of it (though still sight-unseen; the film will probably receive pretty limited distribution in the U.S., if at all). Mendoza claims that the movie is based on a true-life event and that it reflects the rampant police corruption and unchecked military violence in the Philippines.  “This is not just entertainment, these kinds of stories are real,” Mendoza said after winning his award at Cannes.

Surface Melissa Roxas, online poster, 2009

Surface Melissa Roxas, online poster, 2009

This was borne out by an email blast I received on the same day that Kinatay won at Cannes. On May 19 Pilipino American Melissa Roxas, a poet and human rights activist from BAYAN-USA, a non-government organization (NGO), was kidnapped along with two co-workers while doing volunteer health work in the Tarlac Province in the Philippines. The email I received stated that BAYAN-USA was mounting a campaign to demand the Pilipino government aid in searching for and surfacing her. Thankfully, Roxas surfaced after a week of captivity, although her compatriots are still missing. What’s interesting in light of the accolades that Kinatay received is that Roxas and BAYAN-USA have claimed that she was abducted and tortured by the Pilipino police and military and that this event is the latest in a series of abuses against political activists by government agencies in the Philippines. The New York Times notes:

“According to the human rights group Karapatan, more than 200 Filipino activists have been kidnapped and never heard from since 2001, the year President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power. Others have turned up dead or showing signs of torture.”

If the claims by Roxas, Karapatan, and BAYAN-USA are true, then Mendoza’s film takes on an added significance. Most of the film’s detractors criticized it for its graphic, unvarnished depiction of violence and brutality, with Ebert in particular scorning its rough-hewn soundtrack and cinematography. What Ebert might not understand is that Mendoza is making a conscious decision not to sanitize the film’s violent events. Movie violence is nothing new, but it’s usually presented with a patina of glamour and unreality, an aestheticization that distances the viewer and sanctions the viewing of the violence, making it an acceptable form of entertainment.

By denying his film the glossy sheen of conventional filmic violence, Mendoza forces viewers out of their complacent moviewatching habits, taking them out of their comfort zone and making them realize that, as in the case of Melissa Roxas and many others around the globe, violence is not a form of entertainment but a dire part of everyday life. In this case, Mendoza is working toward the same goal as Roxas—to expose and eradicate the corruption and human-rights abuses of the power structure in the Philippines.

UPDATE: Here’s the transcript of Melissa Roxas’ June 28 press conference in which she describes her ordeal.

June 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm 15 comments

Da Hil Sa’Yo: The Passing of Al Robles

Al Robles in action

Al Robles brings it, Manilatown Heritage Foundation

I’d only met Al Robles once or twice, but his voice was one that I’d known and carried with me for years. He was prominently featured in The Fall of the I-Hotel, Curtis Choy’s seminal documentary about the long fight to preserve low-income housing in San Francisco’s Manilatown against the onslaught of business interests and developers. The film showed Al alongside his fellow manongs as an organizer and activist in the struggle, and one of the movie’s highlights is his reading of his sublime and evocative poem International Hotel Night Watch, just before all hell breaks loose in the midnight eviction of the I-Hotel tenants. At one point Al’s mellow, emotional voice sings a line from Da Hil Sa’Yo (Because of You), which Choy uses as an ironic refrain throughout the film. I’ve shown The Fall of the I-Hotel every semester for more than a dozen years in my Asian American Film History class and even now I can hear Al’s voice singing that song in my head. Because I’ve seen the film so many times I’ve learned the song by heart, though I speak no Tagalog, and it moves me every time I hear it.

As we all know, after the 1977 eviction the original I-Hotel was demolished in 1981, but through their tireless vigilance community activists, including Al Robles, managed to block the construction of a commercial building and a parking lot on the site. Due to these ceaseless efforts, in 2005 a new International Hotel finally opened, with the Manilatown Heritage Foundation (MHF) on the ground floor and 105 units of low-income housing above. Though nearly three decades had passed since the eviction, two former tenants of the original I-Hotel moved into the new building, along with other low-income senior citizens.

Poet Al, ca. 1975

Poet Al, ca. 1975

Last year I took one of my classes to the MHF and there was Al, big as life, chatting with the art gallery staff. I immediately recognized his bushy ponytail and beard, but it was his distinctive voice that confirmed to me his identity. My students and I were a bit starstruck and no one wanted to approach him and say hello, but after a while some of them got up the nerve to introduce themselves and ask him what event he was there for. “Nothing special, I’m just hanging out,” Al genially replied, smiling broadly and shaking everyone’s hands. He went on to explain that he stopped by pretty often just to visit and check in with what was going on at the MHF. After so many years of struggle, maybe he was still savoring the fact that in this case the good guys had won, and that we could chalk up one on the side of justice. Al was an integral part of that victory, through his poetry, his advocacy, and his activism. I’m glad I’ll always have his voice with me.

Update: Here are some nice tributes to Al at various blogs.

RJ talked to Al about being a writer.

Barbara has several poems she wrote for Al.

Mark documented Al’s memorial at MHF.

Theo’s podcast for Al

Alana Robles has a central site for remembrances of Al.

UPDATE 2: Just because it’s divine, here’s Nat “King” Cole’s version of Da Hil Sa’Yo, live in Manila c. 1961. Listening to King Cole’s silken voice tickle this song is heavenly.

UPDATE 3: Briefly stopped in at the massive Al Robles memorial on Sunday at the SOMARTS Gallery and I’m happy to report that Phil Chavez performend “Da Hil Sa’Yo” on his ukelele. Phil noted that this song and “Over The Rainbow,” which Phil also sang, were two of Al’s favorites. It was nice to see folks out in force at the memorial despite the 90 degree heat in San Francisco.

Da Hil Sa’Yo (English translation)

Because of you, there’s a joy in living
Because of you, ‘till death (you) must realize
In my heart I know there is only you

And ask my heart, you’ll know that this is true
Long have I endured in my life
The pain and sorrows from love arise
Then you came and redeemed me, my dear,
My only hope in my darkest fears

Because of you, I found happiness
That to you I offer this love that is so blessed
Though indeed I may be a slave for loving you so true
It matters not to me, ‘cause everything’s because of you

Da Hil Sa’Yo (original tagalog)

Dahil Sa’yo
Sa buhay ko’y labis
Ang hirap at pasakit, ng pusong umiibig
Mandin wala ng langit
At ng lumigaya, hinango mo sa dusa
Tanging ikaw sinta, ang aking pag-asa.

Dahil sa iyo, nais kong mabuhay
Dahil sa iyo, hanggang mamatay
Dapat mong tantuin, wala ng ibang giliw
Puso ko’y tanungin, ikaw at ikaw rin

Dahil sa iyo, ako’y lumigaya
Pagmamahal, ay alayan ka
Kung tunay man ako, ay alipinin mo
Ang lahat ng ito, dahil sa iyo

May 4, 2009 at 11:59 pm 15 comments


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