Source: Courtesy of Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival

Ramona S Diaz

Filipino writer-producer-director Ramona S Diaz is unafraid of a fight.

She plans to release her politically controversial feature documentary And So It Begins in the Philippines herself later this year, galvanised by the rection to her 2003 film Imelda. The film premiered at Sundance in January and had its European premiere in the international competition of the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival last week.

Imelda was about the life of former Filipino First Lady Imelda Marcos. Marcos unsuccessfully took Diaz to court in an attempt to stop  the documentary being shown in the Philippines.  

And So It Begins looks at the 2022 elections when presidential candidate Leni Robredo was up against populist right -wing leader Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos, Jr.  As the film shows, the country’s political system is still badly scarred by the years under anti-democratic President Rodrigo Duterte.  

The film is being sold internationally by Cinephil, with Diaz handling the Filipino rights herself.

She says the aim is to premiere And So It Begins at a festival in Manila and then to follow up with a release. It is yet to be decided whether this will be a conventional theatrical roll-out or if the doc will be seen as part of a ‘social impact” campaign aimed at schools and legislators. 

Although Diaz is hopeful she will  secure the necessary release permit from the government she knows the film remains a tough sell.

“At the end of the day, it’s still a documentary. It’s still a hard push. Very few documentaries get a commercial run [in the Philippines],” she explains. 

Diaz’s 2020 film A Thousand Cuts was primarily watched by Filipino audiences on YouTube after no local broadcasters or distributors picked it up.  It followed the Nobel prize- winner Maria Ressa, the journalist and co-founder of website Rappler, and her courageous fight back against President Duterte’s attempts to muzzle a free press. 

And So It Begins

Source: Cinephil

‘And So It Begins’

Ressa also features in And So It Begins and attended the CPH:DOX premiere at the weekend. 

Twenty years on from Imelda, Diaz is not expecting quite the same push-back from Imelda’s son, ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr [who won the 2022 election] over the new film. 

“It is very important for this President to be seen as a statesman,” she suggests. “He cares deeply what the world thinks about him. He is trying to re-write and launder the Marcos name. For him to come down on that [the documentary] would be unwise. I don’t think he will do it.”

And if he does, there could be an upside. Imelda went on to gross more than Spider-Man 2 in terms of box-office gross in cinemas of Filipino capital Manila

“[Imedla Marcos] was probably was my best publicist ever,” says Diaz of Marcos’s role in getting the movie noticed.  “She sued me for invasion of privacy and sullying her good name.” 

“At the end of the day, it’s still a documentary. It’s still a hard push. Very few documentaries get a commercial run [in the Philippines],” the director said.

And So It Begins will show in the US on PBS Independent Lens. It was executive produced by David and Linda Cornfield.