Ramona S Diaz follows Philippines presidential hopeful Leni Robredo in the run-up to the country’s 2022 elections

And So It Begins

Source: Cinephil

‘And So It Begins’

Dir: Ramona S Diaz. US/Philippines. 2024. 99mins

Ramona S Diaz continues her scrutiny of the politics and fake news forces at work within The Philippines in her latest film, which follows the run-up to the country’s 2022 elections. It has a propulsive energy as it hits the campaign trail with presidential candidate Leni Robredo, but becomes torn between fully profiling her and returning to the subject of Diaz’s last documentary, campaigning journalist Maria Ressa, whose life and work were compellingly outlined in 2020’s A Thousand Cuts.

Rallies are dominated by the colour pink to such a degree that Greta Gerwig’s ’Barbie’ pales by comparison

And So It Begins is already performing well on the festival circuit following its premiere at Sundance, making its international bow at Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival before screening at CPH:DOX later this month. Its festival appeal is likely to continue and while it might not be sufficiently different from Diaz’s previous film to tempt distributors, it could well attract streaming platforms looking for a glossy companion piece.

Lawyer Robredo had already beaten Ferdinand ’Bongbong’ Marcos Jr once when she took him on for the presidency, pipping the son of the country’s former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr to the post of vice-president in 2016. The Philippines elects its president and vice-president separately, so that meant Robredo had to share power with controversial populist Rodrigo Duterte. Diaz shows how the president treated her with sexism and disdain. “She’s a colossal blunder,” he says. 

The documentarian follows Robredo as she organises showpiece events that are dominated by the colour pink to such a degree that Greta Gerwig’s Barbie pales by comparison. Drone cameras capture the enormity of the crowds, while Bruce Sakaki’s on-the-ground camerawork brings home the high energy and hopeful nature of the rallies. They are also noticeably inclusive, giving voice to women, young people and members of the LGBTQ+ community and filled with songs that have been given a lyric makeover to feature Robredo references, including Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’, Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ and The Beatles Let It Be (rephrased to ‘Leni Be’).

Yet, while Robredo talks about how the death of her husband in a plane crash led her into politics, she remains at arm’s length with few details revealed about either her personal life or her progressive policies. 

If Robredo’s campaign is based on grassroots graft and an uplifting attitude, Marcos fuels his with fake news, disinformation and revisionist history about his parents. Cementing his alt-right credentials is his vice-presidential running mate, Duterte’s daughter Sara. Among the more bizarre propaganda pieces is a viral fake news tale about a stash of gold that it was claimed would be given to the electorate in the event of a Marcos win. It’s also chilling to see how visitors to the Marcoses’ old house are offered a sparklingly whitewashed version of history.

Diaz exposes such revisionism by including pertinent archive footage about Marcos Sr’s martial law, including first-person testimony, and returns again to Ressa to discuss the impact of this disinformation on the discourse. Perhaps because of Diaz’s previous work with Ressa, the interviews with the Rappler news journalist have an immediacy that the footage of Robredo does not, leading the film to become uneven. While Ressa’s detailing of online trolling, the targeting of journalists and its impact on free and fair elections is compelling, Diaz never fully makes the connection between this and Roberedo’s campaign. Ressa’s Nobel acceptance speech also gives us a much deeper indication of what she stands for than we are ever afforded about the politician. 

When the film does return to the presidential candidate, it’s back to another campaign rally, meaning that there’s a creeping sense of repetition where exposition ought to be. This isn’t helped by the fact that Marcos Jr is a notorious avoider of journalistic scrutiny, meaning there is barely any direct access to him at all. Those new to the world of Filipino politics may well be encouraged to find out more as a result of Diaz’s film, but others are likely to be disappointed by the lack of depth.

Production companies: Cine Diaz

International sales: Cinephil, info@cinephil.com

Producers: Ramona S Diaz

Cinematography: Bruce Sakaki

Editing: Aaron Soffin

Music: Christian Almiron