CAAMFest 2024: And So It Begins – Review and Q&A with Maria Ressa and Filmmakers

If you’ve been following me on 8Asians, you will know that I follow politics worldwide and not just in the United States. So when I came across this CAAMFest closing night film, the documentary And So It Begins, I had to see it:

“Amidst the traditional pomp and circumstance of Filipino elections, a quirky people’s movement rises to defend the nation against deepening threats to truth and democracy. In a collective act of joy as a form of resistance, hope flickers against the backdrop of increasing autocracy. In a decades-long nonfiction saga of the Philippines, director Ramona Diaz presents the latest chapter on her homeland as the despotic reign of President Rodrigo Duterte is coming to an end. In the months leading up to the country’s 2022 presidential election, And So It Begins proffers unbridled access to all the key players including former Vice President of the Philippines and current presidential candidate Leni Robredo and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. With her keen observational eye and deep knowledge of the socio-political history and landscape, Diaz continues to find her own forms of storytelling as political disruption. This film was made with support from CAAM.”

Thoughts & Review

As director Ramona Diaz said, the elections in the Philippines are rarely about policy. It was really interesting to see the spectacle, especially the political campaign rallies (that run up to election day – up to almost a million people).  Since I follow politics and read the news religiously, the results of the 2022 presidential election was not a cliffhanger for me – and I imagine for most of the audience.

I did learn that Filipino presidential terms are for six years and you can only serve for one term and that the President and Vice President are elected separately. In the documentary, we see outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte from one party and Vice President Leni Robredo in opposition to each other publicly – where Vice President Leni Robredo is running for president to replace him while former corrupt dictator/President Ferdinand Marcos’ son Bongbong Marcos is somehow is the leading candidate.  The disgraced Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from the Philippines and was given asylum in Hawaii.

What was interesting was to see how deranged the outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte was – way more so than former President Trump. Thousands of extrajudicial killings and his attack on the free press have been very well documented. Bongbong Marcos avoided the press, did no debates, and no journalistic interviews – only coverage by his loyal followers. A common theme in the documentary was the war on the truth and the facts and the rise of disinformation – with the director directly foreshadowing concerns of the 2024 U.S. elections.

Maria Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, an independent new. Her insights into the information landscape and attacks on the truth and the free press are very well articulated.

Overall, the documentary was very well produced, thought provoking and educational and I highly recommend.

Recorded Interview with Maria Ressa

CAAMFest festival director Thuy Tran surprised the audience with a pre-recorded interview with Maria Ressa –  a virtual Q&A session. They discuss Ressa’s involvement in the documentary And So It Begins her insights on Philippine politics, and the influence of social media on elections. Ressa emphasizes the importance of discerning facts from fiction, the challenges faced by marginalized groups online, and the global impact of disinformation. Despite the daunting tasks at hand, she remained committed to defending democracy and journalism and said a great danger to democracy is cynicism.

Q&A with Director Ramona Diaz, Associate Producer Allana De Guzman, and Editor Aaron Soffin

After the Maria Ressa interview, Thuy Tran interviewed Director Ramona Diaz, Associate Producer Allana De Guzman, and Editor Aaron Soffin. They talked about how the documentary captured the spectacle of the Philippines’ election campaign, focusing on individuals rather than policy. Ramona explains her approach to filming, highlighting spontaneous moments that reflect the essence of the campaign. Aaron Soffin, the editor, faced the monumental task of sifting through 800 hours of footage to craft the final product. Allana De Guzman, the associate producer, shared insights into navigating challenges to get the film to Sundance (including some of the rights to the footage). Despite the tight schedule, they managed to deliver a shorter, sharper version of the film. Ramona discusses future plans for the film, including screenings in various locations and a premiere in Manila. The discussion concluded with gratitude for the collaborative effort behind the film.

According to Ramona, As So It Begins will continue to tour the film festival circuit and will have a theatrical release in the summer.  It will appear on PBS’s Independent Lens next year.

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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