Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Despite all of the barriers that keep us apart, stories don’t stop happening. In a recent Q&A for her film “Alunsina,” filmmaker Kiri Dalena narrates how their team failed to finish principal photography on the film, which explores how bereaved communities, especially children, cope with the aftermath of the government’s war on drugs. To supplement the footage, they had to use drawings collected from the children in the community and partner with an animator to help tell their story. It’s an innovative decision that preserves the narrative but also challenges our perceptions of what documentaries in the Philippine canon look like — a key motivation behind the first documentary-only film fest in the country, Daang Dokyu.
Starting out as a Facebook support group in 2015 for a budding community of documentary filmmakers that felt excluded from what critics call the "Third Golden Age of Cinema," it has evolved into the largest non-competitive documentary festival in the country. “We decided to mount it to trace Philippine documentary history, to give a platform to the community to interact with one another, and to develop the Filipino audience and invite them to see how diverse documentaries can be,” says Jewel Maranan, one of the festival directors and a documentary filmmaker herself.
This year the festival opened purely online during the anniversary of Marcos’ declaration of martial law. Every week for six weeks, 45 documentaries centering an aspect of the Filipino experience will drop on daangdokyu.ph.
Taking cues from new streaming services that increase accessibility for viewers (The Lockdown Cinema Club, for example, was a source of hidden gems and fantastic work made outside of the studio system), Daang Dokyu has also chosen to provide content via an online streaming platform for a limited period. Viewers register through the site and are given exclusive access to all festival content including Q&As with directors and industry sessions, as well as the "Dok Book," which comprises personal and historical accounts of the landscape of the Philippine documentary in film and television. Having partnered with major news and journalism organizations such as Rappler, GMA Network, and ABS-CBN, as well as the UP Film Institute, Daang Dokyu now doubles as the largest compendium of docus centered around the everyday Filipino, with films going back as early as the 1900s.
With each documentary, Daang Dokyu is slowly opening up a space for discussion about the current challenges in the country, issues that filmmakers (especially documentarians) face, and the responsibilities we owe each other during this time.
In this dark period of Philippine history, stories help us not only understand the realities that we often don’t see but also arm us with the knowledge needed for action and revolution.
To mount the festival, the first hurdle was financial. More money is pumped into the studio system that makes commercial movies, however documentaries are often supported by grants. “We’re very lucky. We found support from the Office of Senator and current representative Loren Legarda and the NCCA.” says Maranan. “We weren’t festival organizers. Thankfully, we partnered with Probe Media Foundation, who handled administrative and technical aspects that we were unfamiliar with.”
Particular to the pandemic: dwindling budgets, the stacking costs of additional safety protocols, and the continuing absence of a working public transport system forced documentarians participating in this year’s festival to rethink the scale of their projects. For fiction filmmakers, the process is much easier. Scripts and styles can adapt to these demands for smaller initiatives. But non-fiction filmmaking is hit especially hard by the limits of shooting during the pandemic. The intimacy and trust throughout the filming process is disrupted due to the distance required of the subject and the filmmaker. The aftermath of this confusion has left filmmakers and production members depleted of much needed income and valuable stories left untold.
As a result, some documentarists have chosen to create more personal work — which have been extremely cathartic in these times — while Daang Dokyu has also selected for its programming titles that have premiered elsewhere. This is in part due to conflicts with distribution and a decreased submission of newer films (an anxiety expounded upon earlier in the year). But these have also provided us with a chance to revisit important films that we have missed or may not have had access to such as Nick Deocampo’s “Oliver” (1983), which follows the tumultuous life of a gay nightclub performer, or Joanna Vasquez Arong’s “Ang Pagpakalma sa Unos” (2020), which weaves personal stories of loss with grander narratives of frustration at the Aquino administration’s mishandling post-Typhoon Yolanda.
Apart from the films themselves, ‘reality checks’ sessions (which are a series of talkbacks that dissect the themes of the week featuring industry members, researchers, and politicians) provide an avenue for audience members to not only process what they see on-screen, but to engage with an ethical question specific to the making of documentaries in the country: how do we document the disenfranchised and marginalized without furthering stigma? In this process, we take stock of our history as a nation and the battles that lie ahead, to move beyond passive viewing.
In the "Dok Book," filmmaker and film historian Nick Deocampo tells us that “Documentaries never promise to show a beautiful world. They ask people to understand why it is not.” The festival offers us a chance to see the lives of those that are often left unseen, whether in front of or behind the camera.
The Daang Dokyu virtual cinema starts Oct. 2. For the complete lineup of films and more details, go to the Daang Dokyu official website.