With the deadly fraternity wars among Filipino youth as a backdrop, Pepe Diokno’s third film, Kapatiran, is a cinematic essay about the filmmaker’s hometown of Manila. Blurring the lines between fact and film, it is a bleak, disjointed portrait of a disjointed city; a meditation on its social cancer.
In my hometown of Manila, we often read news about students involved in fraternity violence. Young men are beaten and sometimes killed in hazing rituals or murdered in fraternity wars. Even law students are involved in this dangerous cycle — but why?
To me, these are not random acts of violence. They are not just the effects of angsty youth. Fraternities are secretive groups that promise life-long connections and an easy way to get ahead. They are a symptom of a bigger problem, a disease that plagues our society. In our country, “who you know” is of primal importance, and rules can be bent by anyone with connections. This tribalism — this lack of nationalism — has allowed the worst of things to persist, from poverty to corruption and murder.
“Kapatiran” is a portrait of this disjointedness; a meditation on our social cancer. It blurs the lines between fact and film, mixing scripted scenes and found footage, in a cinematic conversation. My hope is to break the blindness to this flagrant dysfunction; to hold up mirror and confront our demons.
Above the Clouds
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After losing his parents in a flood, 15-year-old Andy is forced to live with his estranged grandfather in the cold northern parts of the Philippines. They felt they've lost everything, but on a journey up a mountain, they start to come to terms with their grief.
“Above the Clouds” is about grieving with death. This film is a personal journey for me. The inspiration began in 2009, when Typhoon Ketsana hit my home city of Manila and killed hundreds of people. Meanwhile, the plot of the film came from the death of my grandmother in 2011. When a loved one dies, we always struggle to keep their memory alive, and this idea was central to make in making this film. Grief comes from the thought that we will never be with our loved ones again, and hope comes from the realization that they live on in our hearts for as long as we preserve their memories. The journey of the film is a journey between these two ideas, and ultimately, being able to rebuild our lives and find hope amidst despair.
Silver Screen Award Nominee, Singapore IFF 2014
Official selection, Tokyo IFF 2014
Grantee, Aide aux Cinemas du Monde
Inspired by true events, Engkwentro follows the last 24 hours of Richard and Raymond, two teenage brothers on opposite sides of a gang war. Richard is the leader of his gang, “Bagong Buwan” (“New Moon”) while Raymond is just being inducted into “Batang Dilim” (“Children of the Night”), a rival gang led by charming solvent boy, Tomas. Complications arise at a deadly midnight “engkwentro” (clash), when Tomas gives Raymond the task of killing his older brother.
All this happens while the City Death Squad lurks the streets. This real-life vigilante group is allegedly backed by the city’s omnipresent mayor, and is responsible for many unsolved murders. Today, they are hunting down Richard. Will they take the younger brother, too?
Engkwentro is the compelling debut by filmmaker Pepe Diokno. In 2009, it won every award it was eligible for at Venice Film Festival, including the Lion of the Future - “Luigi de Laurentiis” Award for a Debut Film and Orizzonti Prize.
In the last decade, over 814 people have been killed by "death squads" allegedly sponsored by local governments in the Philippines. Many of the victims are minors -- supposed gang members, petty criminals, drug dealers, and street children. The Philippine government denies the existence of these vigilantes, and given the continuing inadequacy of our justice system, many Filipinos seem to accept the need for such brutality in approaching the nation's crime problem. The issue is rarely talked about in the Philippines. Engkwentro is one of the few films to do so.
I found the story while I was doing research for a documentary in 2007. While visiting jails around the country, I met two brothers at detention facility in southern Philippines. They were gang members, aged 15 and 17, and they told me they were on the local death squad’s hit list. They were only waiting for death. I was 19 at the time and it struck me to meet kids my age, who had no hopes for their future. This experience woke me to the harsh realities we face in my country. The tale of these brothers is a tale of many, many others. It is a story that I feel must be told.
Winner, Lion of the Future, Venice Film Festival 2009
Winner, Orizzonti Prize, Venice Film Festival 2009
Official Selection, Rotterdam IFF 2009
Official Selection, Cinemalaya Independent FF 2009
Winner, Gawad Urian 2010