By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – Watching Ramona Diaz’s two-hour documentary A Thousand Cuts makes you bleed, figuratively. It brings you to the backstory of Filipino journalists covering the horrendous arbitrary killings of suspected drug pushers and users in the Philippines.
Produced by Cine Diaz, it is about the age-old adversary of the frontliners for truth standing up to a political stalwart and the challenges of press freedom and accuracy in the era of digital technology.
There’s Maria Ressa. Pia Ranada. Rappler. And hundreds of other journalists who have to suck it up just to report the bloody lack of due process in Pres. Duterte’s war against drugs. Then there’s the constant cuts created by Duterte diehards through disinformation and cyber bullying.
Diaz’s film is clear, gripping, balanced – straight from the mouths of journalists, apologists, and the president himself. One is taken to the finer detail of the glorification of power, the abuse of power, and the deadly engagement of writing it as it is.
Rappler executive editor Maria Ressa’s description of how democracy dies “by a thousand cuts” becomes the title of the film. “The thousand cuts is precipitous that it can eventually cause death.” The cuts, she tells fellow journalists in the US, is a parallelism of the weaponization of social media in 2016 to target her and Rappler as a fake news outlet.
Despite that, Ressa says she is not backing down. “We, at Rappler, we will not duck. We will not hide. We will hold the line.”
Filmed for an entire year, A Thousand Cuts is set in the 2019 Philippine midterm elections where Duterte successfully consolidates his political power. It intertwines his presidency with the challenges of Philippine journalists in an increasingly hostile political landscape.
Diaz (also known for her work Imelda and Motherland) says as a director she is not “prescriptive” and that she’d rather give the audience an experience through the story. “It is a crazy way to make a film, to be zen and to explore into where it would lead you. Then it just comes together, how characters play out,” she said in an interview with Maricel Weischede for Doc Edge.
A Thousand Cuts, released in June 2020 in the US, Canada, and the Philippines, interphases with the reality of Ressa’s conviction for cybercrimes while the world continues to reel against the covid19 pandemic.
Never has a documentary been so eerily timely as it is courageous and encouraging. Yes, Maria, journalists will hold the line.
(Thanks to David Magdael and Associates for this writer’s advance screening.)