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(The 2024 Sundance Film Festival ran January 18-28. Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of And So It Begins. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

It’s tough to make a winning election-based documentary from the point of view of the losers, especially when we already know the ending. The negative trajectory leads to dispiriting results. Such is the challenge that documentarian Ramona S. Diaz* (A Thousand Cuts) takes on in her latest film, And So It Begins, in which she follows the 2022 presidential campaign in the Philippines. The future of democracy is very much on the line, though frontrunner Ferdinand Marcos Jr., aka “Bong Bong”—son of onetime dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.—does his best to obfuscate that fact.

Opposing him is Vice President Leni Robredo, who has served alongside the populist right-wing President Rodrigo Duterte since 2016. In the Philippines, the two offices are elected separately, each to 6-year terms, and she narrowly defeated Marcos for the post in 2016. Now they are rematched, and the odds are very much in his favor.

Her Liberal Party appears to have the support of many of the country’s progressives and young folks, who all fear a continuation of the anti-free-speech and other repressive policies of the Duterte era. President Duterte may not be running this time, but those who supported him mostly back Marcos, and the polls don’t look good for a shift to the ideological left. Add to that the effective way that the Marcos team has rebranded the family name, posting countless online videos that whitewash the murderous and avaricious deeds of Marcos père, and it appears that what was past is more than just prologue but also present.

Among the protagonists here is Maria Ressa, journalist, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, and star of A Thousand Cuts. Speaking of the Nobel, we happen to be watching her on a Zoom call when her cell phone rings. It’s the folks from Stockholm, Sweden, letting her know she is that year’s recipient. In a movie filled with existential despair, it’s a lovely moment.

Ressa and her online outlet, Rappler, has long been the target of attacks from the right, given her penchant—and that of her colleagues—to actually do their job and push for hard-hitting stories about current events and politics. “Democracy dies in darkness” is the official slogan of The Washington Post, but it applies everywhere, for shining a light on the truth is the best way to guarantee freedom for all. But demagogues are very good at convincing large portions of the population that less is more, and as Ressa and the people at Rappler have come to know well, that makes their position extremely lonely. Though Duterte may be on his way out, will Marcos be better or worse? That question hangs over everything.

Diaz cuts between Robredo, her staff and supporters and friends, Ressa and others at Rappler, and—from a distance—Marcos and those who surround him. She focuses on the enthusiasm of Robredo voters, including LGBTQ+ folks, who desperately want change. The fact that it doesn’t come this time is a letdown, but the movie ends on a note of partial optimism in showcasing how much Filipino liberals have bonded throughout the election season. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Maybe, perhaps, hopefully … next time? And so it begins …

*In the interest of full disclosure, Ramona Diaz lives in my hometown, has been a guest artist at the university where I teach, is a Facebook friend, and is someone I have met and spoken to many times.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2024 Sundance Film Festival; Ramona S. Diaz; And So It Begins movie review


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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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