Violence in 35mm
The erratic, shaky movements of the handheld camera showing fleeing farmers and factory workers indicate that the cameraman was also running away from the swelling ranks of the police and the military, the source of rapid gunfire. This is the most poignant scene in Aklasan!, a 20 minute documentary by Sine Patriyotiko (Sipat) which chronicles the events that followed the November 6 strike in Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) in the farmers and factory workers’ arduous fight for just pay and genuine land reform. Aklasan! is the product of an emerging trend among documentary filmmakers who use film to advance their political ideologies. This film attempts to popularize the HLI farm and factory workers’ struggles and provide an alternate source of information aside from mainstream media footage.
Today, most films, as well as other media, condition the audience to adhere to social norms and uphold the status quo, like the injustice and oppression being perpetrated against those in the lower economic classes. Aklasan! defies this by fearlessly showing the violence committed by the police and the military against the defenseless HLI farm workers. Sipat effectively captured their dehumanization. Many viewers cried in outrage upon seeing defenseless farmers being beaten and shot. Aklasan! revealed the real face of the conflict – the violence mainstream media chose not to include in news reports because of the landowners’ prominence and political influence.
The audience is made to realize that the violence which was sanitized in news reports is real. Furthermore, there are footage of crying union leaders denouncing their comrades’ deaths and pallbearers raising their left fists in grim defiance while marching to the province capital with the victims’ caskets. These images threaten the illusion of stability in the status quo. Thus, documentaries like Aklasan! are only shown in classes, university cinemas and special screenings, because the prospect for commercial release is virtually impossible.
These films are copied using simple CD burning technology and sold mainly through direct purchase from the filmmakers and in booths set up at screenings and other events like protest rallies. Publicity is chiefly through word of mouth. Despite these difficulties in production and distribution, films like Aklasan! are still being produced by Sipat, in order to educate and encourage their audience to take action. The images of the workers subsisting on rice and salt after slaving in the scorching heat to work in the sugar fields, and the weariness of a lifetime of hard labor imprinted in their eyes are branded into our consciousness. In a war fought on many fronts, both tangible and psychological, guns and bombs are not the only weapons. # Jeeu Christopher Gonzales