Ramona Diaz's 'A Thousand Cuts': 'A risky film on free press, lawless regime'

SUNDANCE. The crew and cast of 'A Thousand Cuts' after the film's premiere.

Photo by Camille Elemia/Rappler

PARK CITY, United States – Award-winning filmmaker Ramona Diaz’s documentary on Rappler premiered at the iconic Egyptian Theater for the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, January 25 (early January 26 in Manila).

The film A Thousand Cuts, highlighting Rappler’s fight for press freedom under President Rodrigo Duterte, received a standing ovation after its premiere.

"This is a risky film that drops us into a really dangerous drama between free press and a lawless regime,” said Harry Vaughn, programmer of the festival.

“You have a president actively trying to dismantle truthful reporting and then you have journalists armed with no weapons but note pads demanding accountability,” Vaughn said.

Rappler’s story is the story of many other news organizations worldwide, especially with the rise of populist and autocratic leaders. 

“This film takes place in the Philippines but its central conflict, as you may imagine, reverberates far beyond that country’s border,” Vaughn said.

Drug war, disinformation

Diaz initially wanted to do a documentary on Duterte’s bloody drug war. But this changed, she said, when she met Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.

“When I met Maria, I knew it has to be press freedom. It is in that lens that I can do both issues – disinformation and drug war,” Diaz said during the panel after the premiere.

Rappler investigative editor Chay Hofileña said the film depicts the group’s “story of survival.” Responding to questions from Americans, she said that they, too, should speak up.

“You know people in the Philippines, they have begun to speak up and we see that. As the film showed you, it’s not always the case. There’s always threats to people back home. You’re safer here if you help us speak up and stand up to trolls on social media, because they really have an army.... You have same exeprience here, you must know how it feels,” Hofileña said.

The free press has been under siege since the beginning of Duterte’s presidency. The former Davao City mayor has been known to publicly make threats, throw insults, and concoct allegations against members of the media.

Rappler and its journalists have been the target of attacks – both online and offline – following critical reports about Duterte, his allies, and his so-called “drug war.” (LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018)

Ressa and several other Rappler executives have had to post bail numerous times since 2018 for a string of cases filed against them and the company. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com