Ramona Diaz's 'Motherland' returns for special screening

MANILA, Philippines – After its successful Philippine premiere in November last year, Motherland (Bayang Ina Mo), the latest documentary picture from acclaimed filmmaker Ramona S Diaz, is back for another special screening on March 8, Thursday, 7 pm at the Cine Adarna, UP Film Center.

This year’s International Women’s Day offering from Active Vista, Motherland is a searing look into the lives of 3 marginalized women (Lea, Lerma, and Aira) as they navigate the impossibly full and under-resourced Fabella Hospital, perhaps the busiest maternal ward in the planet. It is a public institution bursting at the seams, the place where over 100 babies are delivered everyday.

Known dubiously as the country’s “baby factory,” circumstances are so dire at this public hospital that many of the film’s scenes make one wince. Women sit 3 to a bed while waiting for their turn at the delivery table, silently suffering the pain brought on by birthing contractions. The same arrangement greets them upon delivery as they are forced to share maternal beds with other mothers and their newborn babies.


And yet for all this stark reality, the film, shot in 2014 over 6 and half weeks, is not meant to shock the viewer (although it feels that way sometimes). What it ultimately shows is the resilient spirit and resourcefulness of the women and the overworked hospital staff. It succeeds in showing us how they make the best out of what’s handed to them. How even in the grimmest of conditions, a sense of community, of being able to trust and help each other are are acts of kindness that happen spontaneously.

It is precisely this aspect that caught the eye of filmmaker Diaz who also brought us Imelda and Don’t Stop Believing, among others. In an open forum after the second and last screening, she said, “I make films about people and their stories. So what really drew me to the hospital were the women, the mothers and the communities they formed in the beds. How much humor they had and how much grace [they displayed under] very difficult situations.”

Motherland has been reaping awards ever since it premiered last year at the Sundance Festival where it won the Special Jury Award for Commanding Vision. It was also conferred the Viktor Award at the Munich International Documentary Festival. To date, it has been shown in over 100 film festivals all over the world.

The film is a convincing reminder of the very real need to have a working reproductive health law in the country. Motherland had its Philippine premiere a few days after the Food and Drug Administration ruled that 51 contraceptives, in limbo for some two years by a temporary restraining order, would be re-certified safe and as non-abortifacients.

The decades-long battle to have an honest-to-goodness RH law has been bruising and oftentimes frustrating. And even though it became one in 2012, we have yet to feel its full impact as it has been derailed by numerous obstacles thrown in by anti-RH forces. There is a glimmer of hope in Secretary Francisco Duque’s pronouncement that he would make sure of its full implementation during his term as the new Secretary of Health. But that remains to be seen.

Films like Motherland are an important contribution to keeping the conversation about reproductive health alive and relevant. We cannot look away while public hospitals like Fabella remain a reality. It’s a conversation that we need to keep having for the sake of our women and the children they bring forth.

Diaz is the first to say that she chooses her films not for the issues they tackle but for the stories in them: “I usually don’t have a message in my films. Whatever message you get is the message of the film. I am not prescriptive about messages,” she said. She is nonetheless happy to note that plans are being discussed on how to make her film accessible to a broader audience, which will help further the advocacy.

Just recently, Active Vista announced that it has secured a yearlong partnership with the film’s international distributor, Dogwoof. Active Vista intends to screen Motherland in schools and communities as part of its mission of using films “to stir critical thinking among its audiences as a step towards their education as citizens.”

For more information, email activevista@dakila.org.ph. – Rappler.com