Ramona Diaz's documentary on Maria Ressa, Rappler to premiere at 2020 Sundance Film Festival

MANILA, Philippines – For over a year, award-winning Filipino-American documentary filmmaker Ramona Diaz trailed Rappler’s Maria Ressa, documenting the hundreds – or thousands, arguably – of ups and downs of a journalist and a newsroom under fire in the Philippines.

The documentary, A Thousand Cuts, is set to premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, under the US Documentary Competition.

“Nowhere is the worldwide erosion of democracy, fueled by social media disinformation campaigns, more starkly evident than in the authoritarian regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte,” reads the film’s synopsis.

“Journalist Maria Ressa places the tools of the free press – and her freedom – on the line in defense of truth and democracy," it says. Diaz’s A Thousand Cuts joins 15 other documentaries that “illuminate the ideas, people, and events that shape the present day,” according to Sundance.

Still from the film

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)

Maria 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.

Ramona Diaz is best known for documentaries that give viewers intimate access to people from all walks of life – be it rockstars, teachers, activists, and an infamous former first lady. Her work has received funding from groups such as the Independent Television Service (ITVS), the Sundance Documentary Fund, MacArthur Foundation, Tribeca Institute, the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Her works include Spirits Rising, a 1996 documentary about women in the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. The documentary received several awards, including a Student Academy Award, the Ida Lupino Director's Guild of America Award, a Golden Gate Award from the San Francisco International Film Festival, and a Certificate of Merit from the International Documentary Association.

In 2003, she released Imelda, a documentary centered on the widow of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The documentary won the Excellence in Cinematography Award for documentary at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and the ABCNews Videosource Award from the IDA. It had a theatrical run in the United States. When it was released in the Philippines, it grossed more than Superman 2 in its opening weekend. 

Her other award-winning works include The Learning, a 2011 documentary that follows several Filipino teachers in Baltimore City; and Don't Stop Believin': Every Man's Journey, a 2013 documentary film about rock band Journey and its lead singer, Filipino Arnel Pineda. 

Another Ramona Diaz documentary, Motherland, screened during the 2017 edition of the festival. The documentary, set in Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, one of the busiest maternity hospitals in the country. The film won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Commanding Vision. 

In 2013, another film set in the Philippines was screened in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival – the movie Metro Manila. The film, with an all-Filipino cast directed by Oscar- and BAFTA-nominated British director Sean Ellis, is set entirely in the Philippines and competed in the World Cinema Dramatic category. Metro Manila won the Audience Award in its category. 

The Sundance Film Festival is run by the Sundance Institute, considered the largest American independent film festival. Over 120,000 people attend the yearly festival. The 2020 edition will host screenings at Park City, Salt Lake City, and Sundance Mountain Resort from January 23 to February 2, 2020. – Rappler.com