A Buid support group claimed last week that a prominent independent film was recently shot on their lands without their express approval. The issue is controversial because the movie is a top contender in a major, upcoming, Filipino film festival.
The film, called “Brutus,” was directed by Tara Illenberger and filmed in Oriental Mindoro. It focuses on illegal logging done by Buid and Hanunuo youngsters in the mountains of the province. A YouTube trailer for the film shows, in addition to the gorgeous scenery, the kids illegally cutting trees on the mountainside, dragging them to a river, and rafting them down toward the lowlands.
Another YouTube video, “A Primer for Cinemalaya’s Brutus,” indicates that the movie title is taken from the name for a powerful motorcycle engine, and it is a metaphor for the power the youngsters will need when they attempt to control the raft on the river as they float their illegal logs down to a lowland buyer. The video emphasizes the danger of transporting the logs by river and the likelihood that the authorities will confiscate them when they reach the lowlands—before the children can sell them. Though the profits offered by the wood smugglers are tempting, the practice threatens the lives of the children and it destroys the forests on which the Buid depend.
According to a biographical sketch of the director, Tara Illenberger has produced at least 24 earlier full-length films and has won several major awards for her work. “Brutus” is one of ten finalists in the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival in the Philippines, which is dedicated to developing and promoting independent Filipino movies. It runs from July 11 to July 20.
The release of the film has been challenged by Sadik Habanan Buhid, Inc., an organization that advocates for environmental, educational, and land ownership issues of the Buid people. The group has filed letters of complaint to the Cinemalaya Foundation, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and other groups that might be interested. It argues that the film was “shot on ancestral lands and featured the name and practices [of indigenous people] without securing the necessary permits.” The letter asks that the film should not be shown and that the scenes in the movie showing traditional practices on ancestral lands should be erased.
The chair of the Cinemalaya committee responsible for production and monitoring, Robbie Tan, took exception to the charges. Tan showed the press copies of letters signed by the Hanunuo and Buid Baranguay captains, both of whom gave their express permission for the shooting of the film. He indicated that talks between the filmmaker and the two Mangyan societies are ongoing, and he hopes that the issues can be resolved before the opening of the film festival.