EngageMedia introduces ‘Cinemata Features’, a series that highlights film practitioners in the Asia-Pacific – filmmakers, film groups, curators, critics, and archivists – who create and disseminate social and environmental issue films in the region.
For the first post in this series, we feature film curator and archiving advocate Rose Roque, the co-curator of the Cinemata playlist “Daluyong: Political Filmmaking in the Period of Social Unrest Redux”. The film collection focuses on key audiovisual works during the early to mid-1980s, created by alternative film groups and political filmmakers who exposed the harsh realities of life under the Marcos dictatorship, countering pro-establishment propaganda.
This interview was conducted on May 20, 2022, and has been edited for length and clarity.
EM: Could you briefly introduce yourself?
Rose Roque [RR]: I’m Rosemarie Roque. I teach at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. I teach Filipinology subjects. I’m the research chief of the Center for Heritage Studies, and the Center for Labor and Industrial Relations Studies. I’m also the Board President of the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA) for 2022 to 2024, among other voluntary, academic, and professional affiliations.
EM: For those who might not be as familiar with the work, what does a film curator’s work entail?
RR: Recently, I’ve been starting to call myself a curator. But honestly, I never considered myself a curator. It took a while before I settled with that label. I really love to watch films and that made me realise the importance of finding more films, [but] I found out that Filipino films are not that easy to find. So it’s essentially about having an audio-visual archive that takes care of our audio-visual heritage. That led me to my passion of looking for films wherever they are. I have a particular interest in films made during the past. I always value films reflecting on our history, our past.
EM: What does a film archivist or archiving advocate’s work involve?
RR: I’m not an archivist by profession, but during the course of wanting to watch as many films as I can, I learned about the principles of archiving and the preservation of our audiovisual heritage. It essentially starts with selection. It depends on your institution on what you’ll select and appraise as valuable. Even though we want to try to preserve everything, we can’t. It’s very demanding – the resources, the time, the manpower, everything. So it starts with selecting.
In our audio-visual archiving class at the UP School of Library and Information Studies, we were taught that we don’t archive just to store. We need people to access what we preserve. And I learned that while I might not be a professional archivist, I found out that I can contribute mainly via archival research. For so long I called myself an archival researcher, and lately a curator. But I still don’t call myself an archivist.
EM: What is your main focus in your archival research?
RR: I’m particularly interested in political films. It started when I became an intern of the NGO Labor Education and Assistance for Development (LEAD) during my college days. I have already been involved in an organisation with progressive leanings so I made sure that my internship was aligned with that involvement.
There was a time they commissioned [film group] AsiaVisions to make the video documentary Sa Liyab ng Libong Sulo (In the Blaze of Thousand Torches) about Philippine history and society. That led me to this particular type of film. Eventually when I was planning to take my masters, I talked with one of the former members of AsiaVisions, Ron Magbuhos, around early 2005. He told me that Lito Tiongson, the founding director of AsiaVisions, recently died [in October 2004]. So he said that the experience of AsiaVisions should be documented. I was challenged by that sad news of Lito Tiongson passing away. I was also inspired by [the article of acclaimed writer and film historian] Bienvenido Lumbera, who wrote about the [need] to [document the history] of Philippine film – not just the known personalities and directors, but [the] stories of every member of the crew.
EM: How does being a film archivist inform or influence your work as a film curator, and vice versa? How do they feed into each other?
RR: My advocacy influences my research. [My passion comes from] the need to make [Philippine films] available to most people. I know I will never be a filmmaker. But since I have seen so many good films, I wanted to increase the greatness of these great films by making it available or by making sure that more people watch it. That’s why I also started teaching, because I wanted to make it a venue for making these films known.
EM: You curated the rare film collection entitled, “Daluyong: Political Filmmaking in a Period of Social Unrest Redux”. It was first screened in 2008 at the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Institute and is now available on Cinemata. What prompted you to curate such a film collection?
RR: I took my masters in 2003 and graduated in 2016. When I graduated, I was talking to a lot of people who knew everything that happened in those long years of research. One of them is Noy Lauzon, film programmer of UP Film Center. We had talked about programming selected titles from my master’s thesis. I graduated in 2016, but we managed to screen select titles under ‘Daluyong’ in 2018. It took a while [because] before, the copies were not yet screening-friendly. We accepted that situation by just respecting the aspect ratio. When we screened the films, it was like watching on a big television. It’s just small, but at least the images were intact, and we put subtitles or closed captions.
Those films came from my research. What made me choose these films? During my research when I was watching the films, I said, “Oh, this is a very good film. Like Sabangan. [Filmmaker] Bernadette Libres had previously told me that prior to her experience in Kodao, they made Sabangan. When I saw the copy in the audio-visual collection of AsiaVisions, I prioritised watching it. I immediately knew the value of the film because it talks about the Kaliwa-Kanan Dam [a controversial dam project that would affect indigenous peoples in the area]. I found out that every administration after Ferdinand Marcos Sr. pushed for the dam construction, and it was always met with protest. So, the fact that the project is still pursued, until this very day – that made the documentary very, very relevant.
Even if it does not seem relevant, the fact is that it’s part of our history [and] we should know that part of history. I always cling to this idea that memory keeping is like puzzle building. Sadly as a nation, we have this big jigsaw puzzle that we should have pieced together immediately after the ousting of the dictatorship of Marcos Sr. But we didn’t get the chance. The puzzle pieces are still there. We have to continue finding those pieces. That’s the analogy of what I do. I don’t claim that this particular collection from this particular group explains everything. Definitely it’s not the entire puzzle. But it’s a part of this very big puzzle that we’re building. Archives and audio-visual materials are contributing to that memory keeping.
EM: Why do you think these films or these stories should be retold at this moment in time?
RR: Because they’re pieces of the puzzle. A particular film, Daluyong, speaks about the Lakbayan march that called for the boycott of the then-upcoming election of May 1984, and then there was an exposé of election rigging. The point is it’s a piece of a puzzle – one action may be a response to the other side. Why did they conduct that almost week-long march? Because the Marcos government was calling for an election. So we have to piece everything together.
The film No Time for Crying was shot months prior to the February 1986 People Power Revolution but finished a few months or so after the ousting of the Marcos dictatorship. So it captured that period of transition. [On its title] No Time for Crying, maybe it’s because there was no time to cry for joy… because [there] were still continuing violations even if supposedly there’s no more dictatorship. It’s really a piece of the puzzle.
We also looked into the other side, that of the Marcoses. We got to interview others as much as possible so I cannot be accused of not doing the effort of getting everyone’s side. I don’t believe in neutrality in the sense that I cannot make a decision yet, because I haven’t talked to everyone. We don’t have the luxury of time. If we’re living a very convenient life, maybe we can take all the time in the world. But not all people have that luxury. So, you have to make a decision earlier on, maybe. But that bias or non-neutrality doesn’t make your efforts meaningless.
EM: What role does this film collection play now at the time of disinformation and misinformation in the Philippines?
RR: There’s this popular acronym we use now: ATM, at the moment. [These films] are mainly from 1983 to 1986, so they are the at-the-moments of a [particular time] period. What is important with having those films that captured that moment? They are primary sources. [Those critical of the Marcos years were] always told “You didn’t live through those times”. There’s no one person that can live through all time periods. There’s not one single person that can speak about the entire history of one nation, right? But what we can approximate is finding materials that speak of that particular time.
When martial law was declared, the very first thing done was to close the media. Well there’s still media, the state-sponsored media or those not considered to be “problematic”. So, who covered what’s happening in the Philippines? [Foreign media] continued to cover our stories. Although they are foreign perspectives, still, they can add to the puzzle-building. I have that particular mission of looking for films that represent the ATMs, the at-the-moments, the primary sources. Even if it captures different perspectives. I think that’s important in fighting disinformation, in fighting historical distortion.
Screenshot from ‘Arrogance of Power’, 1983
EM: What was your experience like in co-curating your films on Cinemata?
RR: It’s a pleasant surprise that I was given a chance to work with Cinemata. Surprised, because I wasn’t expecting to be invited for something I’ve done before. But it makes sense. Because EngageMedia, via its Cinemata platform, fits [my own] advocacy of reaching more people with relevant [content]. These [Daluyong] films will continue to be disseminated to many people, as long as they are interested. These films will find a way to reach them, offline or online. I would like to thank Cinemata for the chance to [host] these films, originally screened in September 2018 [at the UP Film Institute]. It’s very good that [these films] found relevance now, especially now, via the Cinemata platform.
EM: How has Cinemata helped the Daluyong film collection reach more audiences?
RR: I’ve been getting messages, whether privately or publicly, saying that it was important for these documentaries to be seen. The fact that there is a platform like Cinemata and organisations like EngageMedia, AlterMidya, Out of the Box, Active Vista, Dakila – all making an effort to have these films seen by more people affirms that I’m not just doing something that I personally like (laughs). I mean, we all start doing something because we personally value it. Even if other people say it’s not interesting, I will still continue doing this, like a lone ranger. But the fact that more people now are appreciating it gives me inspiration to continue. I’m very thankful for this chance. It’s really a pleasant surprise to be invited to co-curate with you.
EM: How do you feel about the interest of the Filipino audience and other Asia-Pacific audiences in the film collection Daluyong?
RR: It’s always timely to give access to people. It’s always timely to have these films shown. Especially since this is a historic year – it’s the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in September, we just had our national elections, and our presumptive president is the son of the ousted dictator. So it’s high time; it was always high time to watch these films. And watching these films actually is an act of bravery. There’s always a chance that you’ll be accused of many things. But we stand on the principle that it’s our right to know.
We even have Republic Act 10368 that recognises the human rights victims during the martial law period. It states that education about martial law atrocities should be ensured in the basic secondary and tertiary level. So why are we afraid, because even the law states so? Maybe it’s too late, we should have sought social justice long ago, during the ’80s. There are so many things we should have done. But there are things that we can [do now], and making sure that these films are shown [is one]. It’s good that there are people watching now via the Cinemata platform…To be chosen by people who took the time to watch these films is already a big step. It’s a brave step to confront the issues that we have long been deprived of.
Watch highlights of the interview: