Monday, November 18, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.194: The Kingmaker

One of the things that's a bit of a bummer about the Fall Focus compared to the spring festival is the relative paucity of guests; it's scheduled as if they might need a fair amount of time between shows, but there's seldom anyone on the stage filling that time. Who knows, with four different movies a day, they may need the time to delete on DCP, ingest the next, and make sure the keys work before letting the audience in; I don't know the capacity of the Brattle's projection system.

… so it's fun even when folks like director Lauren Greenfield are teleconferencing in from another festival in California. She's an IFFBoston regular, even having the closing night film a few years ago with The Queen of Versailles, so it's not exactly surprising that they could work something out.

The film speaks for itself in many ways, although it's interesting to hear her talk about how it evolved. Documentaries can have a long turnaround time for a lot of reasons, and this one evolved from initially being inspired by Coulalait, with perhaps more talk to the members of the staff that tries to make do with insufficient resources (human and otherwise), to following Bongbong Marcos's run at the Vice Presidency. It's likely not as complete a shift as it could be - she likely wasn't going to make a film about how things are great completely counter to how Coulalait has degraded - but it supplied a couple great threads to tie together.

One thing that struck me about the films was that, in today's world, with so many viewing options tailored to their potential audience's tastes and beliefs available and raw information readily available via the same internet connection, documentary filmmakers often can't just present facts and events, and even doing so from a particular perspective may not be enough. I don't necessarily know that Greenfield was at any point consciously making a movie that made people question just how they consume information, but it certainly made me think, a bit, about how I wasn't more aware that the Marcos family had walked back into power in multiple levels of the Philippine government and were connected to the latest mess there. Hopefully, it gets me thinking more about how that story I've heard about probably didn't wrap up neatly when it left my eyeline and is probably lurking somewhere behind the thing that seems vaguely connected.

The Kingmaker

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 November 2019 in the Brattle Theatre (IFFBoston Fall Focus, DCP)

Americans often hear bits and pieces of news from other countries, when something particularly noteworthy happens or when it's connected to something closer to home. The ouster of Ferdinand Marcos was a big deal, in part because it included astonishing details like his First Lady Imelda's impossibly large collection of shoes, and the current president's glee at murdering drug dealers is alarming enough to get notice, especially since he has a fan in Donald Trump. Both of those things are part of a bigger narrative, and Lauren Greenfield does an impressive job of getting at it in The Kingmaker.

It starts with Imelda Marcos, still fairly striking in her eighties, able to joke about how she's so identified with her collection of shoes that friends teasingly send her artwork or decorations with high heels on them, showing off her philanthropy, leading the filmmakers into the crypt where, as filming began in 2014, her late husband's body was kept because the current administration would absolutely not allow him to be interred in the heroes' cemetery. She's happy to talk about her life from how she started out as a girl from the country who came to Manila for a beauty pageant and soon caught politicians' eyes, but especially her son, Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., who is currently serving in the senate and is eyeing a run for Vice President.

Naturally, Greenfield doesn't entirely take her word on this, but she's willing to let Imelda talk, and smart enough to realize that someone who has been in politics for most of her life and is trying to build a dynasty is likely not going to be tripped up by a gotcha question or two. Instead, she lets Imelda present the face she wants while also finding others who will present another side in an earnest, even-keeled way, from one of the candidates running against Bongbong to Andy Bautista, who went from the Presidential Commission on Good Government to overseeing the election and has, as one may expect, strong opinions about the Marcos legacy. Eventually, she spends some time on the saga of the isle of Coulalait (a large part of the original inspiration for this project), populated with African animals as a vanity project and gift to Imelda at the height of Marcos's power - at the expense of the indiginous people living there - but since neglected to the detriment of both human and beast.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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