Cavite (Neill dela Llana & Ian Gamazon, 2005)
The fascinating thing about Cavite is that as evidenced by the end credits, there are only around ten people who are directly involved in the film, minus of course the family members and friends that tangentially helped with cash and moral support. It is obvious that the film was made with a mere fraction of what it would cost to make a Hollywood film. However, the amount of tension, of suspense, and actual content contained in this little film would have it towering over the overdressed Hollywood productions.
Cavite is written and directed by Neill dela Llana and Ian Gamazon, Filipino-American filmmakers who were awarded as the most promising filmmakers in the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards. It's really no surprise as Cavite is probably the most independent of all independent features made in the United States. I can imagine how these filmmakers would go to their aunts, uncles, godmothers, godfathers, and have them donate a few hundred dollars just to buy more digital tapes for further footage. The amazing feat here is Cavite doesn't look amateurishly done. Despite the fact that the visuals are compromised because of the duo's guerrilla style filmmaking, the film is harrowing, depressing, and poignant in all its ugly and filthy reality. If anything, the lack of aesthetic appeal is overpowered by the courage and the cleverness of the cinematography (by Dela Llana), most of which are stolen footages. I cannot conclude that the filmmakers, with their budgetary and time constraints, could have secured necessary permits from the different airports and localities.
Cavite is the abomination of what a travelogue about the Philippines should be. Instead of having a verbose pale-skinned traveler orate about the wonderful white sand beaches, the majestic waterfalls, and the historical sites, we have a returning Filipino-American, Adam (Ian Gamazon) who receives a mysterious call from an omnipresent person demanding that he follow his every command or else, his mother and sister who were kidnapped, are gonna be killed. The film then follows Adam as he makes his way to the titular Cavite where he witnesses the most unappealing and negatively arresting locales of the Philippines.
The plot is paper-thin but its repercussions are tremendous. The filmmakers might be stretching their imaginations too far when they propose that the kidnappers are actually Abu Sayyaff terrorists who have spread around the many island of the Philippines (one of which finally ends up in predominantly Catholic Cavite), but the unrealistic elements of the film are beyond the point. It can happen since the threat of terror, as President Bush would arrogantly proclaim in his rousing speeches, is everywhere. The point here, which finds basis by the fact that the mysterious terrorist caller's omnipresence is never logically explained, is that oppression breeds terrorism. It's simply one vicious cycle. The mysterious caller notes the atrocities of the Philippine Armed Forces against the Muslims of Mindanao, and while there might be inaccuracies as to the numbers of deaths, the truth of the matter is that there is oppression. The people of the shantytowns have very little privacy. These families are too poor to even buy their kids underwear, to afford a private bathroom, to cook a decent meal. That is oppression at its rawest and most familiar. A sideplot involves a little kid purchasing a value meal from McDonalds after being paid for his services in stealing Adam's things. He takes the meal home, and shares it with his grandmother, The sharing is a very good gesture but in reality, is rooted out of an evil act. Oppression corrupts the noblest of intentions. Terrorism does not happen when two airplanes hit the World Trade Center, it happens when there are people too poor, too marginalized, too oppressed to even live like human beings.
The fact that the film is shot in guerrilla-style, meaning there were no sets, and there no actors except for those who actually forward the plot, is very disturbing and disquieting. Those who have not seen the poverty in the Philippines might consider it outrageous for a man to take a bath in a garbage-infested river, or to witness smoke emerge out of the filth-ridden soil of the shantytowns, but it's all evidently true. Cavite's biggest challenge is to show the Philippines for what it really is, a nation of direly impoverished citizens being shrouded by fake reports of economic achievements. Take the story as an added bonus while digesting the hard-hitting facts the directors want to show. Cavite is a thriller that furthers the directors' perception that at the threat of oppression, even the most sheltered, most reasonable, and most morally upright man can do the most heinous of crimes and be a terrorist in his own right.