Bunso (The Youngest). 2004. Philippines. Directed by Ditsi Carolino. In Cebuano; English subtitles. 63 min.
If life behind bars in an overcrowded, unsanitary prison is hellish, imagine what it’s like for children in mixed confinement with adult criminals. Three boys, aged 11 to 13, guide documentarian Ditsi Carolino through their prison complex to reveal horrendous living conditions and speak openly about their lives behind bars and back at home, including stories of poverty, domestic abuse, drug use, petty crime, and abandonment. One of the boys turns increasingly angry and confrontational as his mother refuses to help plead for his release. Another has already been in and out of jail several times despite his tender age. It looks as though their future is, sadly, already written. This damning hopelessness makes rare moments of innocence and joy even more heartbreaking to witness.
Engkwentro (Clash). 2009. Philippines. Directed by Pepe Diokno. With Felix Roco, Daniel Madrana, Zyrus Desamparado. In Filipino; English subtitles. 60 min.
City mayor Danilo Dularte Suarez is shown on television in the opening sequence posing as a tough leader of law and order. Though invisible later, is omnipresent throughout the film as his voice, as if on a broadcast, is heard pledging to fight crime. Richard, a young gangster, is plotting to flee town to avoid being killed by the city’s crime-fighting death squad, but before he runs away he must dodge the attack of a rival gang. The camera, in extensive, Birdman-esque handheld long takes, tightly follows Richard and the other characters as they move through a labyrinth of narrow, messy, dangerous alleyways in a slum that suggests no escape. While President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has gained international attention since his inauguration in June 2016, this film is a reminder that the Philippines have been grappling with state-sponsored violence for quite some time.