One of the interesting works featured in the ongoing “To Differ Digitally 2: Love and Dissent in the Time of Pandemic,” an online exhibit of different art forms of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) Center for Campus Art, is the short documentary “Maria Leonor,” written and directed by Seymour Barros Sanchez.
The film takes on an epistolary tone and voice to its subject, Vice President Leni Robredo, seen as the embattled leader of the opposition in a repressive political atmosphere.
While it is purported to be an open letter to Robredo, it is also as much a letter to the Filipino people, reflecting their fears, asking them questions and urging them to take a deeper look at the social landscape that drastically changed in the last few years. It asks why Robredo continues to be one of the most trolled public officials in the country despite her office’s inclusive pandemic response efforts given their relatively smaller budget.
“Maria Leonor” is actually an offshoot of a planned full-length documentary, Leading Lady, by the film lecturer at the DLS-CSB Center for Campus Art, and funded by the Monash Business School of Monash University in Australia.
“I met three professors from different countries at a conference in Cebu six years ago. Two of them were part of the faculty of Monash University. They asked me how women leaders from different fields are faring in the Philippines. That time, we had one of the highest gender gap indices in the world. I researched and pitched to them possible protagonists for a documentary — from the fields of health, education, politics, environment, business, advocacy and others,” Sanchez said.
“I got a grant from the Centre for Global Business, Monash Business School which we used for helping us kickstart a full-length documentary. One of those they approved was then vice-presidential candidate Maria Leonor ‘Leni’ Gerona Robredo. Fortunately, she won in the elections so we continued working on our project. Otherwise, we would have replaced her.
“The documentary, which is now on the final stage of production, aims to highlight Filipino women who have demonstrated leadership skills in different fields despite the odds,” he explained. “It tries to answer what drives these Filipina leaders and what unique traits do they have which enable them to be deeply engaged and be successful in their fields, whether it be for advocacy, means of living or passion. In addition, it looks at how these stories affect the life of and influence a fellow Filipina working and living in another country.”
When his two film proposals were accepted for “To Differ Digitally 2,” Sanchez planned to show a segment from the Leading Lady.
“However, CCA head, architect Gerry Torres, suggested that I ‘write an open letter to VP Leni,’ instead, about her decision to run for the country’s top post. We already know that she declared her candidacy for president last 7 October so I rewrote the project to tell about our fears in the future,” he said.
He added: “After five years, the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, unanimously upheld Robredo’s victory in the 2016 elections by junking the electoral protest filed against her by losing candidate Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. She continuously bears the brunt of being called a ‘fake VP’ and other false information spread by the camps of President Rodrigo Duterte and Marcos Jr.”
The documentary also tackles the responses to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Reports cite the United Arab Emirates as one of the leading countries in terms of their Covid-19 response and the Philippines as lagging behind them. Duterte also reportedly got the highest votes received from overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in the last presidential elections and had a high approval rating among them,” Sanchez related.
“Amid the pandemic, an OFW in Dubai reminisces on her past, reflects on her present life and weighs on her options in the future. Parallel to her narrative are the lives and corresponding lessons imparted by three accidental Filipino women leaders whose stories will inspire her to embark on a new mission in life and to arrive at her own meaning of leadership. Interconnected with her story are those of three Filipino women leaders from different fields: Rags-to-riches entrepreneur Rebecca Bustamante, hard-nosed broadcast journalist and cancer patient advocate Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, and beleaguered opposition leader VP Leni Robredo.”
According to him, the film shows “the ladies in the different hats they wear — a daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife, a leader in their field and a member of the society.” He also asks what qualities allowed Filipino women leaders to succeed or fail.
“The documentary seeks to assert that Filipino women can become very good leaders if they will not let themselves be pulled down and prevailed upon by patriarchal dictates. They should have greater representation in some of the highest positions in the government and industry, which would allow them to be directly involved in setting directions and making important decisions,” he said.
For his efforts, “Maria Leonor” earned a Special Mention for its screenplay at the third Dreamanila International Film Festival last 22 November. It also competed at the Lift-Off Global Network Sessions, which focuses on digital indie content, in the United Kingdom.
The short documentary was made in collaboration camerapersons Ariel Alarcon, Charles Cajayon and Kristin Joy Bactad Jor; sound recordist Darwin Novicio; music composer Tonton Hernandez; voice-over narrator Eloisa Espino Sanchez; editor, sound and graphic designer and editor John Lanbert Rafols; and creative consultant Richard Soriano Legaspi.
“Maria Leonor” can be viewed at To Differ Digitally 2: Love and Dissent in the Time of Pandemic (benildecampusart.com/exhibit/to-differ-digitally).