Cinema Asian American: Ramona Diaz on Her Documentary ‘Imelda’

by | May 19, 2011 at 5:17 PM | Cinema Asian America, Movies, Xfinity On Demand

This month, Ramona Diaz‘s award-winning documentary “Imelda,” comes to XFINITY ON Demand. A fascinating portrait of Imelda Marcos, the Philippine politician, “Imelda” is built around a rare, lengthy interview with Marcos herself, and explores her life, rise, fall and rebirth, and the complicated entwining of her own history and that of the Philippines.

A career politician, Marcos has held several positions in the Philippine legislature (and is currently a member of its House of Representatives), but is best known to many around the world for her extravagant lifestyle while married to former president Ferdinand Marcos, and her compulsive shoe collecting.

We sat down with director Ramona Diaz to discuss the making of “Imelda” (which Imelda herself, after seeing it, attempted to have banned in the Philippines) and her upcoming film about the rock band Journey.
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You first interviewed Imelda Marcos when you made your 1995 film “Spirits Rising,” which looked at the role of women in Philippine history, and she was one of several women profiled. What drew you back to make a feature documentary about her?
Imelda Marcos, love her or hate her, is someone you can’t take your eyes off of. She’s very compelling and charismatic. She loves the camera and the camera loves her back. And she was a very big part of recent Philippine history — history that I lived through. I wanted to get her version of that history before it was too late.

“Imelda” is a subtly-made film, and has provoked a number of different kinds of reactions; while many critics described it as “balanced and evenhanded,” others, including Marcos herself, accused it of being biased against her. How did you wish to approach documenting a subject who was so well-known, was so controversial, and for whom there already were many fixed ideas about?
I wanted to tell Imelda’s story in Imelda’s words, her perspective. There already were films about the Marcoses and their transgressions and I didn’t want my film to be just another laundry list of her sins. And I wanted people to come to their own conclusions. In my work I’m interested in investigating the middle ground — where the narrative is not always neat. As a matter of fact, it’s always messy in the middle, and that’s where I wanted to start with Imelda.

When “Imelda” was released in the Philippines, Marcos, who was not pleased with how she was represented, attempted to have the film’s distribution delayed, and possibly prevented. What in the end happened to the film’s reception in the Philippines?
We won the case and the temporary restraining order that she managed to get imposed on the film was lifted. When she first started making noise about the film, it was written up in the entertainment pages. By the time the case was settled, it had migrated to the front pages of the papers and the top of the nightly news. Our opening weekend as a result was very big!

All of your films have looked at some aspect of Philippine history; political, social and personal. What inspires you to look to the Philippines for your stories?
I was born and raised in the Philippines, and, at least for right now, I gravitate toward stories that I know.

You have one recently-completed film “The Learning,” and one which is in production “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” — can you tell us a bit about these new projects and how people can either see them or support them?
“The Learning,” about four Filipino teachers recruited to teach in Baltimore, will be broadcast on public television’s series POV in September. As for “Everyman’s Journey,” which we are editing right now, it is documentary about the iconic 80s band Journey, and their new lead singer, Arnel Pineda, whom they discovered through Youtube. We are still raising money, and if anyone wants to check us out, you can look at the trailer on: www.everymansjourney.com and also support us on the crowd-sourcing site: Indiegogo.com/everymansjourney.