SUNDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! The battle between the free press and an authoritarian regime is the focus of the new documentary A Thousand Cuts. At the age of 71, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, immediately enforcing a style of leadership marked by brash behavior, rallies, and murder in the name of a war on drugs. Using social media as his main conduit for propaganda, Duterte sweeps the country up into a patriotic fervor, attacking the critics who speak out against him. One such Philippine outlet, Rappler, dares to question Duterte and his practices only to become a target of the authoritarian regime. Documentarian Ramona S. Diaz follows Rappler editor Maria Ressa as she champions the voices against Duterte’s rulership and details how he manipulates public opinion. The result is a harrowing film that begs the viewer to question who they are listening to.
We first meet Ressa in her newsroom at Rappler. Presiding over a group of young, bright-eyed, social media savvy reporters, Ressa is open, approachable, and eager to engage. Duterte and his regime are waging a thinly veiled attack on the free press who speak out against tactics used in his so-called “War on Drugs.” We next meet a set of reporters, on the ground, who are reporting on the government-sanctioned murders of “drug-users.” In attempting to seek answers about the so-called drug-users, and Duterte’s methods, the reporters are met with name-calling, trolling, and attacks by Duterte and his supporters.
“…she champions the voices against Duterte’s rulership and details how he manipulates public opinion.”
The film, for all of its even-keeled reporting, definitely has an agenda. A Thousand Cuts is a film in defense of those fighting for truth in leadership and =for democracy as a whole. Diaz stays on Ressa and her team as Duterte’s tactics become more and more aggressive in an attempt to silence them. At one point, Ressa comes back after traveling outside the Philippines only to be arrested by the government. A few friends question why she would return if she was aware she might be imprisoned. Calmly dismissive, she explains that she must. She doesn’t have the option to buckle in the face of adversity.
While A Thousand Cuts focuses on the Philippines, it has a much broader scope in mind when driving home its point. The Philippines was the perfect place to test out the power of social media with Filipinos spending an average of 10 hours a day online, and with 100% of the population on Facebook. Here, the effectiveness of misinformation online could easily be monitored. The film points to 2016 as the critical year when the dominoes fell with Duterte, Trump, and Brexit, all having benefited from the use of social media.
While it would be impossible to end A Thousand Cuts on a positive note, Diaz holds fast on her subject and Ressa’s determination to fight for what she believes in. This lights a path towards hope and the belief that truth and justice will ultimately prevail in a climate where lies spread faster than facts.
A Thousand Cuts screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
"…the effectiveness of misinformation online..."