‘Citizen Jake’ is not a movie

It is not journalism either, but, by bending fiction, it moves towards the same goal: a presentation of the truth.

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Citizen Jake is billed as a film about the present political landscape of the Philippines, but there is no news in what it reveals: politicians are corrupt, judges are unjust, dissenters suffer harassment, women struggle with patriarchy, and the poor remain powerless. It does not attempt to make its own politics neutral: the film is blatantly anti-Marcos, and for that reason it is bound to be denounced by citizens of certain convictions. In one scene depicting the everyday corruption of a low-ranking law enforcer, the camera pans to momentarily highlight the Duterte posters displayed outside his house.

There is no news either in this film’s plot of political intrigue, crimes and conspiracies. Jake Herrera (Atom Araullo), a former professional journalist, now teacher and blogger-cum-‘citizen journalist’, is waging a personal war against social evils while struggling with his familial relationships to the very kind of corrupt politician he is crusading against. There is nothing particularly surprising in its story and the verbal and visceral violence that comes with it. When Citizen Jake manages to say something intriguing, something that finally feels fresh, it is when it veers away from the overtly political, as when Jake contemplates his friendship with a household servant.

But while Citizen Jake’s politics is predictable, and most of its insights familiar and conventional, the way it presents them is not. In the opening scene, Jake speaks to the camera, introducing the film as a story enhanced by the techniques of Cinema. Early on, commenting on the setting of Baguio City, there is a history lecture presented through a slide show of old photographs. Throughout the story there are narrative interludes enhanced by intertitles that echo words from the voice-over, stark white on a black background, looking like newspaper headlines, or protest slogans. Supporting characters are often presented in quick cut scenes, portrait-style, with the actors looking straight into the camera—looking straight at you, the audience. Citizen Jake even has a montage of its own behind-the-scenes footage, showing the actors surrounded by cameras, microphones, lighting set-ups and the crew. This film is fictional, but it is often presented as if it were a documentary.

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Sail

At twilight on the day of the Offering, as Maya lifted her saltwater-soaked feet onto the boat, when it seemed like she would not turn and take another look, I repeated in my mind the words she whispered to me on the night before.

Even the constellations are not eternal.

They say she was born near midnight, at a clearing out in the woods before her mother could return to the village. When she came out she was feared dead because she was not crying, but when the mother looked at the child, she saw its eyes bright and dazed and fixed at the sky, its hand reaching out for the stars.

She would spend almost every night of her life observing the heavens. Outside of their hut, while weaving mats out of palm leaves whenever moonlight permitted it, she would just look up and gaze, allowing a meek smile every time she sees a bulalakaw. She would sometimes be seen at the fringes of village gatherings. She would not talk with anyone; as the elders recited the epics, she would watch the sky, as if she could see the old heroes’ adventures among the stars.

Two months ago, misfortune struck our community. Life left the sea, our source of living. The fishermen would set out at dawn and return at dusk without so much as a single, wriggling alumahan caught in their nets.

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