Arnel Mardoquio’s Sheika is not about Mindanao. Not about the realities in Sulu. Neither it is about the fighting between government soldiers and MILF or Abu Sayyaf. It is not about the Muslim or Moro struggle. Not about running away from the horrors of war, or settling in search of peace. Not about internally-displaced people.
Sheika is not about the Davao Death Squad. It isn’t meant to glorify vigilantes, no matter how justly their criminal targets needed to die. Sheika doesn’t talk about a life of crime, or being players of it, or being pawns along its edges.
It is not a film on the travails of urban informal settlers. Not a mirror of the indignity of hiding one’s religious beliefs. Not an affront on the injustice one has to endure when you live a life not of your own choosing.
It is not about our indifference to everything Mindanawon. It is not about our detachment to the context of the Maguindanao Massacre. It is not, in the most latent sense, about the tyranny of “imperial Manila”.
Because I watch, and I see a beautiful story caught on film about a mother’s love and the lengths one endures to manifest it. It is a love story, in the most twisted way, in the most surprising of unfoldings. Its power is in the prose, its magic is in its direction. It grips, but it also loosens. Its scenes are sometimes uncomfortable, but to a function -- trust that those scenes will lead you to a cozy and enlightened place.
Because I watch, and everything it is not about are exactly the very things it screams about.
And to describe Sheika, to dissect all the elements that make it work as a film and an artwork, to throw in judgement, to utter praises, to critique or hail -- are all of no consequence.
Because Filipinos simply need to see it. Not to form opinions, but simply care. The Mindanao story is so complex in layers it needs to be untangled not by one critic, or several viewers, just as the Mindanao peace process cannot be left alone to the government, or to parties at the negotiating tables.
Every Filipino has to see it because, again, this is not a Mindanao war movie. It is, in fact, a Mindanao PEACE movie.
And at that -- one in which every Filipino has a stake on the unraveling.
*Sheika is the winner of the 2010 Cinemalaya Netpac (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Prize, Critic’s Pick at the 2010 Cinemanila International Film Festival, and have been screened at international film festivals abroad. Contact Cinemanila Secretariat at +632 392 7935 for inquiries.
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