By TERENCE KRISHNA V. LOPEZ
MANILA — Arguably, Carmen “Nanay Mameng” Deunida of the urban poor group Kadamay is one of this century’s most popular and most endearing woman activist. Staunch. Fiery. Passionate. These are just a few words that describe how she speaks in public whether in rallies or in small gatherings. Her mere presence delights everybody. No one else can utter scathing remarks against presidents of the republic the way she does, 84 years old at that.
To make a film about Nanay Mameng may sound easy. Why not? Her life is nothing short of colorful. She’s been through 13 presidents. She has marched thousands of times toward Mendiola, Liwasang Bonifacio, Plaza Miranda and EDSA and toward every possible mass demonstration venue in Metro Manila. She has spat at corrupt government officials’ names millions of times. She commands attention wherever she speaks. Her speeches are always full of “quotable quotes” that the media pick up all the time. She has a melodramatic family life fit for the movies, having liberated herself from an abusive husband. And yet, when the whole country watched her life at the boob tube, in a television anthology few years ago, it seemed completely wrong. Perhaps, it is not really easy to make a movie about her- a powerful, almost larger than life little woman who has seen histories unfold in front of her eyes and chooses to keep on fighting. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons why the new documentary “Nanay Mameng,” by Adjani Arumpac and Kodao Productions is much awaited and highly anticipated.
The 40-minute tribute film succeeds in many aspects and is a definite winner in many levels. First and foremost, it is tastefully done, which is not surprising for those who knows Arumpac. Although this is only her second documentary film, many of her works are seen on TV. Maximizing her unconventional filmmaking style and artistic vision, Arumpac, in collaboration with Kodao Productions has portrayed a Nanay Mameng we will only love more, nothing less. It also helped that the storytelling is direct, simple and very crisp.
Putting Nanay Mameng in front of the camera and letting her talk about her life was a smart decision for Arumpac and Kodao. That gives the audience who are not familiar with her a certain immediate warmness while for those who know her already, a kind of joy, the kind that touches right to the heart. Of course, it is always a joy to see her in rallies and listen to her fiery speeches but making her laugh and cry while talking about herself brings her closer to the people who have already been loving her since time immemorial. In Arumpac’s first documentary, “Walai,” the characters are very endearing precisely because they talk about their stories and we hear it directly from them, the way they only would.
One of the film’s highlights is Nanay Mameng telling her anecdotes about her poverty-stricken childhood, her adventures and misadventures during the Japanese war, to how she got involved in the national democratic movement, to how Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told her promises personally, up to her present critique of Noynoy Aquino. This anecdote worked because Nanay Mameng was allowed to talk about it in the way how she really talks – direct, humorous, with much conviction and credibility, in a language every single person on the street understands.
On the other hand, leaders of different organizations from the national democratic movement were also shown in the film giving tribute to her unwavering dedication and commitment in serving the people. To which she quips, “…hindi ako dapat parangalan, hindi ako tunay na bayani, hindi pa ako humahawak ng armas…” (I don’t deserve the tributes, I am not a hero, I haven’t held up arms yet) or something like that.
Most probably though, the strongest point of this film is it’s vision that enables it to give the audience, through its central character’s experiences and observations, a sound and credible sense of history of Philippine society and inspires everyone to fight against the rotten system, without appearing preachy and imposing. And when Nanay Mameng tells how demolition of urban poor communities have been going on for decades – quipping of course, against the hunger of the current regime, the film becomes even more relevant.
To talk more about the details of the film is of course not fair. It will be too much of a spoiler.
Of course, the film is not perfect. It is not without flaws. But it is more important to underscore that this is indeed one of the year’s most significant Filipino films. Catch its grand premiere in October.