Review by Sean Boelman
Providing a snapshot of a country in turmoil over its government, director Ramona S. Diaz’s new documentary A Thousand Cuts is eerily timely in today’s America. While the film is admittedly a tad overlong, the story is so compelling and important that the documentary is pretty captivating nonetheless.
The movie tells the story of Fillipino journalist Maria Ressa and her outlet Rappler as they set out on a journey to advocate for freedom of the press against the Phillipines’ President Rodrigo Duterte. At its core, this film is meant to inflame, no matter which side of the debate the viewer may fall on, and in this regard, it works very well.
Diaz does a very good job of developing Ressa as the real-life superhero she is. Of course, if one doesn’t agree with the movie’s politics, it is unlikely that the narrative will resonate as it will with someone who supports Ressa’s values. Still, the film offers a very powerful message about the need for freedom of speech and journalistic integrity in an era so defined by paranoia.
The title of the film comes from a quote from a speech given by Ressa in which she describes the way in which the freedoms of the Fillipino people are being restricted and drained away by their government. Some of the most compelling moments of the movie are those in which Ressa and Dutarte are at each other’s necks, trying to beat each other in their own games.
Clocking in at right around two hours long, the film is certainly on the lengthier side for feature documentaries, but there is plenty of material to be explored in this time. In this regard, the divisive nature of the movie works in its favor because it is eliciting a near constant emotional reaction from any given viewer.
That said, the film is also very emotionally taxing, particularly if the one connects with Ressa and her story. The movie’s outlook on the future of the political environment of the Philippines is bleak, to say the least, but Ressa serves as a much-needed beacon of hope in a situation that desperately requires it.
Diaz also does a very good job of telling her story in an accessible and cinematic way. Since audiences are unlikely to have much familiarity with some of the institutions being discussed and portrayed in the film, Diaz makes sure that interviews and graphics are used to explain the complexities of the Philippines' government or the news system.
A Thousand Cuts will undeniably have a fair share of detractors as a result of its highly political nature, but Ramona S. Diaz does a wonderful job of telling the story in a fascinating way. This is clearly a very important documentary.
A Thousand Cuts was set to screen at the cancelled 2020 SXSW Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.