‘Aswang’, ‘Overseas’ to screen at Doc Fortnight 2020: MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media

ONE is a documentary about the war on drugs in the Philippines, focusing on the lives of a group of people who has been caught up in these events, and the other is about a group of Filipinas training to become domestic workers or nannies abroad.

The two docu films – Aswang and Overseas, respectively, are part of this year’s Doc Fortnight 2020, the 19th edition of The Museum of Modern Art’s annual showcase of outstanding and innovative nonfiction film.

Photo courtesy of Cinematografica Films

This year’s festival, which runs from February 5 to 19, 2020, includes over 28 documentary features and short film pairings, 12 world premieres, 17 North American premieres, and 14 US premieres from 38 countries.

Directed by Alyx Ayn Arumpac, Aswang follows a group of people whose lives have been caught in the midst of Duterte’s drug war: a journalist who tries to make a stand against lawlessness, a coroner, a missionary brother who comforts bereaved family members, and a street kid with parents in prison and friends in the cemetery. This is the documentary filmmaker’s debut feature and it aims to examine the impact of the government’s war on drugs.

Stills from ‘Aswang’ | Photo courtesy of Cinematografica Films

The 85-minute documentary, a co-production among the Philippines, France, Norway, Qatar, and Germany, made its world premiere in the Netherlands last November and was selected as an entry for the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) Competition for First Appearance 2019, a festival considered by many as the Cannes of documentary filmmaking.

The team behind “Aswang” received grants, including 40,000 euros from Europe: International Co-production from the IDFA Bertha Fund, which supports developing countries by co-funding their documentary projects, along with additional support from Aide aux cinémas du monde – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée/Institut Français, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program, Berlinale World Cinema Fund, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), among others.

“The FDCP and NCCA helped us through their filmmaker travel assistance program which paid for our flights for some of the development workshops and pitches. This was very important for us and we are very grateful for this,” said Arumpac, according to Adobo Magazine. The director also served as the film’s producer together with Armi Rae S. Cacanindin for ACC Cinematografica Films.

A still from ‘Overseas’Photo courtesy of Iota Production

In its review of the film, CineEuropa wrote, “Overall, the film is a shocking and rare account of Duterte’s dictatorship and its perverse machinery of death. It is both a valuable, informative piece of work and a brutal punch to the stomach for the international audience, which is generally not aware of the current dire situation in the Asian country.”

While Aswang is a debut feature for the Filipina filmmaker, Overseas is the second feature of Brussells-based Korean director Sung-A Yoon.

The director focused on a “training center” dedicated to domestic work, following a group of trainees who are getting ready to face both homesickness and the possible abuses lying ahead once they get their jobs abroad. This group of women is about to leave the country, their children and their families, to throw themselves into the unknown of a new life overseas. During role playing exercises, they alternatively play both the roles of the employee and that of the employers.

An excerpt from the documentary film’s synopsis reads: “Bordering on fiction, Overseas brings to light the question of modern servitude in our globalized world, while emphasizing these women’s determination, their sisterhood, and the strategies they find to face the ordeals that awaits them in the near future.”

Overseas as a project came about when Yoon discovered Asuncion Fresnoza-Flot’s book, Migrant Mothers Without Borders, which analyzes the immigration of female Filipino domestic workers in France, from the angle of family separation. Yoon did her research and met with experts such as Fresnoza-Flot who is a Filipino sociologist in Belgium, and Julien Debonneville, a sociologist from Switzerland who was writing a PhD on the same topic.

She travelled to the Philippines three times before the shooting and that allowed her to meticulously observe the whole training process and the procedures required of any Filipino woman who wishes to leave the country to work as a domestic worker.

In its review of the film, Hollywood Reporter described Overseas as “The most sympathetic, illuminating study of domestic labor since Roma” and “a cleverly constructed and briskly edited glimpse into the tough realities of a semi-invisible profession.”

Doc Fortnight 2020 opens with the New York premiere of Crip Camp, a portrait of Camp Jened—a camp for disabled teenagers near Woodstock, New York, that thrived in the late 1960s and ’70s—which established a close-knit community of campers who would become pioneering disability advocates. The film is codirected and produced by Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht, who attended the camp.

The closing-night film is the New York premiere of Lance Oppenheim’s Some Kind of Heaven. This eye-opening account of the world’s largest retirement community, in central Florida, follows four protagonists struggling to find happiness and meaning in the “Disneyland for Retirees.”

Catch Aswang, Overseas and a host of other documentary films at the Doc Fortnight 2020: MoMA’s International Festival of Nonfiction Film and Media happening from February 5–19, 2020 at MoMA’s The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters.  Aswang’s screenings are February 7 and 15 while Overseas will be shown February 9 and 13. Visit https://www.moma.org/calendar/events/6382 for details. 


Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected]

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