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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room

Work / Film

Director Angela Stephenson documents Manila’s defiance for creative freedom in the narco-state

Boiler Room is yet again shedding light on important social issues in a part of the world that is little known to us. The second film for its Contemporary Scenes series is To Live & Die in Manila and sees music orientated artists from the Filipino capital emotively express their frustrations under the bloodbaths incurred by the president of just over two years, Rodrigo Duterte.

Elected in June 2016, Duterte won his campaign on the promise of “a bloody war on crime and drugs in the country”. Resultantly, he’s been urging police and civilians to execute extrajudicial killings against “any and all drug suspects” resulting in an estimated 20,000 deaths as of 2018.

The film’s director Angela Stephenson spent a lot of her childhood in Manila and in, creating a deeply personal film, the documentary delves into the ferocious violence caused by Duterte’s policy to kill drug-related suspects.“The war on drugs was sold as a way to clean up the streets and make it safer, but safer for who?" Angela explains to It’s Nice That. "By condemning an entire group of people to death, you’re perpetuating this culture of violence and it doesn’t set a good example for the next generation who are losing their friends or parents to senseless cruelty at the hands of the police and neighbours.” The film explores the injustice through some of the city’s most exciting musical artists using their poetic creativity to confront the people’s rightful anger.

Although Manila is a “difficult place” in terms of its social inequality with a “level of poverty that is hard to stomach," Angela still finds the city beautifully inspiring. She has only fond memories of the city that are rooted in childhood nostalgia, but the social cleansing problems prompted that this was a wider issue to raise, and also a chance to introduce the world to the innovative talent that lies in the budding underground music scene.

The 17-minute documentary meets Manila-born artists Eyedress, Owfuck, BP Valenzuela, Teenage Granny and Jeona Zoleta who share their musical inspirations and poignant music with the Boiler Room film crew. The music acts as an escape from the realities of the slaughterous “narco-state”, they pour raw emotion into dulcet melodies and lyrical hip hop which reflect their individual stories. For the artists, music provides a space for experimentation, a space to articulate their feelings and express themselves in a non-judgemental environment outside the fear-mongered state.

“Duterte is of the belief that drug users are beyond redemption and it’s easier to discard of these people than it is to engage with them and understand the ways in which drugs are embedded in the user’s social and physical environment,” Angela goes on to say. The authorities leave little room for anything outside the induced fear on the streets and his policies create further divisions between the rich and the poor, who have become susceptible to this social cleansing.

Consequently, the documentary offers a rare insight into these “subcultural revolutionaries and their defiance for creative freedom.” Though these artists face oppression, music transforms their suffering into works of impactful art. Angela is now “friends for life” with the artists, she explains, “they bared all with me and taught me so much and I’m so grateful for that. I’m in real admiration of their honesty.”

Committed to supporting the successes of the artists featured in the film, Angela is currently organising the first Boiler Room events in Manila. Her film direction stays true to the “uncut” and “homemade” trademark aesthetic of Boiler Room footage, making way for the irrepressible creativity of the artists to flourish on our screens.

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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room

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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room

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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room

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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room

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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room

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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room

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To Live & Die in Manila: Boiler Room