NZIFF 2020 – The Kingmaker REVIEW
NZIFF 2020 – The Kingmaker REVIEW
Director – Lauren Greenfield
GARY STEEL watches a compelling documentary about an amazing (and awful) woman with a creeping sense of unease. Essential viewing, he reckons.
Here’s a true story that’s much stranger than fiction. The Kingmaker is about a lovely young woman who won the Miss Filipino competition, met and married the country’s future leader, and became the influential powerhouse behind President Ferdinand Marcos.
For those who don’t know or remember the story, the one-two punch revelations are largely kept until later in the film. The Kingmaker is sneaky like that. By following the now octogenarian Imelda Marcos around as she complains about the shoddy treatment she’s received and prattles on about the love the gave to her people when in power, we’re almost endeared into believing her outrageous lies.
I don’t know how the filmmakers got such intimate access to Marcos, but her candid exposition is quite extraordinary; or at least, the camera cannot tell a lie, and her florid presentation is full of preposterous gaffes. One hilarious example is where she’s had her minions set up a table full of framed photographs from her glory years, showing her parading with many of the then-world leaders. Except that some of the pictures are knocked over and one crashes onto the floor, shattering its glass case. Imelda, with steely resolve, ignores the travesty.
It’s not we’re until well into the film that the story of her years in power are told in gory detail. Rigged elections, 10 years of martial law, more than 3000 known murders, 35,000 documented tortures and 70,000 unjustified incarcerations. We hear what surviving activists and political opponents have to say, and it’s chilling. When the cameras return to following her around and handing out money to the poor, it rings completely hollow.
But there’s more. A sense of creeping dread ramps up towards the end as we watch Imelda enmeshed in campaigning for her son, hoping that he will win the 2016 elections to become the Vice President of the Philippines. He loses, but the big reveal is that the Marcos family have funded the successful presidential campaign of Rodrigo Duterte, a Marcos sympathiser.
Marcos goes on about how the millions of slum-dwellers did so much better under her reign than those of successive governments, but within months of Duterte’s election, he’s had police summarily execute more than 7000 suspected drug users and dealers. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, he’s loading positions of authority with Marcos supporters.
The Kingmaker is essential viewing for anyone looking for an example of how badly awry a country can go when it fails to learn its own history. We learn that the education curriculum was never updated to give the real story on the travesty of justice that was the Marcos reign, so the millions of illiterate poor and many of the reasonably well educated alike still idolise Imelda.
At one point as the camera follows her around, Imelda seems to forget to lie for a moment, and says an astonishing thing: “Perceptions is real, the truth is not.” This could equally apply to a story as comparatively mundane as John Key’s reign in NZ politics, and is certainly the case with many of the current world leaders, including Duterte and Trump.
* The Kingmaker premieres on July 28 and is available to stream from July 29 to August 3.
Check out Witchdoctor’s New Zealand International Film Festival reviews: