Asia Pacific Projects

These projects are selected as part of a collaboration with DocEdge New Zealand.

Untying The Knot

Mind Your Language

Untying The Knot (Philippines)

Project Name: Untying the Knot

Director’s Name: Chona Mangalindan, Philippines

Logline

In the last country outside the Vatican where divorce is illegal, women in abusive marriages pay the price. With only difficult options, they either stay or turn to unsavory solutions.

Synopsis

For twenty-one years, Grace experienced all kinds of abuse from her husband. “I had become immune to the beatings, but I could no longer tolerate the mental torture,” she recounts. Despite the multiple times she ran to the local authorities and to her peers, nobody helped her. Her troubles were easily dismissed as “away mag-asawa” (petty couple fights) and her capacity as a wife was repeatedly questioned.

This happens a lot in the Philippines, where domestic abuse is rampant but rarely discussed. Where divorce is not allowed and the Catholic Church wields its strong power to make sure it stays that way. Here, women are simply expected to endure it.

Grace is now a pro-divorce campaigner. Her husband eventually passed away. But before that, she considered killing him herself. It was the only way she could foresee an end to her misery.

Currently, the only options to escape a loveless marriage in the Philippines are arduous and inaccessible to most. Annulments can take up to decades to resolve and can cost upwards of 5,000 USD—more than the average annual salary in the country. The most common causes of a marriage breakdown–domestic abuse, infidelity, and abandonment–are also not considered legal grounds.

This unique predicament has given rise to unsavory underground trades. Annulment mills, involving bribing court personnel to improperly settle annulment cases have emerged. Scams offering quick results and fake certificates have cropped up. And for more desperate clients, hiring a hitman– which is cheaper and quicker than going to court– may feel like the only option.

In this film, we shine a light on the broken Philippine legislative system and the women it seldom protects. We follow the story of Grace and two other women who are fighting against cultural and legal obstacles to break free from their abusive marriages. We see their struggles, the toll, and, with limited prospects and resources, how far they are willing to go.

 

Director’s Statement

As a Filipino woman, I am drawn to this story as I have witnessed first-hand the physical and emotional toll the lack of divorce in the Philippines has exacted. One in three Filipino women has experienced spousal violence — be it physical, emotional, or sexual.

Currently, the only options to escape a loveless marriage in the Philippines are arduous and unaffordable to most. As a consequence, most women stay in abusive households or flee without legally dissolving their marriages. This leads to unending cycles of domestic abuse and to married women who have found new partners, at risk of being charged with adultery—a crime that can only be charged against women, with a maximum sentence of 6 years in prison.

All of this happens while efforts to pass divorce legislation fail. In the middle of this is the Catholic Church which maintains its strong influence on the political landscape of the country. According to them, divorce is “immoral, anti-family, and will only introduce disorder to the society.”

In a country with a population that’s 85% Catholic, it might be unpopular to go against that. But as I speak to more women who remain vulnerable in abusive marriages and unsupported in their communities, I am convinced that their challenges must be heard and must be better understood.

Combining observational filming with personal testimonies, this film will provide a raw window into the lasting consequences of the absence of divorce in the Philippines–and the fight to change it. My goal for is to raise difficult questions about the current system and consider how we can protect women in vulnerable situations moving forward. My hope is that by exposing the underground annulment market and the legal system that gave rise to it, the pressure to make significant changes will grow.

 

Treatment

This story switches between the fight to legalize divorce in the country and the personal battles of women who are still stuck in an abusive legal union or the memory of it. In the case of Grace, it’s the latter.

The screen is blank but one can hear Grace sniffling. Her video camera turns on and vividly, she recounts how the abuse started on the 2nd day of their marriage, when she accidentally burnt the rice for dinner and her then-husband hit her so hard she almost went deaf. That was only the start of their 21 years together. The fits of temper turned so bad and constant that it pushed Grace into depression. And in the lack of options to get out, Grace reveals in detail how she plotted to kill him. A doctor friend coached her how to do it, she explains. The syringe was ready and the car trunk already empty. But on the night it was planned, her newborn child wouldn’t stop crying. She ended up reassessing her plans and waiting a few more years–until eventually, her husband died of natural causes.

I’ve been in correspondence with Grace for over a year now. We initially communicated through video calls at the height of the pandemic, but in in early 2022, I was finally able to film her in-person and follow her efforts in lobbying for a divorce law in the country. Some wonder why she is still campaigning for divorce when her husband has already passed away and she’s no longer trapped in an abusive home. But we learn that for Grace, it’s about redeeming herself after all the years she wasn’t able to do anything.

We follow her as she meets other women from her divorce advocacy group and as they discuss their next steps. The biggest push back has been from religious groups who are anti-divorce and have been sending them intimidating messages. We watch how Grace and her group face these challenges and lobby for divorce in a country that’s 85% Catholic.

In Rizal, we accompany Faith as she makes sense of the complex legal troubles she finds herself in. Originally from Cebu, she now lives in the outskirts of Metro Manila, rebuilding her life while supporting her kids through her small eatery. She recounts why she left her marriage. “I really didn’t want to get married. I was only 19 but his parents forced me. I was already pregnant and they wanted to stop the gossiping in their town,” she explains.

Only after a year together, she fled their home. In the following 13 years, while not able to legally dissolve their marriage, they each led their own lives and had their own string of romantic affairs. Faith, after several years, met a new partner and had another child.

Then in 2018, for the first time in 13 years, Faith asked her legal-husband for child support for the daughter they share together. The husband ignored her requests and, instead, charged her with adultery for having borne a 3rd child with a different man.

This triggered a series of traumatic events for Faith. Having left her hometown where she was shunned for being “separada” (separated) and “malandi” (promiscuous), she gained equal notoriety in her new neighborhood when plainclothes men scandalously arrested her in front of her home without any warrant.

Her eatery remains empty these days. No one wants to be associated with a charged adulteress. Her partner is now gone too. When charges for adultery were filed in 2018, they were against both Faith and her partner. Upon learning of this, her partner immediately fled the country, taking with him the daughter they share together. Faith is now left with 2 kids, an eatery that is barely surviving, and an adultery charge to her name. “They say divorce will ruin families and encourage broken families. What they don’t know is that the absence of divorce is what breaks us,” she muses.

Her case is ongoing and we follow her as she prepares to face her legal husband in court.

Interwoven with the stories of women, Edcel Lagman, human rights lawyer and member of the Philippine House of Representatives, elaborates on the importance of an absolute divorce law in the country. “The state cannot abandon couples and their children in a house on fire, ” he laments. He is the principal author of the divorce bill that was recently approved at the lower Congress but is now stuck in the Senate. Efforts to pass a divorce law in the country have repeatedly failed over the past decades and Representative Lagman is turning 80 soon. He hopes that before he retires, divorce will finally be passed into law.

We follow him as he pushes for this bill one last time.

 

Director/Producer’s Profile

Chona is A Filipino documentary filmmaker currently based in Berlin. Her film IN SANTA ANA won Best Film at the Sorok Short Film Festival and was nominated for Best International Short at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. She was a selected participant at Docs by the Sea and the Global Short Docs Forum.

Anne is a producer with a track record of helping first-time filmmakers succeed. THE WORKERS CUP premiered on Opening Night at Sundance and was nominated for an Emmy and a Critics Choice Award. Anne also produced first-time director Hillary Bachelder’s film, REPRESENT, with Kartemquin Films.

Production Plan

From November 2022- April 2023, we are scheduled to film the 3 protagonists. We will closely watch Grace as she faces obstacles in campaigning to legalize divorce in the country. We will follow Faith as she faces the adultery charge filed by her legal husband. And lastly, we will accompany Mercy as she finds ways to protect herself and her children from her murderous husband.

In the next months, we will apply for different grants and complete the financing of the project. Production is estimated to last from 6-8 months, and we are aiming to wrap up before mid-2023.

Budget

400,000 USD

Production Status

This project is currently in the late-development stage. After speaking to more than 40 women, we chose our protagonists: three women who have attempted to leave their marriages but have failed. They have confirmed their participation and have agreed to give full access to filming.

 

We have also recently spent four months in the Philippines conducting interviews with the most active players in the campaign to legalize divorce. We gained access to the biggest pro-divorce group in the country and already have permission to film their lobbying efforts at the Senate starting November 2022.

Guardians of the River

Director’s Name: Lachlan McLeod & Veialu Aila-Unsworth, Kerry Warkia & David Elliot-Jones (New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guiana)

  • Type: Feature
  • Stage: Concept/In development
  • Country: New Zealand, Australia, Papua New Guinea
  • Language: English, Pidgin English, Yatmul
  • Runtime: 90 mins
  • Presented By: Lachlan McLeod & Veialu Aila-Unsworth, Kerry Warkia & David Elliot-Jones
  • Director Bio: Lachlan McLeod is an independent filmmaker and co-founder of

Walking Fish Productions, a Melbourne-based production house that specialises in bold, character-led documentaries. His latest feature documentary Clean had its World Premiere at SXSW 2022 in the Documentary Feature Competition.

Veialu Aila-Unsworth began her career in New Zealand at TV THREE and has worked with Australia’s largest free-to-air TV Networks (NINE Network & Network TEN), as an award-winning creative producer/director. In 2021, her feature script The Defiant One, a historical drama set in colonial Papua New Guinea, was selected as 1 of 10 screenplays for the 2021 CAPE List in America.

  • Producer Bio: Kerry Warkia (Papua New Guinean / Scottish) is a producer and cofounder of Brown Sugar Apple Grunt. Kerry is passionate about telling Māori and Pacific stories. Recent titles include The Legend of Baron To’a (2020) and Vai, which premiered at Berlinale in 2019.

David Elliot-Jones is a producer and co-founder of Melbourne’s Walking Fish Productions. Some of David’s recent credits include feature documentaries Clean (2022) and Big in Japan (2018), and VICE short Searching for the Tassie Tiger (2021).

  • Production Company: Brown Sugar Apple Grunt Productions & Walking Fish

Productions

  • Logline: When an enormous mine threatens the Sepik River, Indigenous activist Manu

Peni and his people launch an urgent mission to protect the precious waterway.

  • Synopsis: The 1,126km Sepik River is the largest remaining intact freshwater river system in Papua New Guinea. When an enormous China-owned, Australia16 administered, gold and copper mine is proposed in one of the Sepik’s tributaries, Indigenous activist Manu Pani and his grassroots organisation Project Sepik launch an urgent mission to protect their precious river. But it is highly dangerous work against a sophisticated, powerful, and better resourced opposition, and globally more than 300 frontline defenders like Manu are killed each year.

‘Guardians of the River’ charts the journey of Manu Peni and his motley crew of protectors as they seek to unite Haus Tambaran—ancient spirit houses and places of governance—in key villages along the river in opposition to the mine, while a team of promising lawyers of Pacific origin, based in Australia, push a ground-breaking case to protect the river by recognising its personhood.

Manu achieves the Supreme Sukundimi Declaration of 28 Haus Tambaran uniting 78,000 people and rival clans in opposition of the mine. But his fight is only just beginning.

At its heart, ‘Guardians of the River’ is an Indigenous survival story, about a community voicing their resistance to a multinational mine through their preferred traditional means, via the Haus Tambaran. For the people of the Sepik, Earth Law and Rights of Nature is not a new concept, but a return to the system of law and governance that sustained them for thousands of years.

  • Director’s Statement: Making this film has made me rethink my relationship with nature. Everybody used to be part of “a river”. Today, at least in a Western context, most of us don’t even know what this means. It is a feeling and idea that has been lost slowly across generations as our values and lives changed. By our new measurements we are richer than ever before but without this connection there is a void. When we are not part of a river, we cannot fully know who we are. I don’t think any of us who have lost “our river” will ever be able to get it back. At least not in the same way that the people of the Sepik understand it. But we can still see glimpses of it. We can reflect on where these changes to our systems and values have led us. We can see how Indigenous ways of thinking about our relationship to the world are necessary for the future. And if the mountain of gold sitting above the Sepik River can stay there, then I feel that maybe we can preserve some of these ideas about what being human and connected to a river is like.
  • Looking For: Broadcast/platform acquisition/commission, Distribution, Funding, Sales Agent
  • Total Budget (Usd): $935,446
  • Secured Budget (Usd):

Walking Fish Productions Producer Contribution – $80,000

Brown Sugar Apple Grunt Producer Contribution – $80,000

  • Director Filmography:

▪ Clean (2022)

▪ Big in Japan (2018)

▪ Convenient Education (2013)

I Thought Jesus Was Korean?

I Thought Jesus Was Korean?

I Thought Jesus Was Korean? (New Zealand)

Project Name: I Thought Jesus Was Korean?

Director’s Name: • Presented By: Elina Osborne

  • Type: Feature
  • Stage: Concept / In Development
  • Country: New Zealand
  • Language: English
  • Runtime: 90 Mins
  • Presented By: Elina Osborne
  • Director Bio: Having graduated from AUT University with a major in video production

in 2015, Elina set out to focus on telling stories of adventure; and where else to start but her own? Hiking the 4,270km Pacific Crest Trail, followed by New Zealand’s 3,000km Te Araroa, Elina has amassed an online following of ~100,000. The short documentary It Is the People she self-produced, filmed and edited went on to screen in seven film festivals in 2020, and garnered over half a million views online. Elina now has intent to return to the story that continues to follow her.

  • Producer Bio: N/A
  • Production Company: N/A
  • Logline: Forty years after her parents’ mass wedding at Madison Square Garden, a Kiwi-Japanese filmmaker seeks meaning after learning her Korean Jesus was a fraud.
  • Synopsis: New Zealand/Japanese filmmaker, Elina was born of a bloodline free from Satan; pure and aligned with God. Elina grew up in a cult. But not just any cult – one on the cover of every newspaper in the ‘70s, referenced in everything from the Simpsons to Seinfeld, and now seemingly forgotten.

History became legend, and legend became myth, and for the second generation born under the pretense of a Korean Jesus, their stories were never told. After six years distanced from her double-life adolescence, Elina begins to see that her ‘quirky’ backstory still holds presence in her psyche.

Having discovered new community among others driven to spend multiple months hiking long distance trails, Elina recognises the parallels in her new love for thru hiking, with the cult she left behind. There is still desire to fill some kind of void. By retracing

19 the controversial history of Reverend Moon; the tax evasion, sex rituals, and illegitimate children, Elina seeks to find just how far the trail of Moon’s legacy will take her.

With debt-ridden, ageing parents, juxtaposed with the unfolding drama around the Moons’ billion-dollar fortune, the intricacies of their internal family conflict begin to come to light; did loyal followers dedicate their lives to a Messiah or a businessman?

Following Elina’s journey of deconstruction, unpacking her once fundamental beliefs, the film explores how ex-Moon children-now adults, seek to find a sense of place having lost their means of navigation.

  • Director’s Statement: It’s said to take five years to leave the psychological confines of a cult – for me, it’s been six. I thought Jesus was Korean? is the story of the children of the Moonies, beyond the layers of cult-ey sensationalism. While there’s darkness to uncover, there’s also humour to bring levity; the sugar to the pill that’s hard to swallow- what are the stories of seeking restless joy, despite all? How does an adult work through the crushing existentialism that follows the deconstruction of their fundamental beliefs? This is a story my younger self needed to see to truly believe; navigating a trail is far better without the shadow of the Moon.
  • Looking For: Broadcast/platform acquisition/commission, Executive Producer,

Funding

  • Total Budget (Usd): $90,000
  • Secured Budget (Usd): N/A
  • Director Filmography:

▪ It Is the People – Director, Writer, Editor