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By Heinrich Domingo

When you fear and feel powerless, create an art work they say. Shout your advocacy through artistry, through beauty, through cinema. But what if, you cannot comprehend art. What is artistic expression to you if you are hungry in the middle of the night, if you are landless all your life, if you have to watch your sick children die? They are the Sama D’laut group, the subject of Director Luisito Ignacio’s film Laut. Seen on the big screen is the reeking condition of a displaced community and their constant fight to continue living.

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The Sama D’laut people (aka Badjao) were forced to leave their homes because of the continuous armed conflict in Mindanao. They are historically seafaring people who went up to the northern part of the Philippines. Some of the families settled in a site near a megadike in Mabalacat, Pampanga. With no education and knowledge on arithmetic and reading, the community continues to live an impoverished life. This film records their rich culture emphasizing their notion of union, death, and survival. Laut highlights a subject that is too shocking to the unknowing cinemagoers.

A film is judged based on its ability to make the audience feel the reality it suggests. While watching, the viewer leaves her or his seat and enters a new world. She or he is there to observe. She or he is there to examine how the people’s condition can be improved.   This film allows the crowd to feel horror, pain, empathy, and mercy. It lets them dive into a sea of emotions in the hope that they too would feel the difficulties of Sama D’laut people.

Key to the effectiveness of the narrative is the outstanding performance of the whole cast. Barbie Forteza and Ana Capri personified their characters that realistically established a deep connection with the audience. With the superb acting of the whole team, the story successfully became emotionally appealing to the crowd.

Despite inconsistencies, Laut’s cinematography provided a clear backdrop for the story to wander. Images on the screen translated the foul nature of Sama D’laut’s lives. It allowed the audience to smell the putrid odor, feel the scorching heat, and to taste the poor men’s meal.

It was a challenge for the production team to focus on specific elements of the story. Since the lives of the people are filled with a myriad of problems, it became difficult to select a topic that would define the film. Was it about cultural preservation, women struggle, children rights, social services, or a mixture of everything? For an audience who appreciates simplicity and clarity, this might be a disappointment.

In the end, Laut became more than an exposition film. It served as a wakeup call to the public that there is so much to do in saving the lives that Filipinos tagged as “minorities.” Despite minute shortcomings of the film, it was able to effectively arouse the emotions of the audience and consequently hope for tangible actions from the public.

4 stars