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By Heinrich Domingo

There are few stories on Islam and its indigenous communities that reach the Manila audience. Often times, attempts to do so would require filmmakers to present the story with bombastic elements. To please the unfamiliar cinema-goers, filmmakers have to opt entertainment appeal more than the honest portrayal of the conditions of the people. Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma is unapologetic in its quiet depiction of Muslims’ life and conflict. It favors long-takes and slow cuts to tell the story of an on-going feud.

A Muslim family is under attack because of an on-going land feud. Called “rido,” it is a conflict between families that often results in a bloodbath carried by several generations. The father has to send his wife and daughter to a nearby island to spare them from the threats of the rising conflict.

With its cinematic long shots, the film sends the audience into a trance-like state. It allows the audience to immerse in each scene. This form of narration can be dull for viewers who are used to the Hollywood style of filmmaking. The filmmakers take no offense on this choice. Instead, it abides by this principle until the film’s ending.

The film’s cinematography and production design made the best out of the location. The cramped space under the mangrove trees helped in building the drama in the story. The scenes were designed so well that they fit the nature setting of the film.

Admittedly, the film has some room to improve on in terms of its technical aspects. For one, the voice-over and the foley sounds are distracting. They sound too unnatural. Also, using the native language for the dialogues could have improved the film big-time. The narration is chants of Islamic verses in Bisaya. The filmmakers could have pushed it more and used the local language in dialogue for a more immersive viewing experience.

Musmos na Sumibol sa Gubat ng Digma may not be perfect in its technical execution. In spite of this, it is a material that responds to the necessary call for inclusion among Muslim indigenous cultures in Philippine cinema. The film successfully integrates the story of a marginalized group into indie film framework. In effect, indigenous Muslim groups have more varied representation in the film scene.