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Yanz Sven Paddie. B.

Madelo
B.A. in Communication and Media Studies II
CMS 172 I November 12, 2019

How does one reconcile a present scarred and wounded by its past? How we do
negotiate the many narratives of our past? From which lenses should we look at? In
uncovering what has been, what stories will be unearthed? These are just one of the few
themes that Adjani Arumpac tries to explore in her 2013 film, War is a Tender Thing.
Following her two earlier films, Walai (2006), a documentary on Muslim Women and
Nanay Mameng (2012), a film about Carmen Denuida, a beloved urban poor leader in the
Philippines; War is a Tender Thing treads along the same path of uncovering the often
unheard and suppressed voices of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao. As such, it
revolves around Arumpac’s own story – being born into a family of Muslim and Christian
heritage – and how these internal domestic conflicts offer a microscopic lens into the
bigger conflict in Mindanao.
Here, Arumpac employs The Talking Heads and Director-Participant documentary
form, combining images with verbal testimony from individuals (her relatives) affected by
and of interest to the subject matter of the documentary. The interviews in the film as well
as the accounts we hear from the director, allow the film to draw focus on its many, often
conflicting, narrative layers. As a documentary, War is a Tender Thing breaks away from
the conventions of the narrative form. Instead of revolving around the narrative arch
characterized by a beginning, middle, and end (not necessarily in that order), we follow
three voices that offer different perspectives, opinions, and narratives on the overarching
conflict at hand – the developments of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), a peace
agreement aiming to resolve the century old conflicts in Mindanao.
The first voice introduced to us is one of great familiarity – the media. On the
surface, these news reports are fairly innocent as it simply informs us of the developing
peace agreement. However, Arumpac’s editing and juxtaposition to other narratives in
the film exposes a fragile truth about how the conflict in Mindanao is portrayed in the
media. Here, we see media’s tendencies to oversimplify Mindanao’s conflicts. The
framing of these news reports anchor so much hope to a collection of laws and regulation
inked on paper, a tendency Arumpac attempts to negates in the other voices she
introduces in the film – hers and that of her relatives.
Arumpac begins by introducing the film’s first conflict - the separation of her
Christian Mother, Araceli and her Muslim Father, Aaron. Although one might easily
assume that the conflict takes root in religion, the subsequent interviews that Arumpac
conducts, as she investigates her family’s history challenges such a notion. The voices
that we hear from her relatives reveal a much intricate and complex interweaving of
stories that have scared and wounded Mindanao. Here, we discover two sides of the
same story. The story of how her Mother’s ancestors came and settled to Mindanao as
an escape to the harsh life in Luzon. And the story how her Father’s ancestors were
displaced as result of the migration. As such, Arumpac’s domestic conflicts (between her
mother and father) becomes a metaphor to Mindanao’s conflict as a whole. This suggests
that just as her family’s conflict contains layers upon layers of history, the conflict in
Mindanao is much more than just a conflict rooting from religion. The medium close-ups
she employs throughout her interviews help draw focus on the emotions of her relatives
and thereby allowing us to empathize with them as they narrate their many struggles.
What enriches the documentary even more is Arumpac’s insertions in the film.
Here, her narratives offer an insight to her own disposition. As an amalgamation of layers
of history and years of conflict, how does she come to terms with the reality of her land?
The inclusion of cuts from the pre-interviews (interviewees preparing for the interview)
allow us to see Arumpac as she herself, uncovers her family’s past. Ultimately, this allows
us as audiences to engulf the same shoes Arumpac wears as she stands in the middle
of the chaos.
Aside from the conflicts tackled in the documentary, another conflict in the making
of the film involves an ethical matter. Much like any other documentary film, War is a
Tender Place faces the same tension between an ideal that documentary capture
unmediated reality and the practical fact that making a film may well affect the behavior
of subjects and the outcome of events. Added to such a tension is the fact that the film is
deeply personal to the director. In a discussion about her film in Singapore, Arumpac
shares how this added more weight to the editing and development of the film.
Overall, what makes the film impactful, in my opinion, is its thrust to explore an
often-overlooked aspect of any societal conflict – the people. As such, our tendencies to
reduce social conflicts as conflicts of interest must be countered with a greater
understanding that conflicts involve people, their lives, aspirations and histories.