YIDFF 2013 New Asian Currents
War Is a Tender Thing
An Interview with Adjani Arumpac (Director)

Tracing a Family History

Q: You were born to a Muslim father and Christian mother on the island of Mindanao, which has been the site of a long-running religious conflict. When did you first become conscious of the differences between the two religions?

AA: When my parents separated when I was six years old. It was my father’s absence that made the difference tangible. Before that, when they fought, my mother would call my father a derogatory term for a Muslim, and my father would do a similar thing to my mother—but when they were not fighting, they were like any other married couple. What I want to say in the film is that the war in Mindanao is not just because of religious differences between Muslims and Christians, and I wanted to deconstruct this categorization of Mindanao in the eyes of the world.

Q: For you, is the act of making a documentary film a way for you to document yourself?

AA: Yes, because my material is always about my life, and I have to know about myself. This film was a family history, my way of documenting our legacy. My original plan was just to shoot my parents and to tell their story, but we are a private people, and my sisters didn’t want me to tell everything. The challenge is always how to limit what you divulge about yourself, and the ethics of exposing the people who matter most to you.

Q: By doing things like repeating the same musical refrain and incorporating sounds such as a crackling fire, you use sound very effectively in this documentary. Your film also contains many interviews, but the voices of the people speaking are not always accompanied by visual images of the speakers, but are often juxtaposed against striking and abstract images such as landscapes or close-ups of stationary objects. Did you plan to edit the interviews in this manner?

AA: This film was the product of a workshop, and the French instructor at the workshop suggested that I read about essay films like those of Chris Marker. These films contain images that are disparate from what you hear, so maybe that is where the idea came from. But more than that, shooting the film was a very organic process. In the interviews, I tried to see what was most interesting, and, in accord with these stories, I would go around and shoot whatever seemed beautiful to me.

Q: In the film, there is a woman named Patalaga who is the sole Muslim living in a Christian village. The film shows her weeping out of a sense of isolation, and she seems to have a difficult life—but does she continue to live in this village?

AA: Yes, she is still there. Patalaga is the wife of my grandmother’s brother. She hadn’t seen my grandmother for a long time, so when my grandmother and I visited her village, she just started crying, and it was then that I got the story about my grandmother’s brothers and sisters discriminating against her because she is a Muslim. In the village, they accept her, but this is not the same as being a part of the community.

For me, the differences between Muslims and Christians are real, but they are not all that matter, and they are not the root of the problem. The war in Mindanao—along with the war inside my home—is really about people fighting to keep their space, their homes. This is the fault of the government, which makes policies that don’t really understand the lives of people at the grassroots level. The Mindanao war is the second-longest-running conflict in the world, and in this film, I am trying to paint a big picture of the complexities behind why it is still running, and why this war is never ending.

(Compiled by Morikawa Miku)

Interviewers: Morikawa Miku, Takahashi Mari / Interpreter: Saito Shinko / Translator: Kato Lisa Somers
Photography: Omiya Yoshiyuki / Video: Omiya Yoshiyuki / 2013-10-15