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Filmmaker Ramona Diaz captures the humor and drama in the lives of pregnant women at Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital

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By Rica Arevalo

Grace and humor from the heroines of Motherland

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ramona Diaz was in town for the Philippine premiere of her latest work, Motherland, as it opened the Active Vista Human Rights Film Festival last Nov. 27 at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall.

She follows heroines Lea, Aira, and Lerma “billeted” at the Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital as they struggle with pregnancy, poverty and the lack of financial and emotional support.

“What drew me most in making this film–the communities of women, the private space around one bed,” confesses the Asian American filmmaker.  ​

In the documentary, Lea is clueless that she is pregnant with twins. Prenatal checkup was never in her vocabulary.

Lerma is a “veteran” mother, having sired seven children. She insists on bringing her baby home even if the underweight bunso (youngest) needs more medicine for pneumonia.

Aira is a young student who has an unplanned pregnancy with an absentee boyfriend. She struggles with this new phase of her life.

Ramona Diaz Director of Motherland

Ramona Diaz Director of Motherland

Ramona immerses herself, shooting cinema verite style, unobtrusive as she lets her subjects reveal their inner lives to the general public. “Obviously there is a power imbalance between me and them. I have a camera,” she admits.  “I made it very clear to them that they could say no and they would still get care a Fabella. I didn’t want them to see me as part of the bureaucracy.”

Laughter has been the women’s shield in their hard life drama inside the hospital. “Life is difficult but they have a grace with them that is very heartwarming,” says the Imelda creator.  “They see humor in the situation.”

Sharing is also everything for these women. “These are fleeting relationships. You know they’ll never see each other again,” muses the Jury Award for Commanding Vision winner at the Sundance Film Festival 2017.  “But theirs is such an intense relationship in those six weeks that they are there, which to me is amazing.”

At Fabella, the Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is propagated in lieu of incubators for premature newborns. “I found the men doing KMC breathtaking and different. I have never seen that before,” says Ramona. “Men would always come during the visiting hours. They are more sentimental in a way that is very touching for me.”

The country’s Reproductive Health law triggered Ramona’s curiosity. “I was very interested in the social and cultural drama around it,” says the Assumption high school alumnae. “All I was hoping to really do is to start a conversation. Put people in the lives of other people who they would otherwise never meet.”

The documentary that runs for one hour and 34 minutes is distributed in Mexico by Ambulante. “Instead of asking the audience to come to the film, they have these trucks,” says Ramona. “They all go to small provinces in Mexico and set up mobile screens.”

That could be done here as well to see the current state of our pregnant women and to experience the grace with which these mothers tackle these challenges. The film garnered the Viktor Award at the Munich International Documentary Festival 2017.

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