The scene starts off with an aerial shot of a secondary forest at early morning with the sounds of nature in the background. After a few seconds, the camera dives into the canopy of trees to reveal two women in the undergrowth garbed in blouses and malong skirts placing their location somewhere in Mindanao. They are dragging a body wrapped in cloth by the upper torso, with only the feet showing. It has to be the body of an adult male as it takes the strength of the two women to progress through the dense forest. They leave a muddy trail behind.
With this dramatic opening scene, award-winning indie and documentary film director and writer Sheron Dayoc introduces the lead character Satra to the audience.
Blood feud, locally known as “rido,” is the central conflict of the film and is being practiced by some Muslim communities until the present. There have been government efforts to curtail this practice but it has proven unsuccessful so far. Many disputes over land ownership lead to blood feuds carried out by men through several generations. There is an unwritten code that women are spared from bloodshed for it is deemed shameful and dishonorable for men to harm them. And so the adult men in rival families dwindle as they strive to avenge the death of their family members leaving behind the women and children to carry on with their lives and to fend for themselves.
What would otherwise have been gory scenes are presented in good taste through excellent cinematography. A young boy being pursued by an adult male from a rival family through the forest, weakened by the loss of blood through a stab wound in the stomach, falls on his face, still far from his home and not within hearing distance from rescuers. The pursuer catches up with him and starts hacking him with a jungle knife (bolo) as he lay on the ground. Mercifully, the camera angle only shows the killer hacking away but you get the idea of what occurred.
Satra initially seeks vengeance for the death of her husband and uncles but finds herself being convinced by Farida, a mediator trying to reconcile the rival families, to leave the land after the death of her only child Amiya.
A river borders the land occupied by Satra’s and Shadiya’s family. Both families get their water from the same source and as the conflict escalates, a murder taints the waters red. Flashbacks to earlier times and happier days show a couple bathing in the river’s pristine waters. Fast forward to present day and Satra is found swimming in the river crying over the loss of her only child at the hands of the rival family. Hence, the weeping river.
A conflict arises within the family as Satra’s father and brothers refuse to leave. They would rather die fighting for their land. To prevent the loss of her remaining male family, Satra secretly meets up with Shadiya, the matriarch of the rival clan, to seek possible reconciliation.
The movie thus ends in a hopeful note.
All of the cast are raw natural talents who delivered great acting, credit due in part to the acting coaches in their production team.
Thank God for independent movie producers who eschew formulas for commercial success, and the benefactors who support these artistic and creative endeavors. They provide society with the much needed insight and perspective.
The practice of “rido” may not yet be completely removed from Mindanao due to the long history of political conflict that continues to haunt the island until today, but with films like these giving other Filipinos and the world an inside perspective, understanding and compassion in action may yet prove to be the catalyst for reconciliation.
Women of the Weeping River won Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor at the recently concluded QCinema International Festival! Congratulations to the team and entire cast: Mr. Fernando Ortigas and EA Rocha from Tuko Film Productions, Buchi Boy Entertainment and Artikulo Uno Productions, Cinematogrphy by Rommel Andreo Sales. Special mention to former colleague Dianna Jean Callejo-Cruz, Line Producer for the movie. We are so proud of you
The Line Producer with the Lead Actress Ms. Laila Ulao, a nurse by profession
*** All photos used provided by Ms. Dianna Jean Callejo-Cruz