Beyond the Review: Morven Mackay on ‘Delikado’

We are honoured to publish this reflection as part of Take One Action’s ‘Beyond the Review‘ initiative, supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. In August 2022, we hosted a two-part workshop – delivered by by gal-dem’s First Person editor, film critic and author Katie Goh – that invited participants to explore the way personal writing and film criticism can meet. Born out of the workshops, these commissions invite a reflection on the connections between local struggles and global realities in the TOAFF22 programme, while showcasing the talent and insight of the authors and supporting the development of their own practice.

For this instalment, Morven Mackay has written a review of Delikado, screening in as part of #TOAFF22:

Delikado; dangerous – there’s no better word to describe the gruelling and deadly job of a land defender. Usually filling the gaps where the government has failed, they form the last line of defence against environmental destruction.

In Delikado we meet some of these people. The film opens with a small group of men in a forest somewhere in Palawan, a region of the Philippines. With not much more than their flip-flops and a couple of machetes, these men are getting ready to confront some of the illegal loggers destroying their home.

This group is part of the Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI), a collective comprised of ordinary people putting their lives on the line to fight against the illegal logging, mining, and fishing ravishing their communities. Through Bobby Chan’s leadership, PNNI apprehended over 700 chainsaws, as well as boats and other tools used in the illegal practices they are trying to stop. By intercepting the instruments of destruction at the source, they immediately slow down operations.

Moreover, by refusing to hand them to authorities – and instead creating a sprawling display of chainsaw towers and boat graveyards – they ensured that they could not continue to be used. Exhibiting them in a museum-like way pushes the predominently hidden practices out into the open and serves as a proof of how prevalent these industries are.

It’s not often that a documentary has impacted me as much as Delikado did. The film, powerful in its message and devastating in its truth, has followed me around since the day I watched it.

Films about environmental issues don’t always hit the right note. They can feel condescending and smug, or overly hopeful and fictitious. Delikado, however, refuses to shy away from the harsh realities of environmental activism. The film doesn’t attempt to paint a picture of linear progress, and they certainly aren’t offering their story to lessen our guilt.

In engaging with the people doing the work and letting their stories and emotions lead the narrative, the documentary strengthens the impact of its message – we all need to take action. 

“This is the government’s job. Why are we the ones doing it? It’s gruelling. We’re sacrificing our lives here.”

This line, spoken with such pain, such anger, exemplifies how heavy the burden of the job is on the land defenders. They don’t do this job because they want to, they do it because no one else will. The preservation of their communities, their homes, hangs in the balance. But the things they have experiened – whether that be sending their family away for saftey, or having to tell a wife her husband isn’t coming home – are things no human should have to go through.

I felt particularly affected by Tata’s story. One of the leaders of the network, he is a self-effacing yet genial man whose personal guilt fuels his work. A former logger, Tata estimates that he used to cut down around 60 native Kamagong trees a day – spread that number over years and the burden of his shame can be understood. But it wasn’t a job he chose.

His story reveals the exploitation and corruption at the core of these operations and exemplifies the power they possess. And Tata is just a small part. Whether it’s government officials proficiting off of logging, poiliticians bribing voters, or working class people being used as pawns, entire systems have been built to make doing the right thing unattainable.

What Delikado does best is in showing that everything is linked – there’s never just one issue, or just one person preventing change. It is a far-reaching problem that crosses industries, cultures, and – most importantly – borders.

PNNI are just one group of many across the world all fighting for the same thing – a planet that future generations can not only survive on, but can enjoy.

This documentary is just the start of the conversation. If these issues do not abate, land defenders will continue to die fighting a never-ending battle that they can’t win alone.