Delikado (2022)

This exceptional documentary deals with the threat of ugly eco-politics in the most personal and risk-taking way—by following a group of brave Filipinos who volunteer to be ‘land defenders’ trying to protect the environment despite facing death threats from corrupt authorities.    

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,531

Dir. Karl Malakunas
2022 | Philippines/USA | Documentary | 94 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Filipino
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some mature themes and coarse language

Plot: In the majestic tropical island of Palawan, three environmental crusaders confront murder, betrayal and political corruption in this thrilling documentary about land defenders battling to save and preserve paradise in the Philippines.
Awards: Nom. for Best International Documentary (Hot Docs)
International Sales: MetFilm Sales

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Eco-Politics; Government Corruption; Eco-Activism
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Screener – Singapore Film Society Showcase
Spoilers: No

If you still don’t really care much about the environment, then watching Delikado might just change your mind because there are parts of the world where normal citizens like you and me are volunteering to risk their lives to protect nature.  So, what are we doing, bum in the seat with nary a care in the world? 

Eschewing conventions of typical eco-documentaries that tell us Mother Earth is in trouble, Delikado centers its attention instead on a group of Filipino ‘land defenders’ who are taking one baby step at a time (or more accurately, confiscating one chainsaw at a time) to enact change in attitudes. 

All’s good except that they face death threats every day from corrupt authorities.  Entering the Palawan forests stealthily to take away chainsaws from illegal loggers, some of these brave men have lost their lives as ugly politics get in the way. 

“We are sacrificing our lives here.”

Shot in a personal, almost guerrilla filmmaking style, Delikado follows these men into the forests—I can’t tell if these scenes were staged or shot for real, but the tension is palpable. 

A key figure in the documentary is a lawyer who is devastated about the situation in Palawan as he does his part in ensuring that this cause doesn’t lose steam.  As trees are chopped down to make way for roads and the building of tourist resorts, the nearby sea also sees rampant illegal fishing. 

Delikado is an exceptional and sobering documentary, charting the agency of ground-up citizenry in combating environmental destruction when their government has failed them.  This is a rather extreme and dangerous form of eco-activism, but with the future at stake and laws utterly ineffective, there may be no choice left but for these land defenders to work outside of the law. 

Grade: A-


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