Review: 'Reminiscences of the Green Revolution' (2019)

Fluorescent Adolescence

Screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival under the Short Cuts 01 progamme, Reminiscences of the Green Revolution is a short film from Dean Colin Marcial, a Philippines born New York based filmmaker. He is the co-founder of Calavera USA, a Brooklyn based production company whose work has screened at prestigious festivals such as Tribeca, South by Southwest and Sundance.

The film follows the recollections of one Yung Martin, following his memories through a group of young activists planning the occupation of the goldmine, in the time of the second EDSA revolution that ousted then-president Joseph Estrada in 2001. For a film that exists on this side of City of God and Y Tu Mamá También, Green Revolution bears the spectral DNA of its forefathers on its sleeve. Featuring seductively fluid handheld cinematography and a competent ensemble of youthful characters as they grapple with both their political ideals and sexual disentanglements, the film manages a dizzy snapshot of what it means to feel young and eternal, to be able to both harness impulse for a cause greater than yourself or to give into your basest impulse to fulfil a most selfish need. The film complicates its portrait of insouciance with a clincher of a conceit, by – SPOILER ALERT – having its lead narrator, Marty, speak from the after-life.

With this neat little trick, Marcial manages to render the ephemeral, eternal; it is no longer simply the prelude to the storm or the night before the coup and the results of their scheme no longer matter. This last night is now encased in the undying, free from the strictures of time, because it, like its narrator Marty, now dwell in time itself. If ghosts are immaterial because of a lack of the physical then time is spirit made material.

If I had but one request of the film, it would be that I wished we had more time in this world, with these characters, on the infinite pull of the night before everything changes. But perhaps brevity is its point, that often adolescence, sandwiched between dawdling infantilism and interminable adulthood, cuts through the muck and shines supernova bright but is all too brief and all too fragile; a phrase by David Foster Wallace that I am particularly fond of rings so true for this film – every love story is a ghost story.

SINdie had the pleasure and opportunity of reaching out to the director to answer some of our questions for his work-

The film certainly with its youthful protestors, taps into a rich vein of current contemporary civil discontentment, with the protests in Hong Kong and Greta Thunberg’s youth climate strikes. What made you decide to tell this story from such a young point of view?

DCM: Because I’m a millennial? I think the most progressive and radical energies in these movements have come from the youngs because they’re perpetually borne into a world the olds keep wrecking. 

I wrote this movie just before Trump’s inauguration around the time of being at the Women’s March in New York, so I think a lot of my feelings then were bleeding into the script. I thought about how I felt about the world when I was 21 or 22 and had these revolutionary ideas about changing it, and who I was friends with then and who I was in love with, and all the little dramas we’d occupy ourselves with while we were working together towards something. And it’s emotional— how can you not be? Cold hard logic got us our present reality. So this is a movie for romantics, sure, but I also wanted to testify to choosing people over politics. This is a love letter to all that, and a dedication for all the people who’ve fought and lost and those who continue to struggle.

The voice-over narration gave the film a distinctly nostalgic quality- like a story being countlessly retold and recounted – though its boldest move is to have its speaker come from beyond the grave. In this metaphysical leap, the forgotten and left behind are no longer forgotten and left behind. Do you see history playing a similar role?

DCM: History is being rewritten all the time— and usually it’s the powerful that get to do it. Part of what artists and critics do is reinterpret that history, dig up what’s been buried and bring a new perspective. 

I’m raising the dead so that someone can tell us about an experience firsthand and have the distance of having decades pass. He conjures up his memories for the audience and that’s the movie you’re watching, and we’re left to wonder if that’s all there is after death, just wandering around aimlessly as a ghost remembering history. Sometimes I feel like this ghost, combing through scenes obsessively trying to extrapolate their meaning. Though at least I have a body to act with, while the narrator has lost his, and could only be a passive viewer to the march of time. It's up to the living to remember the dead and take action. A lot of us who worked on the film have lost someone close to us, some fighting for a cause (the Philippines after all, is the most dangerous place in the world for environmental defenders), others to forces way beyond our control— my dad actually passed away a few weeks before we were filming. In a way I think his spirit is imbued in this movie, and I hope that the some other ghosts inhabit it and get to live on that way too.

I understand that you were born in the Philippines but raised in Long Island and went to college at NYU. From what perspective did you approach Green Revolution’s historical basis with? Did it feel like you were working from an insider’s view of the history or was it from outside looking in?

DCM: I wanted to tell the story of thirty years in a single evening, fifteen years after the end of the Marcos dictatorship and fifteen years before the election of Rodrigo Duterte. I read a lot about environmental movements in the United States and the Philippines and drew from activist accounts whenever I could find them, but I knew from the start that I wanted to fictionalize history so as not to exploit it.

Growing up a third culture kid, I never feel like I belong to anywhere in particular: it’s hard to consider myself a Filipino filmmaker, an American Filmmaker, or a Fil-Am filmmaker because I think my work spans beyond that specific national experience. I feel most comfortable in the in-between, and want to continue exploring those spaces.

Ultimately, though I wrote and directed the film, so many people informed and influenced the process, from my producers Armi & Raya to Gian, who brought poetry to his translation and Gym who lensed it, the dream cast and crew-- so I'm not sure if it can be categorized as an insider or an outsider's film. It's kind of a mix-- "halo-halo" in Tagalog.

Written by Koh Zhi Hao
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