Delikado ★★★★★ – Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

Delikado ★★★★★ – Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2023

The feeling of anger doesn’t leave you long after watching Delikado. Karl Malakunas’ documentary refuses to hold back as it pointedly shows us the violence both to humans and nature on the island of Palawan. A documentary that shows the bravery of those willing to protect nature and how low authorities will go to make money—an unforgettable watch.

With its rich biodiversity and natural beauty, the island of Palawan in the Philippines is one of Asia’s most visited tourist destinations. But for a small network of environmental crusaders, it is more akin to a battlefield. Bobby, Tata, and Nieves – a charismatic lawyer, an ex-illegal logger, and a fearless politician – are three magnetic leaders risking their lives to stop corporations and governments seeking to plunder increasingly valuable natural resources. Often from Indigenous communities, environmental defenders in the Philippines are killed with impunity, and the killers are rarely caught. 

The battle that our group take her isn’t a symbolic one; to them, rightfully, this is a battle, and as one states, their struggle is a war. That may seem a bit over the top to some outsiders, but these groups are so headfast in protecting the island of Palawan that they will do whatever it takes to keep it the way nature intended. People in the Palawan NGO Network Inc (PNNI) have been killed defending their land, a scenario many of us would think unthinkable. However, it is happening, and filmmaker Karl Malakunas has gone to great lengths to show us the danger of such a beautiful land.

Solely from an aesthetic viewpoint it is easy to see why they want to protect the island. Cinematographer Tom Bannigan has shot it magnificently, making you gasp in horror at the idea of anyone wanting to ruin this gorgeous oasis for mere profit. They have us in awe of this island, it is incredibly easy to fall for such a place. We are also presented with the grittiness and pain involved in protecting this land and the great value of keeping something such a precious place free from destruction. The steady almost meditative shots are replaced with a more chaotic approach, where Bannigan and Malakunas had time to pick the shots of the island, in these moments of confrontation hand held and imperfections come to the fore.

Authorities in the area are culpable for this act of violence on the land, from those wanting to make better tourist sites and roads for those tourists to the politicians happy to look the other way as long as they get something along the line. It is revolting to think that such land anywhere can and routinely is taken from us for such endeavours. To show how corrupt the country is to ensuring maximum profit, Nieves Rosento, a local major, is placed on lists by the President of the Philippines during her elections. So if you are not caught up to speed with the general heinousness of President Rodrigo Dueterte, then stop now and have a quick Google. This is what our group are up against, and if they have to fight dirty to get their point across and delay the destruction of their land an extra day, then all the power to them.

It cannot be stressed how important films like Delikado are; not only do they get voices that would never be heard spread to the furthest parts of the world, but they also help the fight against such atrocities to nature. By watching and supporting, awareness grows, with the hope that it helps those in PNNI stop more damage. The bravery of those to be on camera and show us what is happening and how it is happening should not go unnoticed. Just as bold is that Malakunas has zero qualms in naming those responsible. If fighting for each tree will not work, perhaps high-profile shame will.

By not shirking away from the violence that activists face in Delikado, you cannot help but admire all involved, like the documentary itself refuses to hold back, they want to show you the darkness that they are experiencing; we hear stories of groups fighting tree felling in forests and jungles and maybe think little of it. Here Malakunas refuses to let us pass by without feeling engaged. Those wanting the destruction hope that the pretty buildings and infrastructure created in their wake will have us forget. Malakunas’ Delikado refuses to let that happen.


All films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival are screening at the Barbican, and available from 20-26 March to stream from the festival website.

Support PNNI in their efforts to enforce environmental law in Palawan.

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