Lauren Greenfield had traveled over 7,000 miles — from Venice Seashore to the Philippines — earlier than she realized that the topic of her documentary was an unreliable narrator. The filmmaker was in Southeast Asia to interview Imelda Marcos, who’d been the primary woman of the archipelagic nation for 21 years.
Initially, Greenfield was involved in making a movie about Calauit Island, the place in 1976, Marcos persuaded her husband — Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Philippines — to relocate 104 wild animals from Africa. After happening safari in Kenya, Imelda Marcos turned envious that her nation didn’t have unique species and determined to ship giraffes, zebras, gazelles and extra to Calauit. The 245 households residing on the 14-square-mile island within the South China Sea had been evicted to make room for the animals.
4 a long time later, nonetheless, the well being of the wildlife on Calauit was in decline. After President Marcos was compelled out of energy in 1986 — he and his spouse went into exile in Hawaii — the federal government stopped looking for the animals. Greenfield solely realized of the island’s existence after studying a 2013 Bloomberg article wherein a journalist visited the sickly, inbred herds.
So when Greenfield lastly sat head to head with Imelda Marcos at a lavish condominium in Manila, the director requested what she considered what had develop into of the animals on Calauit.
“There are no animals on Calauit,” Marcos replied with certainty.
Besides that Greenfield knew that wasn’t the case. She had already been to the island herself, tenting amongst pythons and eland antelope. There was no recent water, cellphone service or electrical energy. However there have been dozens of animals.
“I found out that a lot of things she said were not true or did not align with historical accounts or first-person testimonials,” Greenfield stated, reflecting on the interview. “So I kind of let her tell her story. She’s one of those people that is so strong that you just have to catch what comes to you. There’s no guiding or — ‘Can we talk about this?’ She gives you what she wants to give you. She’s in control.”
However “The Kingmaker,” because the documentary would go on to be known as, isn’t with out context. The film, which premiered on the Venice Movie Competition in August and opens in choose cities together with Los Angeles this weekend, is a portrait of a lady whose phrases are sometimes in stark contradiction with actuality.
Finest recognized for proudly owning 3,000 pairs of footwear, Marcos was usually depicted within the worldwide media because the epitome of glamour, drawing comparisons to Jackie Kennedy. Throughout her husband’s reign — which started in 1965 and resulted in 1986 — the dictator turned more and more controversial, finally imposing martial regulation within the Philippines. However the affable Marcos was largely capable of retain a optimistic status, despatched by her husband to attraction the likes of Moammar Kadafi, Saddam Hussein and Richard Nixon.
By the point Greenfield bought to her, she was in her 80s, having returned from the U.S. to her native nation in 1991. She and her husband — who died in 1989 — had been accused of embezzling between $5 and $10 billion from the Filipino individuals throughout their time in energy. Nonetheless, she was nonetheless embraced by many within the nation, working quite a few occasions for congress and profitable.
“For her to get voted in, I was, like, ‘How does that happen?’” Greenfield recalled of her early curiosity in Marcos. “I actually thought this might be a redemption story for her. I think there was always a question of how much was her and how much was her husband. She was a young innocent when they got together.”
Rising up, nonetheless, Greenfield seen Marcos as an iconic determine not a lot due to her politics however due to her in depth shoe assortment. Because the inception of her profession, the filmmaker has been involved in exploring beauty, wealth and power. Her first documentary, 2006’s “Thin,” examined feminine obsession with physique picture by centering on an consuming dysfunction clinic. In 2012, she made “The Queen of Versailles,” a couple of wealthy Floridian couple decided to construct the biggest single-family house in America. She has additionally seen luxurious via pictures, snapping photographs of Beverly Hills youngsters in convertibles and rappers with diamond grills on their enamel.
As a teen, Greenfield attended the non-public Crossroads Faculty in Santa Monica, the place lots of her classmates had well-known Hollywood mother and father. Greenfield, in the meantime, was the daughter of professors who had been extra involved in becoming a member of native communes than shopping for their youngster the trendiest garments.
“I was like, ‘Wait, I need this to fit in!’ and my parents would say, ‘What? You don’t!’” stated the filmmaker, 53. “I think that started my interest in class. I wanted the things the other kids had. I’ve always kind of had that desire and tried to deconstruct it.”
From the outset of “The Kingmaker,” it’s clear that look is essential to Marcos. As she prepares to sit down down for an interview with Greenfield, a swarm of assistants encompass her, touching up her made-up face with powder.
“Is my makeup OK? Can you check? Go check,” she implores her workers. “How about my tummy? It doesn’t look big?”
“It’s visible, but it is not obvious,” an worker replies.
Greenfield believes magnificence and cash “have a moral purpose” for Marcos. Within the movie, the politician says she views herself as a “star in the dark of night” for the poor — which means she clothes extravagantly and pushed her husband to construct elaborate palaces so the impoverished might have magnificence of their lives too.
“This wasn’t a wealth story like anything I’ve done before,” the filmmaker stated. “It wasn’t wealth for materialism or showing off — it was wealth for power and admiration. She loves the people loving her.”
The filmmaker R.J. Cutler, who met Greenfield after they had been each undergraduates at Harvard College, stated he’s seen a serious evolution in her work since he produced her first documentary. Teaming up together with her in the identical function on “The Kingmaker,” Cutler stated he sees her newest movie as “Lauren’s vision fully realized.”
“She’s an artist in full bloom,” stated Cutler, who went face to face with Anna Wintour whereas making “The September Issue.” “She’s able to fully describe Imelda while allowing her own voice to be fully heard. She has the ability to illuminate something through a moment or gesture, so the audience makes their own keen observations. Imelda deserves a slicing open that no one can do like Lauren.”
What Cutler is referring to is the way in which wherein the movie juxtaposes Marcos’ statements with opposing footage. After she asserts there aren’t any animals left on Calauit, Greenfield cuts to a gaggle of zebras grazing. When she insists martial regulation was the most effective factor to occur to the Philippines, Greenfield strikes to interviews with political prisoners who had been tortured by the hands of the federal government. Regardless of claims that she has been robbed of her wealth, the filmmaker reveals her in a room with a Picasso portray hanging from the wall.
“I definitely felt a responsibility to have the audience know what was truth and what was not,” Greenfield stated. “The thing I respect about her is that she’s willing to take the hard questions. But what you find out is her worldview, which is her own world. They were rewriting history — that’s what I was seeing. Her view of the past didn’t align with anything I had read.”
Marcos — who’s now 90 and has but to see “The Kingmaker” — has been the topic of a documentary earlier than: 2003’s “Imelda.” The film, directed by Ramona S. Diaz, was well-reviewed and tracks lots of the similar highs and lows in Marcos’ life. Greenfield stated she watched Diaz’s “terrific” film as a part of her analysis, but in addition famous that “in the 16 years between the two films, it is unbelievable how much the story about Imelda Marcos, the family’s stature and the political situation of the Philippines has changed.”
Andy Bautista, one of many topics in “The Kingmaker,” stated he realized “snippets of truth” from the movie that even he had been beforehand unaware of. Bautista is the previous chairman of the Philippines’ Presidential Fee on Good Authorities — the group tasked with monitoring down the Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth. It wasn’t till he watched the brand new documentary that he heard Marcos brazenly reveal she has cash in 170 international financial institution accounts.
“Lauren was able to pick up a lot of things that I wish the people knew,” stated Bautista. “The lessons that you can learn from this film are particularly important for the Filipino people, but they are universally applicable in the sense that you can see that the rise of authoritarianism in various parts of the world. It should help raise red flags.”
By the tip of her time overseas — eight journeys over 5 years — Greenfield stated she was frequently drawing parallels between the Philippines and the U.S. In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte was elected president of the Southeast Asian nation, with mutual help from the Marcos household; he shortly started clamping down on freedom of the press and inspiring the police to make use of power within the drug conflict.
“And once Trump was elected, he started to attack the media, and our democratic institutions started to feel endangered in a way I had never imagined before,” she stated. “I saw the linkage, and I was definitely thinking about how fragile everything we take for granted is — how in one election, it can just go away, and you can go back to a past you never thought you would have.”