Film Maker's Statement

I met Imelda Marcos ten years ago in the Philippines when I was shooting my film, Spirits Rising. Mrs. Marcos was one of the many women I interviewed for the film about the People Power Revolution that ended the 20-year regime of the Marcoses and which sent them into exile in Hawaii in 1986.

Growing up in the Philippines, Imelda Marcos loomed larger than life. Her every move was chronicled in the government-controlled newspapers. Not a day went by in the seventies and early eighties when one didn’t hear what the peripatetic Philippine first lady was up to. It seemed that life in the Philippines, or at least in the capital Manila, revolved around Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and their children. When I left the Philippines to study in the United States in 1981, I hadn’t known any other president aside from Ferdinand Marcos.

Therefore, when I met Mrs. Marcos in the 1993, it was surreal. I can almost compare it to meeting a figment of my childhood imagination. Before the interview, I was told that it was to last no more than 15 minutes and I was not to ask her about the events of 1986. Five hours later, we were still at her apartment suite high above Manila and she had told me about ’that fateful night in 1986.’ I did not need to ask her about it, she had volunteered the story. She was charming and humorous on the one hand, self-absorbed and crafty on the other. I was surprised and, in a sense ashamed, at how much I enjoyed her company. It was uncomfortable given all the stories I had heard growing up – the corruption, the human rights abuses, the legacy of poverty spawned by the Marcos regime. I wanted to examine this duality of attraction and repulsion further. Thus the idea for the film Imelda was born.

Although I wanted to make a film that went beyond the number of pairs of shoes Mrs. Marcos owned, the one thing I was not interested in producing was a historical film of the Philippines under the Marcos regime. My interest was in Imelda the character, her complexities and contradictions, and ultimately, her universality. I wanted to deal with the larger social and structural explanations for her illusions, like the postwar materialist culture, the celebrity culture of dictatorship, cold war international politics, and expressions of nationalism. Is Imelda Marcos unique or do all of us really have a "little Imelda" in us as the shoe advertisement claimed?

At the end of filming Mrs. Marcos, and after interviewing dozens of supporters and detractors of the former first lady, I have found that Imelda seems to be a kind of litmus test for how we Filipinos think of ourselves and our relationship to the "masses" -- how can we love the people if they love her? How do we resist her imagery and what she stands for and how she defines Filipino pride without distancing ourselves from everything Filipino? I am not sure that this film gives us definitive answers to these questions. My one hope is that it poses the right questions.