Maybe this is something writers think about more than other people, but I spend a lot of time considering what impact I’m making on the world, and how I will be remembered when I’m gone. If I didn’t think my actions impacted others, I’d be living my life much differently than I do now–I’d probably sleep a lot more, for instance, and argue with strangers on the Internet less. But that’s neither here nor there, because I know that for better or worse, each individual person has more power than many of us realize, even on our average weekday, while we’re hustling to the train or pushing through the 4 PM wall at work.
Every now and then, a film comes along that reminds us that what we do with our days has meaning. This past month, two different films have. These two documentaries are as different as night and day both in style and content, and the FF2 team happened to see them back to back. In the course of a single day, we saw how the wife of Ferdinand Marcos, dictator of the Phillipines, is consolidating a fascist oligarchy in that country after ruling it on and off for fifty years–but then we got to see the work of a diplomat and politician who helped refugees from the Holocaust survive in a country as foreign to her as it was to them.
Imelda Marcos is at first painted with a sympathetic brush by The Kingmaker, but only due to Lauren Greenfield’s light directorial touch. That same even-handed perspective shows how Marcos consorted with international figures like Mao Tse Tung and Muammar Gaddafi as part of her and her husband’s agenda to seize and maintain power in the Phillippines. The audience is able to evaluate her staunch denials of the (true) allegations that she illegally plundered enough wealth from the Phillippines to stymie its economy from growing healthily since the 80s, and see that she and her family have sucked the country dry. When we find out that she and her son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. funded the campaign of Rodrigo Duterte, the current authoritarian leader of the Phillippines, it’s clear that Imelda Marcos’s effect on the world has been nothing but negative, no matter how many dollar bills she hands out to beggar children on the streets.
Meanwhile, Anjali Bhushan’s My Home India shows how Kira Banasinska created a compound for refugee children from Poland to flee from Hitler, giving those children an experience they not only would be grateful for but also would look back on fondly for the rest of their lives. While Banasinska is no longer with us, the children, all grown up, return to the Valivade camp in the film to tell us about how Kira gave them a home at a time when other Polish children were in concentration camps. While Kira might not have reversed the horrors of the Holocaust, the fact that she prevented at least these children from having to experience them is still significant.
While Kira was only able to make life better for a few children, while having to constantly struggle to maintain the Valivade compound, Imelda had access to funds that has allowed her to become, as Greenfield’s film dubs her, a kingmaker. And how are these women remembered? Well, that’s as unjust as the resources they each had access to in their respective missions.
Imelda’s legacy isn’t finished yet; she currently serves in the Congress of the Phillippines, and her son Ferdinand is trying to gain the vice presidency under Duterte by any means necessary. Imelda helped Ferdinand to contest the vice presidential election that he lost some years ago, staining the term of the liberal candidate who did win. His eventual goal is to force her out of office, with help from his mother and Duterte. As for Kira, the box office numbers for My Home India don’t seem to be anywhere near the numbers of The Kingmaker, so on the face of it the dictator seems to be more popular than the humanitarian–but that isn’t the whole story.
While Imelda Marcos isn’t particularly well known worldwide, she is known throughout her region of the globe as the woman who stole a zoo’s worth of animals from Africa to keep as her personal menagerie, but then put them on an island and forgot all about them. Kira is remembered fervently and fondly by the people who knew her, both among the children in the Valivade compound and the people who she worked with throughout her political career in India. One touching scene in My Home India shows a friend of Kira’s laying a wreath on her grave and singing a soft hymn in Hindi to remember her. It seems that what Kira lacks in quantity, she makes up for in quality. I personally would much rather be remembered by a few people for brightening their lives than by many people as the matriarch of a fascist oligarchy.
As long as there are people like Kira out there, people like Imelda will never be assured of getting away with their crimes, though as long as there are people like Imelda out there, people like Kira will always have to fight for what is right, usually without reward. In a world dominated by social media, it is easy to forget that people we don’t know about, will never know about, are out there mattering right now with no cameras to record their actions. It is also hard to remember that we ourselves can make the choice to be those people every single day. I guess that’s why we call people who remind us of that fact heroes.
© Giorgi Plys-Garzotto (11/20/19) FF2 Media
Photos: The Kingmaker & My Home India