Delikado directed by Karl Malakunas at Hot Docs film festival
Delikado directed by Karl Malakunas

Set in Palawan, an archipelagic province of the Philippines, the new documentary Delikado follows three environmental crusaders, as they try to stop politicians and businessmen from destroying the Philippines’ “last ecological frontier.”

Directed by Karl Malakunas, the documentary will World Premiere at Hot Docs 2022 in International Spectrum Section. The film debuts ahead of the Philippines national elections, which will be held on May 9.

Palawan appears to be an idyllic tropical island. Its powder-white beaches and lush forests have made it one of Asia’s hottest new tourist destinations. But for a tiny network of environmental crusaders trying to protect its spectacular natural resources, it is more akin to a battlefield. Delikado follows Bobby, Tata and Nieves, three magnetic leaders of this network, as they confront the biggest challenges of their lives trying to stop politicians and businessmen from destroying the Philippines’ “last ecological frontier.”

Delikado is a timely film emblematic of the struggles globally for land defenders as they are being killed in record numbers trying to save natural resources from being plundered by corporations and governments. As the world faces its sixth-mass extinction and the climate emergency worsens,

Delikado offers a story of courage and resilience to inspire others into action. It is also a unique expose of President Rodrugo Duterte’s “war on drugs” in the Philippines, which has claimed thousands of lives – showing it is a tool for politicians to control the levers of economic and political power.

In a statement, director Karl Malakunas said, “In 2011, as a journalist for Agence-France Presse based in Manila, I was preparing for a trip to Palawan to write an article on eco-tourism. Palawan is home to the Philippines’ last great rainforests and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. But my contact for the story, an environmental campaigner, was shot and killed just before I was due to go. I went anyway, to investigate his murder. When I was there, I discovered this seemingly idyllic island was being destroyed by the people in power who were meant to be protecting it. I also discovered a small group of people putting their lives on the line trying to stop the destruction.

One of them was Bobby Chan, a charismatic lawyer from Manila. Bobby had a tree outside his office made of chainsaws that he and his men had confiscated from illegal loggers in Palawan’s rainforests. Bobby told me stories about the citizen’s arrest law he used as the basis for the confiscations, and about his men being murdered for doing this type of work. The chainsaw tree was a not-so-subtle symbol to local businessmen and politicians that he and his men would not be intimidated. I decided then that I had to make a film about the land defenders of Palawan.

I spent many years researching, documenting and investigating the specific issues in Palawan, as well as building trusting relationships with the main characters in the film – and many others who add to this important story. I slept in the forests with Bobby’s barefoot team as they tracked down illegal loggers and confiscated chainsaws. I went on the campaign trail with Nieves Rosento, an environmental heroine-turned politician as she waited for an assassin’s bullet. I filmed Delikado with the intention of it being an intimate thriller about the lives of the land defenders, to ensure that audiences feel an emotional connection with the characters while learning about compelling social and environmental issues.

Karl Malakunasis an Australian journalist and filmmaker who has reported on conflicts, natural disasters and political upheavals around the world for two decades. He is currently based in Hong Kong, as the Asia-Pacific Deputy Editor-In-Chief for the international news agency Agence France-Presse.

Malakunas began making Delikado, his first feature film, while based in the Philippines as Manila Bureau Chief for AFP. His initial short film and essay on Palawan’s land defenders won a special merit at the 2018 Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Human Rights Awards. Malakunas was a 2019 Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program Grantee and a 2019 SFFILM Vulcan Fellow for this film.

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