Next month, it will be 30 years since the double rape and homicide of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in Cebu, Philippines changed the landscape of my family’s grief. My second cousin, Paco Osmeña Larrañaga, was arrested and convicted of this crime and sentenced to death despite overwhelming evidence that he was enjoying the night with two dozen friends at a bar in Manila. Yet, despite an extensive collection of relatives connected to government, some who were in positions to have spoken for him more proactively, it was Manila-born Marty Syjuco who decided to do something for his brother-in-law. (Syjuco’s brother is married to Larrañaga’s sister.)
Marty Syjuco and Michael Collins (director) made a widely acclaimed documentary called Give Up Tomorrow. The documentary won 10 film awards, including the Audience Award at the 2011 TriBeCa Film Festival, and received nominations for countless others. While the film called much attention to Paco’s plight, it did not result in a revocation of the guilty verdict. However, the attendant impact campaign, Free Paco Now, swelled public sympathy for his release and catalyzed the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines.
Syjuco and Collins are again at the forefront of a new campaign, paired with a new documentary, Almost Sunrise. Produced by Marty Syjuco, directed by Michael Collins, and written by Michael Collins and Eric Daniel Metzgar, Almost Sunrise follows two Iraqi war veterans, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson, on a 2700-mile walk across the nation. The six-month walk from Wisconsin to Los Angeles transforms the classic motif of a hero’s journey into a healing quest in which Tom and Anthony find ways to overcome the non-physical injuries they brought back from their tours of duty.
Like their prior film, the documentary aims to shed light on specific issues—in this case, the plight of returning veterans, their isolation from civilian society and the effects of moral injury. “Moral injury is a new concept in the mental health community,” explained Syjuco. Anthony Anderson summarized it in an audience talk: “Post-traumatic stress disorder is what would wake me up in the middle of the night and moral injury is what would keep me from falling asleep in the first place.” Moral injury is the result of participating in acts during wartime that are in violation of your peacetime moral compass.
The coupling of a powerful film with an impact campaign has been a combination that Syjuco and Collins have implemented with great success. “Documentaries have the power to effect change,” Syjuco explained. While many documentary filmmakers hand off the campaign to another party, Syjuco and Collins remain involved in both the film and the campaign, making their impact more powerful and allowing them to “listen to and interact with their audiences.” Over 150 screenings have been held throughout the country since the film was released in June of 2016.
The film is showing at the 16th
San Francisco Documentary Festival “SF DocFest” on Saturday, June 3, at 5pm at the Roxie Theatre and Saturday, June 10, at 2:30pm at the Vogue Theatre. The filmmakers should be present at both events.
To purchase tickets, go to this link: http://bit.ly/2qpllat. The movie is also having a theatrical opening in New York on Friday, July 14, at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. The movie will have multiple show times each day and will be open to the public for the week starting July 14. “It is our first theatrical release in the US,” says producer Marty Syjuco. It means, “The cinema believes the film is worthy of a full week run. We’re thrilled because IFC is the best art house for indie films in NYC.”
It’s serendipitous that I write this a day after Memorial Day. This is the day our country sets aside to thank vets like Tom and Anthony. This is your day, and, indirectly, so is every future day you’ve given us privileged citizens who can take peace for granted because you didn’t.