Imelda’s story now an award-winning documentary
() - June 14, 2004 - 12:00am
Despite the well-known tales of her lavish lifestyle, excessive spending and vast collection of shoes, the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, remains an enigma.

For 20 years Imelda and her late dictator husband Ferdinand ruled the Philippines as if it were their own fiefdom only to be driven into exile by the very people she "loved" in February 1986.

Now a major award-winning documentary by Filipino filmmaker Ramona Diaz aims to shed some light on the woman behind the legend.

Called "Imelda," the film won first prize for documentary cinematography at the recent Sundance Film Festival and has opened to favorable reviews in New York.

The film, which runs for one hour and 43 minutes, will be released in the Philippines on July 7 — five days after Imelda’s 75th birthday.

"Imelda is a wonderful character study," Tito Velasco, general manager of Unitel, which has world wide distribution rights told Agence France Presse.

"Everywhere she goes Imelda still has that regal air about her. Here in the Philippines she stands out in a crowd and overseas she is known for her shoes," referring to the collection of thousands of shoes that she left at the presidential palace when she fled into exile in 1986.

"This film is Imelda’s story told in her own words. It doesn’t cast her in any particular light.

"If you love the woman you will come away still loving her. If you despise her your view will not change... it’s that sort of film."

And what did Imelda think?

"She liked it although some of those close to her would have preferred that she said nothing at all," Velasco said.

As for Diaz, her first meeting with Imelda was 10 years ago in Manila when she was filming "Spirits Rising," a film about women in the People Power revolution that drove the Marcoses into US exile.

"Not a day went by in the seventies and early eighties one didn’t hear what the peripatetic Philippine first lady was up to," she says in a media release.

"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 to study documentary film making at Stanford (University) in 1981, I hadn’t known any other president aside from Ferdinand Marcos."

Diaz, 41, who now lives in Baltimore in the United States with her husband and daughter, described her meeting with Imelda Marcos in 1993 as "surreal."

"Before the interview I was told that it was to last no more than 15 minutes and not to ask her about events in 1986. Five hours later we were still talking in her Manila apartment and she told me all about that night in 1986."

Velasco said the film "is not about the shoes" — although they do get a mention as a study of the character that is Imelda.

On the shoes, Imelda says that the mass of poor people in the Philippines heeded her as a "role model and inspiration for pursuing a better lifestyle."

The New York Times said: "As a personality study, Imelda is a devastating portrait of how power begets self delusion."

Life magazine once described the former beauty queen as "Asia’s answer to Jackie Kennedy."

In 1975 Cosmopolitan named her one of the 10 richest women in the world. The Marcoses are alleged to have stripped the country of anywhere between $5 billion and $10 billion. No one knows for sure just how much was siphoned out of the country during the 20 years of Marcos rule.

Imelda was allowed to return home after her husband died in Hawaii in 1989 and the Marcos clan has regained some of its influence, with some Marcos children getting elected to Congress and a gubernatorial position.

Last year the Presidential Commission on Good Government, which was set up by then-President Corazon Aquino in 1986 to track down the Marcos billions, managed to get back $683 million hidden in Swiss bank accounts.

Imelda herself is facing several law suits for graft but as she tells Diaz in the film "I’m very simple. I don’t know why they make a problem for me." — AFP

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