In the last month, the film that had the strongest impact on me, which engaged me the most, made me reflect, showed me something about the world that I was unfamiliar with, and did so in an innovative and intelligent way is John Gianvito’s four-and-a-half hour documentary Vapor Trail (Clark). It is a work of awe-inspiring social activism and historical revisionism as with the collaboration of Myrla Baldonado and Teofilo Juatco from the Alliance for U.S. Bases Clean-up, Philippines (ABC) the film explores the ABC’s campaigning for the US government to take responsibility for its toxic dumping in and around its former military bases in the Philippines, particularly that of Clark and Subic in the Pampanga province. Gianvito is finishing the accompanying Vapor Trail (Subic). Presently in the settlements around the Clark base, which was abandoned in 1991 due to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the groundwater is contaminated and is causing illnesses and death. There aren’t enough resources to accommodate the victims and Myrla, who was present at the screening, had a cast on her left leg and you can tell that she was overworked though hopeful, fighting though getting disillusioned. The present day injustices are historically contextualized against the Philippine-American War (1899-1902), which was part of Philippine’s early struggle for independence, and it is also the first engagement between the United States and the islands. For an example of one of the wars atrocities: there are the American troops under General Leonard Wood who trapped 600 half-naked Moro natives, and shot them all dead while they were in a crater. The soldiers were later to be congratulated by President Theodore Roosevelt.
The Emerson College professor Gianvito, who edited Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews, shares a similar filming technique with the Russian master as his observatory camera with long and fixed takes contribute to a contemplative stillness. This state of meditation is especially strong when the visuals include a series of infant tombstones, a landscape that shows sign of industrial-military-commercial transformation, and the local residents that are being interviewed or conversing.
Vapor Trail (Clark) was brought to Toronto as part of the Images Festival 2011, which included an artist talk with Gianvito. It was more of a reading group as a couple of sheets were distributed with texts related to Vapor Trail for everyone to read and discuss. These texts were Mark Twain’s The War Prayer, a blurb from Howard Zinn, Susan Sontag’s answer to “What should artists do now?”, and an except from Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s Towards a Third Cinema. Gianvito spoke about why he makes films, his answer was “to remind people of real life.” Everyone's efforts were truly commendable, and if one feels charitable, money can be donated at http://fdnbayanihan.org/.