by Kyla Camille, |

Transit is a film where five different perspectives of Filipinos who are connected with one another are narrated, as the father of the four-year-old boy faces the fear of his son’s deportation from Israel due to failure of meeting the criteria. The law catches up with the little boy, sending him back to the Philippines. The film also presents how undocumented immigrants and those with expired working visas hide and live their day-to-day routines under a law that may send them back to their countries when proven unqualified. The great number of unemployment, poverty, and the lack of opportunities and assurance of livelihood in the Philippines cause the Filipinos in Israel to choose to become TNTs instead of going back home. These development issues create tension between the documented and the undocumented Filipinos, which cause one to go against the other to receive fifty dollars from Israelite officers and for one to be recognized as an ally of Israel. Even some of the undocumented Filipinos report their fellow mates, including their relatives, hoping for a grant in return.

In line with reality, poverty in our country strikes so bad that many Filipinos, especially the less fortunate, dream of and strive to go abroad to seek for a better life. They take the risk of an uncertain future in a foreign country just to get out of their situation in the Philippines and provide for their families. In Transit, the undocumented Filipinos are the marginalized or muted characters. Since the government refuses to recognize them as legitimate Israelites, they lose the voice to fight for their right to stay in the country and keep their jobs. In fact, they literally have to run and hide from the patrolling officers to escape deportation. The film also emphasizes the law of Israel where children below five years old who do not pass the criteria are forced to leave the country, putting the children at a bigger disadvantage. All of these issues exist because of the unending cycle in a third world country where they allow the rich to only get richer, and with it, the poor only gets poorer. Power is used unevenly, giving way to poverty that leads Filipinos to migrate to different parts of the world for greater opportunities, even when it means living as an undocumented alien in fear.

The main characters of the film, Janet, Moises, Tina, Yael, and Joshua, handled the problem in different ways. Since Janet’s working visa has already expired, she finds herself hiding and terrified, knowing that she may be deported and taken away from her daughter, Yael. Tina, Janet’s niece, gets knocked up and faces the reality that women cannot lie down all day. She states that girls are the first ones who get up in the morning and are the last ones who lie down at night. In a desperate situation to earn money and to stay in Israel, Tina considers hiding and being a TNT abroad. Yael, a teenager who was born and raised in Israel, embraces her partly Israelite blood more than acknowledging her Filipino side. She witnesses the hiding of her loved ones and she fears for her mother and cousin’s assurance in Israel, but is vocal about not wanting to go the Philippines as she understands the struggle of Filipinos in their country, and considers herself as an Israelite. Janet’s younger brother, Moises, and his son, Joshua, experience firsthand the threats of Israel’s government on deporting children below five years old who do not pass the criteria. They continuously hide Joshua under scarves and limit his whereabouts to avoid police officers. But when fate comes knocking on their door, Moises fights for his son’s right to stay by pleading the Israelite officers to consider Joshua as he is already turning five years old soon. He also promises that he will let Joshua enter school as soon as possible, but the conversation ends with Moises crying for justice while being carried out of the office. All of the main characters strive to fight for a place in Israel and be served equality, but accepting in the end that they are powerless under laws.

Watching Transit gave me knowledge on both social issues and bits of Jewish culture. I got to observe how different they are from us. In the Philippines, a boy has to be circumcised in order to be considered an adult, while a girl gets her period and gets called a lady. While in Israel, when a boy reaches thirteen years old, he is proclaimed as an adult and undergoes Bar Mitzvah, which means “son of the commandment”, and is done by going up the stage and reciting from the Torah. As for the girls, it is called Bat Mitzvah, which means “daughter of the commandment”, and is automatically celebrated when she turns twelve.  I also got to know about the cap that men wear, which is called a “kippa” and is worn when reading the Torah. I have seen in the film the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where they whisper their prayers, leave notes to God, and kisses the wall as they finish. It reminded me of how a wishing well or a wishing fountain in the Philippines functions somehow like their Western Wall. Filipinos wish on the coins and throw it into the well, hoping for the wish to come true. We also have prayer boxes which are later on offered to God.

Putting Transit side by side with Hollywood films make me appreciate and love independent films more. Hollywood films tell stories for entertainment and profit, while independent films are written to create social awareness. Dancer in the Dark is the only Hollywood film that I could think of which I can compare Transit with. The main character in the Dancer in the Dark is an immigrant from Czech who moves to the United Sates with her son. Because of poverty and lack of job opportunities, Selma goes through a series of trials as she fights for her son’s welfare that eventually leads her to her death. Both films have shown how any parent will sacrifice just to give their children a good future. Dancer in the Dark is one of the Hollywood films that is not produced to serve as entertainment. Like Transit, it exposes what marginalized people go through every day.

I have watched another independent film which also discusses the problem of undocumented immigrants. It was shown in Cinemelaya last year and is written by a Filipino named Jose Antonio Vargas. His fight for his rights together with other “illegal immigrants” in the United States resulted to the coming out of millions of undocumented immigrants.

In relevance to the issue, in 2015, US President Barrack Obama temporarily puts five million undocumented immigrants under protection from deportation. But republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, recently announces that undocumented immigrants have to go. According to a report from Reuters, Trump said in an interview with NBC news that if he gets elected as the US president, he will deport all undocumented immigrants and withdraw the orders of Obama.  It is a sickening news to hear, especially knowing that some are actually supporting his stand. “Undocumented immigrant” is a label that should not be used to call anyone anymore. What the next leaders should be more concerned about is giving out more job opportunities for the ones serving the country and the people, regardless if one has papers or not.

Films can be used to advance social issues through exposing to the audience what is not being openly discussed that concerns the lives of the voiceless. It is more appreciated than newspapers or radios because it provides more emotions, visual aids, and heartfelt music. A lot of people may be aware of the terms “illegal immigrants”, “undocumented aliens”, or even “TNTs”, but most do not take to the core the consequences that these people face. Films that reveal social issues may inspire the viewers not only to pity and care for the marginalized, but to also act on it and provide concrete solutions. Based on my interview with one of the audience of Transit, Kat Lorenzo, the film is effective in mainstreaming the issue shown. Lorenzo said, “Well basically, parang kung anong nangyayari siguro, way na rin ‘to para maging aware yung mga Filipinos kung ano nangyayari talaga sa mga OFWs. So it’s really helpful talaga for us, lalo na kami na hindi naman talaga namin alam kung anong nangyayari. So it’s really informative.” A great independent film that is able to touch a viewer may cause a wildfire of social awareness. People may start updating their posts, tweet relevant issues, or even create groups to support and solve the presented social issue in the film.

Overall, Transit is so far, the best Filipino film that I have watched. The flow of the narration is very subtle and clever. It does not follow a chronological order but it does not confuse the audience either. It goes from one story to another, going back to one story, and jumping to another, but stays clear and captivating. Hannah Espia ended the film with Joshua being sent to the Philippines, leaving me with uncertain and restless thoughts on the rest of the undocumented immigrants in every curve of the real world.

How do they get by? How long will they hide? How do they protect themselves? How can we aid? Who will change this dysfunctional arrangement? I mean… Will it ever change?