Alvin Yapan’s Oro is based on the true story of the Gata 4 Massacre, where four gold miners in Camarines Sur were killed by members of the Sagip Kalikasan Task Force, who took a small mining town hostage. It’s a fascinating look into the mining industry and how vested interests can turn deadly.
In Oro, we are introduced to a small community led by the well-loved Kapitana (Irma Adlawan), with the help of Elmer (Joem Bascon), a miner. Their modest yet lucrative industry is disrupted when a group of environmentalists force them to cease their operations, with orders from a governor who claim that it is destroying the ecosystem. However, the environmentalists take advantage of the amount of gold by mining for it themselves, later forcing the residents to do it under threat of violence.
It’s a story that’s well-told, with a pacing that’s elegant despite its action and violence. It does not feel rushed or languorous. We are introduced to the Kapitana, a popular figure who also does not take anybody’s shit. There’s also Elmer, the Kapitana‘s right hand who’s considering proposing marriage to his girlfriend Linda (Mercedes Cabral). The characters are given enough time to develop, from the first scene when Linda arrives to their small island by boat, to the time when she has to deal with the aftermath of the massacre.
There is a certain authenticity to the film, and this is because of the unaffected script, the lilting cinematography, and the great acting. Adlawan truly shines in the film, and she convincingly plays the Kapitana with such conviction that I understand why the men in town listen to her. I haven’t seen all entries of the Metro Manila Film Fesitval (MMFF), but I believe she is a strong contender for the Best Actress Award. I also enjoyed Bascon’s portrayal of the everyman, as well as Sue Prado as Mrs. Ramirez, a gold buyer in cahoots with the environmentalists.
It might have helped that Yapan shot the film in the exact same barangay where the massacre happened. In fact, some of the people in the film were the relatives of the four miners who were killed. At first, Yapan hesitated to include them as it might add insult to injury, but the townspeople insisted. In the end, the film became their chance to speak about the issue, which only happened in 2014.
Alvin Yapan’s Oro is a searing look at how small towns in far-flung provinces are terrorized by men with vested interests who force their way using guns. The film doesn’t sugarcoat things: our faces are shoved in the heart of the matter, demanding us to look at the corruption and impunity happening outside the capital. The camera doesn’t even look away when the miners are murdered. For unscrupulous gold dealers, four dead bodies are not worth their output in gold, but the film attempts to show that even if blood follows gold, life should always be worth more.
Oro is one of the eight entries of the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival. The other seven films are Ang Babae sa Septic Tank 2, Die Beautiful, Kabisera, Saving Sally, Seklusyon, Sunday Beauty Queen, and Vince & Kath & James. All films are screened in all cinemas nationwide, and will be screened until January 7, 2017.