Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘On the President’s Orders’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2019, Movies by - May 05, 2019
Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘On the President’s Orders’

The war on drugs is really a war on the poor. Nowhere is more currently emblematic of this state of affairs than in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has been waging bloody combat against drug dealers and addicts ever since his election in 2016. Except the only people actually feeling the iron rule of his law are the ones in the poorest communities, for whom drugs are just a means to survive in an uncaring society.

Within the first year, police shot 3000 suspects. So to capture this ongoing human rights atrocity, directors James Jones and Olivier Sarbil embed cameras within both the police force and a poor family living in the slums of Caloocan district, where a good deal of the bloodshed has gone down.

Having gone to the frontlines against ISIS in their previous documentary Mosul, Jones and Sarbil are no strangers to a war zone and they put you right on the ground as doors are knocked down and suspects’ homes are infiltrated. After taking heat from the rest of the world for the amount of casualties, the police force is now attempting to increase the arrests while limiting the violence, yet the excessive force and laissez-faire attitude towards civilian rights is still prevalent. Meanwhile the killings still continue, except now they’re carried out by mystery assassins that the state claims no affiliation with.

While Jones and Sarbil don’t skimp on the raw verité action, there’s a real artfulness to the film as they mix in beautifully composed imagery of Caloocan in order to stand in stark contrast to the everyday misery. And in the subject of the smugly self-satisfied police chief Jemar Modequillo, they find a shining example of how corruption trickles down from the top so that it just becomes part of the job.

  • Release Date: 4/27/2019
This post was written by
After his childhood dream of playing for the Mighty Ducks fell through, Mark turned his focus to the glitz and glamour of the movies. He's covered the extensive Toronto film scene for online outlets and is a filmmaker himself, currently putting the final touches on a low-budget (okay, no-budget) short film to be released in the near future. You can also find him behind the counter as product manager of Toronto's venerable film institution, Bay Street Video.
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