In 1977, Ferdinand Marcos, the husband of Imelda Marcos, bribed the president of Kenya, Jojo Kenyatta, so Imelda could have African animals in her country. The site chosen was Calauit Island northeast of Manila. To ready the site, the government evicted 254 families from the island. They cut down a bamboo forest and created an African style savanna for the giraffes, zebras, antelopes and monkeys. Lauren Greenfield, the documentary’s director/producer read an article about this African animal island and was driven to explore the woman behind it. On film, there are many cutaways to the animals, mainly the giraffes. Her garden of animals signifies Imelda’s universal mother complex. She refers to herself as “Mother of the World.”
Imelda is more than her famous collection of over 3,000 pairs of shoes. This amazingly revealing documentary is about a lady who has been a dignitary in her country since at least 1964. She was and still is a large presence in her country. Her presence is felt everywhere whether she is in public places greeting children by putting money in their hands or serving as a Senator in the Filipino Congress. She rose to fame and power during her husband’s presidency and became an international celebrity. Her transformation was spectacular and was aided through her strong sense of self. Her determination has kept going for over fifty years. Her reputation and notoriety exceeds even Jackie Kennedy’s. Sometimes she is compared to Eva Peron; a comparison she detests. Some people of the Philippines adore her and some hate her but very few, if any, are indifferent.
Because of Imelda’s lack of candor, the filmmaker had to interview others involved in Filipino politics to get a full view of her importance to the country. She amassed through her husband a fortune and spent much of it. She was a master of the political game. She sees not only the Philippines as hers but the world. She is sure that most Filipinos love her. She claims as her own creation a children’s hospital and a heart specialty hospital built during her husband’s presidency. By these accomplishments among others, she assured herself that she showered love on her people.
The setting for the documentary is the Philippines capital Manila which is similar to other third world capitals. The lopsided distribution of income and wealth produces a section of luxury hi-rises and high-end stores. Outside of this section which is usually built up in around a lovely landscape in the capital are slums, usually a shantytown with few of the amenities that most Americans expect such as hot water, toilets, baths, electricity, heat and, to a large extent, air conditioning.
In the third world, the poor majority care about food first and secondarily better shelter and transportation. Most look to a strongman to provide these basics. Someone who exhibits that he controls the country and can fend for them through his political prowess. No matter what the institutions appear to be on the surface, there is no real democracy in the strongman’s endeavors.
Difficulties watching this tell all result from the inter-temporal jumping around. Time seems variable from section to section. Do not bring your children to this R rated movie. It is full of mature scenes and accounts. But, see this movie to understand the real Imelda Marcos and how a democratic country can turn into a dictatorship.