A Year among Filipino Street Children

INTERVIEW. At a centre in the Philippines, a Danish organisation is helping a group of street children out of a life of drug addiction, crime and sexual abuse. Filmmaker Mikala Krogh lived with her family among the children for a year to make her documentary 'A Year of Hope.' IDFA Masters 2017

a year of hope

A YEAR OF HOPE. Mikala Krogh followed her protagonists at a boys aid centre in the Philippines for a whole year. Photo: Stine Heilmann

From earliest childhood, the boys have learned to steal and sometimes sniff to get a buzz as an escape from their harsh realities. Children of poor families in the Philippine capital of Manila, they live on the streets. Many were sexually molested at a very young age.

The boys don't just get a place to stay with great food, a bed and good schooling, they have to work hard on all levels to grow. But at Stairways they meet hope.

In her new feature-length documentary, 'A Year of Hope,' veteran filmmaker Mikala Krogh trains her lens on a group of Filipino street children. The boys in the film all get a chance to live for a year at a centre run by the Danish aid organisation Stairways, on the island of Mindoro, south of Manila.

"The boys don't just get a place to stay with great food, a bed and good schooling, they have to work hard on all levels to grow. But at Stairways they meet hope," Krogh says.

The title, 'A Year of Hope,' is very deliberately chosen, she adds. "The boys get their dignity and their confidence back. They get hope for a better future, and it's important to tell stories with role models for how to succeed."

a year of hope nyt billede med børn udenfor
'A Year of Hope' by Mikala Krogh. Photo: Stine Heilmann

Street Children Filmed Themselves

More than a million people in the Philippines live on the streets. It is estimated that every third child in this Catholic country is a victim of sexual abuse.

In 'A Year of Hope,' Krogh focuses on Joshua, 15, and Tracy, 13, during their stay at the centre on the island, which is rich in natural beauty. But the film also includes scenes from street children's lives in the slums of Manila. These scenes were all shot by the kids themselves. In partnership with the organisation Child Hope, Krogh set up a kind of film school for them.

"Child Hope works with street children. I bought six tiny camcorders. We got a group of street boys together that Child Hope was in touch with, and I showed them some of my films, so they could see what to do."

Having honed their skills on small assignments like filming the places they slept, the boys were asked to film their lives in Manila, including at night. That provided Krogh with unique footage she could never have shot herself.

"As a white woman, I could not have got so close to Manila's street children at night," she says. "Those scenes are important, because they make you understand the kind of reality the boys at the sheltered island centre are coming from. I have been to a lot of places around the world, and I have never experienced the kind of street life you see in Manila."

In return for filming, the boys were given T-shirts, flip-flops, food and other things they needed. Never money. They would have spent it on drugs. Krogh later donated the camera equipment to a local filmmaker, who will be continuing the film-school concept for street boys.

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Mikala Krogh filming 'A Year of Hope.' Photo: Stine Heilmann

Engaged Filmmaker

Throughout 'A Year of Hope,' Joshua and Tracy, two very different protagonists, are depicted with respect for who they are as individuals.

This knack for depicting people at close range in tough situations is one of the things that distinguishes all of Krogh's films. Through personal narratives, she provides perspective, creates recognition and raises questions. This was the case in her previous films, as well, including 'A Normal Life,' about a single mother of three children, one of whom has cancer; 'Cairo: Garbage,' about waste accumulation; and 'The Newsroom: Off the Record,' about a struggling newspaper industry.

Characteristic of 'A Year of Hope' and Krogh's other films, we clearly sense her engagement and knowledge, even when she is working as a fly on the wall and not getting in front of the camera. This has secured her reputation as one of Denmark's foremost creators of cinematic documentaries.

Time, she says, is crucial to her success in getting so close to her protagonists that we, the audience, feel them, too.

"With 'A Year of Hope,' I could tell that, if I wanted to do this story, I would have to be in the Philippines for a full year. I couldn't just pop over once in a while. So, my husband and I and our three children moved to the island where the Stairways centre is," says Krogh, who settled with her family in a village near the centre.

"For me, being present is key. I have to be there at the right time, when something happens. That also means that I spent a lot of time being around when nothing was happening. I was just someone who was there filming."

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'A Year of Hope' by Mikala Krogh. Photo: Stine Heilmann

Staying in Touch

The film is structured chronologically. When the boys' year on the island is over, we know they will not all succeed in leaving street life in Manila behind.

"The realities are so complex. Not everyone can be saved. The film addresses that, too. But for some, there is hope and a way out. Joshua is a really good example. I often stay in touch with the people I do films about, and I know that Joshua is still doing well," Krogh says, adding that, with this film, it was important for her that the boys at the centre were not her responsibility.

"They were wrapped in layers of other people who helped them and took really good care of them. I wasn't their mother or social worker. I filmed them," she says.

"If I had found some boys on the street in Manila and tracked them, I would have had a different responsibility and a different set of ethical dilemmas" •


About the film

'A Year of Hope' is directed by Mikala Krogh and produced by Sigrid Dyekjær for Danish Documentary Production with support from the Danish Film Institute. International sales are handled by Paris-based CAT&Docs.

IDFA premiere

Mikala Krogh will be a well-known figure to IDFA audiences, having screened her latest films 'A Normal Life' (2012) and 'The Newsroom – Off the Record' (2014) at the festival.

World premiere at IDFA 2017 (15-26 November) in Masters, the section for reputable documentarians' latest works.

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