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MOTHERLAND: A Look into the Busiest Maternity Hospital in the Philippines

MOTHERLAND documentary directed by Ramona S. Diaz gives us a first hand look into Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital, which is rumored to have the highest birth rate of any hospital in the world.

The Jose Fabella Hospital averages 60 deliveries a day, and as many as 100
deliveries in a 24-hour period. To put that in perspective, the busiest and largest
maternity hospital in Europe, National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, averages 25
babies a day. One in 10 young Filipino women – between 15 and 19 years of age – is already a mother.

Director Ramona S. Diaz is an Asian-American filmmaker best known for her character driven documentaries such as SPIRITS RISING, IMELDA, THE LEARNING, DON’T STOP
BELIEVIN: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY and MOTHERLAND. Her films have been broadcast on POV and Independent Lens and have screened at and won awards at Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca, Silverdocs, IDFA, and many other top film festivals.



Director Ramona S. Diaz

MOTHERLAND takes places in one of the poorest and one of the most populated countries in the world, the Philippines. Regardless, the tale of the documentary is a timeless one. New Mothers, the miracle of childbirth, the uncertainty of the future; these are all features that are timeless but MOTHERLAND is unique because of the setting. Because of where the documentary takes place the audience is invited to view the same emotions from a completely different angle.

Due to slim resources and over crowding of the hospital all of the new mothers and must share beds with one and sometimes 2 more mothers plus their respective new borns. The bedside conversations prove to be the emotional foundation of the film. You get the idea comradery is immediately formed between all residents of the hospital. The relationships, although not long lived (formed in the military style overcrowded dorm area) pull the film forward.



Residents of the crowded hospital share bunks with each other and new borns


In this documentary Diaz takes a very real approach in filming. In most shots the camera is carried by hand, wonders the busy halls, listens in on conversations, and peaks into rooms. All of  this pays off as it gives way to the films impressive intimacy. Over the course of the film the women of Jose Fabella become increasingly familiar as the film progresses.

Three women—Lea, Aira and Lerma—emerge to share their stories with other mothers, their families, doctors and social workers. Their stories unfold organically through conversations, phone calls, unspoken emotions and interactions with the hospital staff.

As with most hospitals the staff emerges as unsung heroes, a staff mainly composed of women always projecting a calming energy over the hectic hospital. The hospital can’t afford to have incubators for the new born babies so the mothers are taught the “Kangaroo Method” where the mothers are given elastic tube tops so that they can slide their baby in against their chest to act as a human incubator to help the baby gain weight. Educating the new mothers and trying to engage the mothers in family planning is a key component of the film. Mothers are hesitant about birth control though because Catholicism is the main religion of the area.

Above all MOTHERLAND documentary is a tale of the human condition. Director Ramona S. Diaz’s film style is perfect to create an intimate story of the miracle of life but also the trials that come with bearing a child in such an uncertain environment. Throughout the film I kept telling myself these women are so brutally honest with themselves and are so real. And it is the honesty and the humor of these brave women that suggest a strength to face the uncertain future, a strength they will definitely need in the coming years.

MOTHERLAND is slated to open in LA on September 22nd! Be on the lookout for Ramona S. Diaz and check out some of her previous documentaries.

Watch the trailer for MOTHERLAND here








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