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Marcos' Widow Sues Over 'Imelda'

The former Philippine first lady accuses filmmaker of using footage without her permission in award-winning documentary.

June 16, 2004|Richard C. Paddock and Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writers

SINGAPORE — Former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos filed suit in Manila today to block distribution in the Philippines of the award-winning documentary "Imelda," which she says used extensive footage of her without permission.

The lawsuit against Unitel Productions Inc., the film's worldwide distributor, charges that the documentary relied heavily on interviews with Marcos that she granted a decade ago only because filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz told her that it was for part of her Stanford University master's degree thesis.

Marcos, the widow of onetime Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos, contends that she was never informed that the interviews would be used in a documentary and never gave permission for the footage to be used in a commercial film.

"All our lives, President Ferdinand Marcos and I were deeply committed to God, country and the Filipino people, but we are portrayed by the unauthorized 'Imelda' documentary with malice, inaccuracy and innuendos," Imelda Marcos said in a statement.

Diaz said Marcos not only approved of the interviews but also encouraged them. She also said the former first lady signed a release in 1996.

The suit asks for a temporary restraining order to prevent the film from being shown in the Philippines. The documentary, which won first prize for cinematography at the recent Sundance Film Festival, is scheduled to open in Manila shortly after Marcos turns 75 on July 2.

The film has been praised for its insight into Marcos, the onetime beauty queen who became first lady and helped rule the Philippines for two decades.

President Marcos, who declared martial law in 1972, was forced into exile in Hawaii in 1986 in a "people power" revolt by civilians and the military. He was accused of stealing more than $5 billion during his rule.

Imelda Marcos is perhaps best known around the world for leaving thousands of pairs of shoes behind when the couple fled the presidential palace in Manila.

President Marcos died in 1989, and Imelda Marcos later returned home from Hawaii. She has battled government lawsuits seeking to recover the fortune the Marcoses allegedly embezzled, and attempted to rehabilitate the family name by running for office, including the presidency in 1992 and 1998.

The documentary juxtaposes the comments of people who knew Imelda Marcos with footage from the 1994 interview with the former first lady.

Some reviewers have said the documentary highlights the gulf between historical accounts of events in the Philippines and Marcos' view of what happened during her husband's rule.

Marcos' suit contends that the documentary is her biography "viewed from another individual's perspective."

"The bulk of the film" consists of interviews with Marcos about her life, the complaint reads. "However, it also takes narration from other people who are obviously outside of [Marcos'] political circle, or from her detractors in particular."

The lawsuit contends that Marcos "never entered into any agreement, written or otherwise, with Ms. Diaz ... for the showing of the documentary for public viewing."

Diaz said she did a series of interviews with Marcos beginning in 1993, when she spoke to the former first lady for "Spirits Rising," her master's thesis about the movement of middle-class women who protested the Marcos regime during the years of upheaval.

Diaz said that after doing that interview, she realized that Marcos was a "character" and wanted to make a documentary about her. The filmmaker said Marcos told her she would be open to the idea.

Diaz then returned to the Philippines in 1996 to pre-interview Marcos for the "Imelda" documentary. Two years later, Diaz went back and followed her around for a month to get footage for "Imelda."

"We were at her home in Manila," Diaz said by telephone from Baltimore, where she lives. "She invited us to stay with her at her home. She even gave us a tour of her bedroom. You don't just bump into Mrs. Marcos."

Diaz said Marcos was also aware that the film was going to be shown publicly.

The film has been released in New York City and is scheduled for release in several other U.S. cities by July. It will be screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Monday.

Paddock reported from Singapore and Munoz from Los Angeles.

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