23rd Udine Far East Film Festival: “A is for Agustin” Review

Despite the importance that has been attached to education on a global scale over the years, the world still faces enormous inequalities in terms of access to education. The immediate and most telling effect of not receiving education is illiteracy. While only 3% of people in Europe are illiterate, in South America, Asia and Africa this figure is 15%, 33% and 50%, respectively. That’s about 775 million illiterate people around the world! It seems like poverty is the main factor for many not to attend an educational institution. It is also vital to point out that many Indigenous People in Asia and South America are greatly discriminated against. The Philippines’ historical records show that Indigenous People living in the country have long been suffering from lack of access to education. 

Image © Courtesy of Udine Far East Film Festival 

When Grace Pimentel Simbulan worked on her short documentary about exposing the environmental destruction caused by mining operations in the Philippines, she visited a remote mountainous region in the north of the country. There, she met Agustin, an Indigenous Man, who, at the age of 40, decided to go back to school to learn how to read, write and do maths. Grace took her time to sit down with Agustin and listen to his story, a story that took the filmmaker 8-years to put together, before bringing it to the big screen in the shape of a feature documentary called A is for Agustin. 

The story of Agustin is personal, touching and creates a meaningful discussion about the right to education regardless of social status and race. Agustin is a very hard-working man and, together with his wife and eldest son, he collects coal up in the mountains. His frustration grows day by day as his illiteracy makes it impossible for him to count his wages, and Agustin resorts to checking the colours of the bills instead. However, it all changes when he learns that his boss hasn’t been paying him the right amount of money for a long time. The humiliation and disappointment he felt for many years made him decide to go to school and learn the basics. Although many thought he wasn’t serious about education, Agustin pushed forward by starting Grade 1. 

Image © Courtesy of Udine Far East Film Festival 

A is for Agustin shows two worlds colliding in a subtle way. We see the world where Agustin is smiling, joking and being charming at school, and the world where we see his sadness, frustration and hardship. While making this documentary, Grace developed deep ties not only with Agustin but with the local community as well. For over eight years, she watched this man grow into something far beyond the story itself. Also, the further we watch the film, the deeper one understands the challenges of Agustin and the lives of the locals. After completing Grade 6, Agustin was forced to make some tough choices. He never went to high school, however, he was able to find a decent job as a construction worker. 

Image © Courtesy of Udine Far East Film Festival 

With down-to-earth cinematography by Kara Moreno, music by Francis De Veyra, and flawless editing by Johnny Bassett, A is for Agustin, without any regrets, shows the current state of education in the rural areas of the Philippines and the challenges that Indigenous People are facing, including the lack or little access to education. As a result of this, communication between the Philippines’ government institutions and its Indigenous People has always been complex and often non-existing. The film will make you question how one could protect its culture, tradition, environment and language when they are not given an access to schooling. As Kofi Annan once said: “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.” 


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Maggie Gogler

View of the Arts is a British online publication that chiefly deals with films, music, arts and fashion, with an emphasis on the Asian entertainment industry. We are hoping our audience will grow with us as we begin to explore new platforms such as K-pop, and continue to dive into the talented and ever-growing scene of film, arts and fashion, worldwide.

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