Two starry-eyed lives collide to have their innocence away torn from them in Mikhail Red’s Birdshot.
Maya (Mary Jou Apostol), a young Filipina farm girl, sneaks into a reservation in search of food for her family and shoots and unknowingly brings home the body of a critically endangered Philippine Eagle. Domingo (Arnold Reyes), a new police officer who deeply believes in bringing matters to justice, cannot shake off the feeling that his investigation of a missing bus is skimming the surface of something far more sinister. Though he is reassigned to follow up on the missing eagle and is ordered not to follow up on the bus case, he continues to search for the truth.
Their paths meet when Domingo and his more experienced partner, Mendoza (John Arcilla), follow up on the dead eagle. Minutes into the first meeting, things go awry; Maya’s father, Diego (Ku Aquino), is forced to lie to keep his daughter safe, which Mendoza picks up on easily. Then, the caretaker of the reservation, who was accompanying the police officers, notices that Maya has a necklace with the eagle’s talon hanging from it.
The police begin to pressure Diego into coming with them back to the station for more questioning, and he promises to come by in the morning. Disgruntled about his lies, Mendoza and Domingo head back to the station when they run into an abandoned bus. Against Mendoza’s advice, Domingo continues his investigation, leading him down a path that leaves him to fear for both his and his family’s lives.
Meanwhile, knowing he may not have long, Diego buries the gun used to shoot the eagle and tells Maya to stay inside. Knowing he can’t avoid the police, he leaves the station next morning. Despite his hopes, he does not return home that night.
Such is the grim reality the film paints in a world where the life of endangered bird species is deemed more significant than a human’s. Human lives are treated with indifference and are easily thrown away by others. Both Domingo and Maya watch as people around them are cast away like toys as they too attempt to survive in a world that does not care for them.
Red paints an impressively gritty survival story in Birdshot, aiming to showcase the social atmosphere of the country by pitting innocent characters against the backward, corrupt predators be set around them. It takes its time to set up the story, but by the time the pace picks up, the previously innocent characters are forced to mature by having their intentions muddied, and the bloody climax comes barreling in like no one’s business, brutally impacting everyone involved.
While the film seems to wander at times, it all pays off in the end, letting you realize Red knew exactly what he was doing. Truly, behind the beauty of the Philippine landscape lies many hungry predators just waiting to pounce at a moment’s notice.
We screened the film at the NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2017.