Ilaya (ee-la-ya) is a word that one hears in the rural Southern Tagalog region of the Philippines, where I spent part of my youth. It is one point in the twin coordinates of this fractured archipelago: coastal on one end, and ‘ilaya’ – the hinterlands – on the other. Ilaya lies in the periphery, where headwaters form and where people have historically gone to escape from the trappings of the urban center. It refers to no particular geographic location, just one that’s beyond the outer reaches of ‘civilization’. Ilaya denotes freedom from government, power, and from a country with a long history as the colonized, freedom from empire. Ilaya’s etymology is unclear, but its root word, ‘laya’, means freedom in Tagalog.
I believe that ‘ilaya’ exists everywhere in people’s mental geography – anywhere where humans have sought to be free, from the quilombo settlements of the slave plantations of Brazil to the streets of Ferguson. These are autonomous and liberating spaces, formed into existence by the oppressive economic and political powers of the state. It is from this place that I situate my films. From this vantage point, I seek and document their stories. Their stories inform my films with a view from the ground up. This is where journalism belongs, and this is where I belong.
Orlando de Guzman