Nowhere is the worldwide erosion of democracy, fueled by social media disinformation campaigns, more starkly evident than in the authoritarian regime of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Journalist Maria Ressa places the tools of the free press—and her freedom—on the line in defense of truth and democracy. Produced, written and directed by Ramona S. Diaz (IMELDA, MOTHERLAND).
Maria studied molecular biology and theater at Princeton University. She then applied for a Fulbright Fellowship, with which she completed her Masters in Journalism at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
Her first job was at CNN where she worked for nearly two decades, serving as Manila Bureau Chief from 1988–1995 and as Jakarta Bureau Chief from 1995-2005. She traveled extensively and reported from her base in Southeast Asia as well as India, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States. As CNN’s lead investigative reporter in Asia, she specialized in investigating terrorist networks. Videotapes of her coverage of terrorism were found in what experts believe to be Osama bin Laden’s private videotape collection in Afghanistan.
Maria served as the head of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Department from 2004-2010. She also taught broadcasting principles at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and at Princeton University, she designed and taught a course on Politics and the Press in Southeast Asia.
In an open letter dated October 11, 2010, Ressa noted that she will not renew her six-year contract with the said network, saying that “It’s time for [her] to move on.” She is now an author-in-residence at The International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. Ressa and ICPVTR aim to come up with a book “on the terrorism threats in Asia, their connections to the global jihad and how governments are responding to these evolving threats.” The book’s release is expected to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
In late 2010, Esquire magazine hailed Ressa as the Philippines’ “sexiest woman alive”, citing her fearlessness in writing an eyewitness account of Al Qaeda “despite her size.” She has her own website and has contributed write-ups for CNN and The Wall Street Journal.
Ramona S. Diaz is an award-winning Asian American filmmaker whose films have screened at Sundance, the Berlinale, Tribeca, the Viennale, IDFA, and many other top-tier film festivals. All of Ramona’s feature-length films—IMELDA (2004), THE LEARNING (2011), DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’: EVERYMAN’S JOURNEY (2012) and her latest film, MOTHERLAND (2017)—have been broadcast on PBS, on either the POV or Independent Lens series. Motherland won an award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and had its international premiere at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival. It was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary, a Peabody Award, and a Gaward Urian Award from the Filipino Film Critics.
She has received funding from ITVS, Sundance, CAAM, Tribeca, Catapult Film Fund, Chicken & Egg, MacArthur Foundation, the IDA, Cinereach and Creative Capital, among others. For the past four years, Ramona has been a film envoy for the American Film Showcase, a joint program of the U.S. Department of State and the USC School of Cinematic Arts that brings American films to audiences worldwide. She has conducted master classes and production workshops all over the world. Ramona was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship and was inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) in 2016, and in 2017 received a Women at Sundance Fellowship and a Chicken & Egg Pictures Breakthrough Filmmaker Award. She is a current recipient of a United States Artist Fellowship. Ramona is a graduate of Emerson College and holds an MA from Stanford University.