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Nothing Left to Lose

Boy from Nowhere

by Rachel Willis

Writer/director S.J. Finlay brings to life the reality facing people living on the island of Mindanao (Philippines) with his feature film, Boy from Nowhere. His focus, in particular, is trained on a young boy named Gary (Gary Jumawan).

Tall and lanky, Gary’s age is never mentioned, but it is clear he is young – likely somewhere between 12 and 15.

Gary’s life revolves around playing basketball with area boys, as well as learning how to fish. He spends his time in the water, learning to observe the environment around him. Though it speaks of a peaceful existence for a young boy, Gary’s world is shattered by the brutality that is often the experience for people in Mindanao.

An island rich in resources, there are several factions vying for control. The island comprises several tribes, and the film’s brief introductory text states that many people have found their livelihoods and cultures threatened by both the government of the Philippines, as well as outside interests. To combat the upheaval to their way of life, rebel factions rely on child soldiers to bolster their numbers.

Finlay’s style is naturalistic. Casting several non-actors in the primary roles serves to underscore the film’s realism. Some are more natural on camera than others, but there is a documentarian feel as Finlay watches Gary navigate the world, often without the presence of adults.

The short run-time hinders the film. When Gary is faced with several choices, we’re not allowed to contemplate them with him, nor are we given much action to help us understand the choices he makes. Instead, Finlay relies heavily on exposition and dialogue to clarify what’s at stake. This choice negates the slice-of-life portrait the filmmaker is trying to paint.

The film best succeeds in its focus on the moral and ethical dilemmas facing the people of Mindanao. While using children to fight a war is unethical, Boy from Nowhere emphasizes the desperation facing people with nothing left to lose. When the entire culture is threatened, isn’t it the duty of the children to fight? Though Finlay’s opinion on this matter is never in doubt, he treats those who resort to such choices with sympathy.

Finlay juxtaposes the images of child soldiers against a breathtaking landscape. The cinematography highlights what people are fighting to protect. One can only hope this way of life might be saved.