Memories of Manila: neighbourhood change through one woman’s eyes

Still from Tapio Snellman’s film, Grounded

“Eventually, the past has to give in to the present.”

In Grounded, filmmaker Tapio Snellman takes us to the Malate neighbourhood of Manila, with its high-rise towers under construction, looming over a historic street level. The film explores the city’s changes, and the impacts of its evolving neighbourhoods, through the experiences and memories of one woman, Erlinda Paez.

“Paez represents a continuity of life in a dramatically altering neighbourhood,” says Snellman. “Her voice and presence reflects old Manila, encompassing the linguistic and social clues of the Catholic Spanish colonial past, the international lifestyle introduced by the Americans [who colonised the Philippines 1898–1946] as well as the unique native Pinoy culture. Her house remains an understated and calm reflection of a personal history in an increasingly generic part of the city.”

Snellman’s film reminds us of the tension between the neighbourhood scale – full of personal histories and place identities – and the macro scale of a megacity, which as an anonymous whole drowns out singular voices. But a city, of course, cannot exist without its people or this multitude of unique experiences, which are ultimately woven into a complex bigger picture.

The film was created as part of a commission at Calle Wright, an art space in the centre of Malate