Making of Duterte’s Hell

Still from Duterte’s Hell. | Photo courtesy of Aaron Goodman

Aaron Goodman, a Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) faculty member, wants to give viewers the opportunity to see what it’s like for the family and community of victims being terrorized by the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines through the mini-documentary Duterte’s Hell. The film contains graphic and emotional scenes of the deceased and their loved ones.

Goodman had previous experience shining light on the lives of drug users when he produced The Outcasts, a photo-based documentary that humanized long-term heroin users taking part in Vancouver’s first heroin assistance treatment program. The program was received negatively by the former Conservative government and shut down.

“There was a lot of derogatory rhetoric coming from the Conservative government who were opposed to giving drugs to drug users,” says Goodman.

Through these two documentaries, Goodman really wanted to draw attention to the issues that drug users are facing.

“[In Vancouver] with the denial of health care, which is a human rights violation, or in the Philippines, where the elected President has sanctioned the killing of thousands of drug users, I just wanted to do my part and help draw attention to the issue,” says Goodman.

Luis Liwanag, a well-respected Filipino photojournalist, co-directed Duterte’s Hell and worked with Goodman on a previous film 10 years ago. Goodman felt it was important for the documentary to be a collaboration, in order to be conscious and mindful of perception when telling stories.

“It’s important to have a collaborative partner who has experience covering the subject. It helps to get the full story,” says Goodman.

They began filming at the end of December 2016 and the film was released in June. It premiered this past summer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Duterte’s Hell has been shown in the film festival circuit around the world.

Unfamiliar experience

Aaron Goodman, documentarist. | Photo courtesy of Aaron Goodman

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Approximately 79 journalists have been killed in recent years. However, on this issue, there seems to be a lot of freedom for journalists to do their work and report on it,” says Goodman.

Typically, reporters gatherat local police stations around 10:00 p.m. and wait for calls to come in about killings. The reporters then drive at high speeds in a convoy, to the sites of the killings. Often, when they arrive, there are bodies of murdered victims on the ground where the police are investigating. Journalists are given the freedom and safety to go about work at a close distance.

“I wasn’t afraid for my security. Someone could potentially go haywire and fire bullets, but no one has been killed. What scared me the most was driving at high speeds, sitting in the backseat of a van without a seat belt,” says Goodman.

Goodman and Liwanag’s vision for the film was to create an immersive experience for the viewers in order to see the impact that these murders have on mothers, sisters, brothers, fathers and neighbours.

“These are often people who have nothing to do with drugs. Lots of children, minors and teenagers,” says Goodman.

According to the online publication Intercept, since President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in 2016, there have been more than 7,000 alleged drug dealers and users killed by police and vigilantes. Duterte’s Hell depicts the helpless emotions of the people in the Philippines. Goodman hopes to leave a lasting effect with this film, in order to spark interest in those affected by drugs around the world.

“What I really tried to underscore is that these people are human beings, and a lot of them are suffering and we as a society have a moral responsibility to help them,” says Goodman.

The film is free and can be viewed on-line at