Women filmmakers with a Filipino angle

Photo courtesy of Angelina Cantada

Photo courtesy of Angelina Cantada

Women are largely underrepresented in the film industry, particularly as writers, producers, and directors. Three independent local female filmmakers are carrying out all three roles, driven by determination and a story to tell.

They all share a Filipino background, a portfolio of giving a platform to minority issues, and a passion for documentaries.

To be or not to be a filmmaker

Joella Cabalu’s love for film can be traced back to the video store that her father would take her and her brother Jay to every Friday.

“We didn’t have cable growing up so we would just devour entertainment magazines and learn about media and movies in that way,” says Cabalu, 31, whose family immigrated to the Lower Mainland when she was seven. “We’d be in the video store absorbing all of the information from the cover of these VHS tapes.”

Born in California, Cabalu grew up in Brunei before coming to Canada. She has an art history degree from the University of British Columbia, and two years ago, she graduated from the Documentary Film Production Program at Langara College.

Prior to this, Cabalu had convinced herself that she lacked the personality to be a filmmaker.

“My perception was that in order to be successful, I needed to be extroverted and aggressive. I realize now – I needed to be a man,” she says.

She could only name one female director and even then, “she didn’t look like me.”

Cabalu has produced and directed her first feature documentary It Runs in the Family, which is the follow-up to “Stand Still”, Cabalu’s grad project about her journey mediating the relationship between her Roman Catholic parents and her gay younger brother. It Runs in the Family chronicles her and her brother Jay’s trip from Vancouver to California to the Philippines to meet an estimated dozen other gay relatives, and ask them how they’ve managed to navigate their faith, sexuality, and family relationships.

“The [experiences] of queer people of colour are underrepresented in the media, so I thought it would be interesting to see it from an immigrant family of colour [perspective],” says Cabalu.

Documenting women and minorities

For Angelina Cantada, 45, the decision to work in film has always been clear-cut. She recalls doing a lot of video projects at university in the Philippines and falling in love with video editing. She’s been editing ever since.

“It’s been over 20 years. I enjoy telling stories using pictures and music and putting all of that together,” she says.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Cantada studied photography for four years in San Francisco before immigrating to Canada in 2008. In 2010, she was one of six filmmakers chosen through the Crazy8s competition to produce a short film. Her narrative “Sikat” is about a Filipina caregiver who is finally reunited with her son and husband in Canada.

As an independent filmmaker used to doing her own videography and editing, producing a narrative was completely new territory for Cantada.

“You need a village to be able to produce even just a short film. [Sikat] was a 10 minute film [but] I had 50 people on set with me – cast, camera crew, lighting people, costume, set design,” Cantada says.

Cantada finds that she naturally gravitates towards minorities in her work. She is typically hired by different non-profits, particularly in the disability community and the LGBT community, to create short promotional or educational videos.

Her last short film screened at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, “Powerful Out Women (POW!): On the Campaign Trail,” was a personal project. It offers a snapshot into the lives of three highly respected queer politicians in three levels of government.

“I was just so inspired by the work [these] women were doing. Many people are afraid to come out in the workplace, but to them sexual orientation is a non-issue,” says Cantada.

She is currently working on a documentary about labour trafficking that profiles migrant workers and the exploitation they are experiencing here in Canada.

Beach blues

Joella Cabalu, filmmaker | Photo courtesy of Joella Cabalu

Joella Cabalu, filmmaker | Photo courtesy of Joella Cabalu

It comes as no surprise that Kathleen Jayme, 27, pursued a degree in film production at UBC. Her grandfather was the youngest director in the Philippines during his time, and his siblings were also producers in the movie industry. Jayme, born and raised in Vancouver, grew up with a camera in her hands.

“I’ve always been that friend [with the] camera. I can make a 20-minute reel of my friends telling me to turn the camera off. I just love documenting stories,” Jayme says.

During her time at UBC, she won a Leo for Best Student Production in British Columbia for her short fiction film “Little Big Kid,” and her film “Liz” was among twenty films selected to play on Air Canada flights. She was ultimately awarded the H. Norman Lidster Prize Scholarship honoring an outstanding documentary student when she graduated from UBC in 2011.

Jayme’s feature film, Paradise Island, is currently making its rounds. In the film, Jayme travels to Boracay, a beautiful island and popular tourist destination in the Philippines.

“I used to go there when I was a kid [in the] 90s and it was just a deserted island. Throughout the 2000s I’d go back every year, and I’d notice that it was getting more polluted, dirtier, noisier, and it would bother me but I’d just leave the next day and forget about it,” says Jayme.

Then in 2011, she met some local children making sandcastles for money.

“That’s when I started to think about what we actually do when we’re on vacation. I feel like we deserve this right to do whatever we want, but we have to realize that people live in these places that we go to visit,” says Jayme. “They are the ones who have to deal with the garbage that we produce.”

Her hope with Paradise Island is that a younger generation will be more mindful of how their actions affect the locals that live in the tropical destinations they visit.