“A personal obligation to share these stories”: Joella Cabalu and the making of her documentary It Runs in the Family

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Still of It Runs in the Family

Nestled in the back corner of a cozy café on a crisp Saturday morning, I sat down with filmmaker Joella Cabalu to talk about her recent documentaries, StandStill (2013) and It Runs in the Family (2015). We spoke for nearly two hours in what felt more like a friendly conversation than an interview, as Joella shared her emotional journey in the making of both her films. As we sipped our coffees, Joella explained the barriers she faced with tackling a story as personal as the coming out of her brother, but also touched on the rewarding nature of documentary filmmaking.

In 2007, Joella’s brother, Jay, came out to her. Joella recalls, “when Jay came out to me, it was one of those circumstances that was almost surreal – I had to balance being a supportive sister with not letting shock read on my face.” At the time, she was finishing up her art history degree at UBC. She was the first person Jay had told in her family, and she knew that Jay would have a difficult time coming out to the rest of the family, given their Roman Catholic upbringing and Filipino background.

When Joella started studying film at Langara College’s Documentary Film Production program, she began to form a narrative in her mind about Jay’s coming out and its impact on her family. She knew she had to make a 10-minute project as her graduate film. “I knew going into school, I wanted to make essentially what would become StandStill. But really what I wanted to make was It Runs in the Family,” Joella explains to me. She knew the 10-minute short would be a good start to tackling a longer film.

Jay Cabalu

Jay Cabalu

Joella constantly checked in with her brother throughout the writing stages of the film. “For him, it was going to be challenging, having to dig up all of those feelings again,” Joella says. Soon after, she and Jay set out on a journey to track down other queer family members in both North America and the Philippines. As she and Jay got to know their relatives more, they began to think that Jay was not so different from the rest of his family after all. “We’re trying to create this space to have this conversation and normalize it,” she explained.

Joella’s allyship to the LGBTQ+ community, her willingness to be vulnerable, and her empathy towards differing perspectives give the film a sense of maturity and completeness. It neither judges nor is assuming of other identities on the subject of LGBTQ+ rights. The story unfolds organically and both she and Jay are self-reflective in their interviews and encounters with family.

One of Joella’s major moments of reflection was when director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) asked during a screening of a rough cut, why should I care about Jay? Joella realized that the objective of her film was not to portray Jay as a gay person, but as a person – period. “People really became interested in who Jay was when they saw his art,” she explains. Because of this, Joella held a second interview with Jay and included footage of him making his art. This new addition provided a beautiful juxtaposition between Jay collaging materials together on a canvas and piecing together stories of his queer family. In the film, Jay mentions that collaging is the sum of all of his experiences. And so, Joella found the missing piece to complete her film.

“I feel that being the race that I am, and having the background that I have – I immigrated here as a kid – and the gender that I am as well, I am very aware of the inequity in terms of representation in the media. I feel a personal obligation to share these stories. I want my contribution to be unique and to add, for lack of a better word, diversity to the whole thing,” Joella explains.

As the production of It Runs in the Family came to an end, Joella had a very different outlook than when she started the film: “It made me think about why you need to declare to the world [your orientation]?” In traveling to a different culture and listening to her family’s stories and Jay’s feelings, Joella was able to gain a deeper understanding on these issues, and she felt rewarded in how, ultimately, they are family and they will love and accept each other no matter their identity. But most importantly, Joella advises documentary makers “try and find what it means for you” in order to really make the process worth it.

It Runs in the Family will have its hometown premiere at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on Tuesday August 16th at 9:00 pm, International Village. Buy tickets here.

Joella

Joella Cabalu

It has screened all over North America, winning the Audience Choice Award at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and special jury mention for social justice documentary at CAAMFest. It will have its Canadian television broadcast on OUTtv in October 2016.

By Zoe Arthur
Photos courtesy of Joella Cabalu

Zoe Arthur is a UBC film production student, minoring in gender, race, sexuality and social justice. She writes about social issues in a critical, feminist framework and aims to show how film can be a powerful tool for social change. 

NFB Announces Gender Equality Initiative at #VIWIFF2016

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From left: Sharon McGowan, Rina Fraticelli, Claude Joli-Coeur, Karen Day, Susan Brinton

Women in Film + Television Vancouver is proud to have provided the venue for the groundbreaking announcement by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in Vancouver on this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016.

Coinciding with the start of the 11th Annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson Claude Joli-Coeur announced that at least half of its productions will be directed by women and half of all production spending will be allocated to films directed by women. Continue reading

When Giants Fall — A stunning status quo of ivory poaching across Africa

WGF_eyeA common view of the ivory poaching crisis is that it’s an old crisis. One that our parents had to worry about in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the resurgence of ivory poaching is very real, and more critical than it has ever been. Everyone has heard about blood diamonds, but how about blood ivory?

The problem is vast and complex, spanning many countries and cultures across the world. Elephants are dying by the hundreds every day, and so are people on both sides of the coin. It is an overwhelming topic to attempt to package in one feature documentary. Somehow, When Giants Fall, a documentary by journalist Leslie Griffith, manages to do just that. Continue reading

Close Up of the 2016 From Our Dark Side winners

Let’s have a closer look at the Top Five winning projects and their writers of #FromOurDarkSide’s second season, who were announced on February 29, 2016.

Ana de Lara, Victoria, BC — The Chosen One

Headshot, Ana, Director 2Ana de Lara is a Filipina-Canadian award-winning filmmaker who likes to explore a variety of genres.

The Chosen One is a feature film thriller about a Filipina-Canadian playwright who must stop dark forces that have been summoned by Filipino witchcraft from attacking her sanity.

“As a filmmaker it’s always been my intention to branch out from comedies and dramas,” says de Lara, who intends to direct her script. “I’m so thrilled for the opportunity to explore my dark side and to advance a script concept I’ve had for years.”

de Lara is also one of eight female Canadian directors selected for the 2016 Women in the Directors Chair Story & Leadership Program to develop her first feature film script: The Virgin Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Follow Ana de Lara on Twitter @anadelaraonline.

Elisabeth de Mariaffi, St. John’s, NL— Fly Girls

Elisabeth de Mariaffi_Elisabeth de Mariaffi is the Giller Prize-nominated author of one book of short stories, How To Get Along With Women and the literary thriller, The Devil You Know, which is currently in development with New Metric Media. Her poetry and short fiction have been widely published in magazines across Canada. Elisabeth now makes her home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she lives with the poet George Murray.

As a novelist and literary activist, Elisabeth de Mariaffi writes mostly about power. A self-professed ‘fraidy-cat, Elisabeth has nonetheless written one novel about serial killers and is now face and eyes into a new book — and it’s a ghost story.

In her thriller Fly Girls, flight attendant trainees trapped overnight on an island airport fight off a four-man crew of vampire pilots who arrive unexpectedly from Alaska.

“The idea for Fly Girls was planted when I did real-life overnight training for my own (short-lived) career as a flight attendant,” says de Mariaffi. “I’ve been dying to write a flight attendant vs. vampires movie ever since. Having spent the last few years working solely on fiction, I’m excited for the opportunity to develop a new story in what is for me, a totally new way — film.”

Follow Elisabeth de Mariaffi on Twitter @ElisabethdeM; Facebook as well as her website www.elisabethdemariaffi.com.

Gada Jane, Kitchener, ON — Video Star

Gada Jane - 15Gada Jane is a filmmaker and writer who specializes in conscientious sensationalism. Her films explore the rawness of bodies in a world of screens and social media. Jane’s most recent project is a short film about celebrity, death, and getting attention online called John Orpheus is Dead. The film was part of a multidisciplinary collaboration that includes an album, concerts, music videos and a jewellery line. With a masters degree in drama from the University of Guelph, she started her career as a theatre director and dramaturg developing scripts for production. Jane has since made music videos, short films and a touchscreen interactive tour of a Quantum Physics Lab. She is a writer equally proficient in the technologies of new media creation. From her home in Canada’s Tech Hub, Kitchener-Waterloo, she writes scripts for projects based all across Canada.

In her dystopian assassin story, Video Star, Aasha and her friends are lured into a deal that promises fame and fortune for murdering people for audience entertainment but ultimately threatens to destroy their friendship and their lives.

“I’m very excited for the chance to work with some of the amazing mentors assembled by WIFTV for From Our Dark Side,” says Jane, who intends do direct the film. “As I am just beginning work on my first feature, the support and guidance of these professionals could not come at a better time.”

Follow Gada Jane on Twitter at @gadajane, Instagram @gadajane and her website.

Jennifer Krukowski, Toronto, ON — Right Hand Rule

Jennifer KrukowskiJennifer Krukowski is a Toronto-based actor, writer, life model, and odd-jobber, with a particular interest in horror, dark comedy, and true crime. She was born in Ottawa, Ontario to a painter and a musician. Jennifer graduated from York University’s Theatre Studies Program in 2010 and became a full ACTRA member in 2013. An emerging screenwriter, Krukowski has recently begun to take sitcom writing classes, and is currently in pre-production as a producer and director on a true-crime documentary.

In Right Hand Rule, a gang of rebellious delivery girls plot to win back its newest member when she is recruited as a corporate secretary in this nostalgic action-comedy.

“They say that constraint breeds creativity. Having worked as an actor for nearly a decade, I sometimes feel helpless about the quality and quantity of roles available to female actors. Rather than letting my frustrations discourage me from continuing to pursue work in the film and television industry, I feel compelled to take a more proactive approach to affecting change by way of creating more female roles and role models as a screenwriter,” says Krukowski. “The From Our Dark Side contest is a unique and important opportunity for women in film and television to be heard, not in spite of our frustrations or quirks, but in celebration of them. Being recognized as a finalist has made it feel possible to take my writing to the next level. Writing can be a very solitary process, and getting a sense of support and community in the pursuit of professional development as a writer is enormously encouraging.”

Follow Jennifer Krukowski on Twitter & Instagram: @jenkrukowski.

Ashley Lynch, Burnaby, BC — Suicide Girl

Ashley Lynch - headshot 01Ashley Lynch is a writer, director and editor specializing in creating female-led genre stories. As an independent writer/director, she has worked on many short films. Lynch is also an experienced post-production professional and owner of Gingerbreadgirl Post, specializing in genre editing, colour grading and theatrical trailer campaigns. Her work has been seen on Telus Optik, Discovery Channel and A&E as well as many film festivals around the world. Her first feature film, Chloe Didn’t Come Home Last Night, is currently in development.

In Suicide Girl, the suicidal but unkillable Morrigan Nevaro is targeted by an opportunistic pharma CEO intent on harvesting her ability. She has to fight to protect her friends and prevent her curse from being mass produced.

“Winning the From Our Darkside mentorship is an incredible privilege and honour,” says Lynch, who intends to direct her action thriller. “My personal mandate is to tell genre stories of female heroes to inspire a new generation of young women. I call this .44 calibre feminism, or equal opportunity ass kicking. This mentorship will enable me to tell those stories and help to bring them to an audience.”

Follow Ashley Lynch on Twitter: @ashleylynch, on Facebook and on her website www.gingerbreadgirlpost.com.

 

From Our Dark Side Announces 2016 Winners

DarkSide-website_0000_headerWomen In Film + Television Vancouver’s (WIFTV) is delighted to announce the 2016 From Our Dark Side Genre Concept Competition and Mentorship winners!

The competition closed submissions on January 4th, 2016 with over 150 entries from across the country. Once again, women writers sent a powerful message that there is a large, untapped talent pool in Canada and a desire for more female-driven genre stories on our screens.

“We are very happy to be a part of this innovative initiative,” said Melissa Kajpust, Head of Creative Development for Super Channel. “We strongly support projects that advance the voices of women filmmakers in the industry and genre films are something we embrace on Super Channel, so this competition is a perfect fit.” Continue reading

Mystery in the Woods – Lise Raven’s Kinderwald screens at #VIWIFF2016

KINDERWALD BOYS STILL 2In German folklore, the forest is a breeding ground for miracles, mysteries and the supernatural. Paying homage to the Black Forest of the Brothers Grimm, Kinderwald creates an ethereal, isolated and atmospheric woodland world of 1854 Pennsylvania.

Despite its apparent seclusion, this forest teems with characters of dubious, if not outright malevolent intent. The only exceptions seem to be the hardworking John Linden (Frank Brückner, who also co-wrote the script) , his dead brother’s wife, pious Flora (Emily Behr) and her two sons (Leo and Louie Fischer-Pasternak). Not long after settling in, the Linden children wander away, leaving their mother and uncle to endure a trial of faith through a dark and tumultuous fairy tale. Continue reading

#VIWIFF2016 Opens with Father-Daughter Tragicomedy “Café Derby”

CafeDerby09Café Derby invites you to take a look into the life of Georges: a man of the people with a big heart and even bigger dreams. When he mans his stall at the local market, it is crowded with people hanging off his every word. He knows which customers will buy what, how to make the pitch, and when to close the deal. With a family of five to feed, Georges is constantly on the lookout for the next big business venture. As far as his youngest daughter Sara is concerned, her father is the king of the world. Continue reading

Snapshot of a Stolen Childhood — The Chicken by Una Gunjak at #VIWIFF2016

By Mersiha Musovic

THE-CHICKEN_02_Selma(IMAN-ALIBALIC)The Chicken, by Writer/Director Una Gunjak, is a uniquely intense, yet very moving film, which takes the viewers back in time to 1993, to a volatile setting they might be unfamiliar with: the Bosnian War.  Continue reading