Isabel Sandoval in Lingua Franca (photo courtesy ARRAY Releasing)
The struggles of the suburban working class are nothing new to drama in New York. But in the eyes of outsiders and in the hands of the director / writer / producer / editor / actress Isabel Sandoval, one of the newest authors in Filipino cinema, who is making her English-language debut in her adopted country with her third narrative film Lingua Franca – The Classical Tropics updated to reflect our current intersectional reality.
The film with the first film festival of the Venice International Film Festival 2019 follows the caregiver Olivia (Sandoval), who is romantically interwoven with the woman's Ne & # 39; er-Do while looking after an elderly Russian resident of Brighton Beach (Lynn Cohen) -well grandson Alex (Eamon Farren) who works under his uncle in a meat packing plant while struggling to get his life back on track. The fact that Olivia is trans and undocumented while fitting and assimilating into her Brooklyn environment as a cisgender woman makes the story all the more complicated – not to mention a heartbreaking backdrop against a political backdrop in which the marginalized return Politics was pushed into the shadows and into the closet.
The day after the Netflix release on August 26, the filmmaker met with Sandoval to learn more about her project.
Filmmakers: How did this story come about? What research did you do to create such diverse characters and circumstances?
Sandoval: Shortly after my second feature, Apparition, came out, I started my gender change. I realize it's such a private and personal experience, but when I went through all these changes – not just in my physical appearance, but also emotionally and psychologically – it felt disastrous. The first time I realized I was attracting male attention was when a woman gave me both a headless rush and a sense of danger (because I was trans). I felt powerful and vulnerable at the same time. It's these conflicting feelings that I wanted to capture and distill. I started writing Olivia as a character.
In the months following Trump's election, fear and paranoia haunted me. Then the Lingua Franca premise really came together. It's not an autobiographical film, but details in the film and Olivia's experiences are made up of real-life experiences inspired by friends of mine, whether they are caregivers, trans individuals or people they knew personally. I wanted the movie to sound true.
Filmmakers: I've read that Lingua Franca was heavily influenced by both Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and James Gray's Brooklyn dramas. They also nod to the work of Chantal Akerman and Wong Kar-Wai. How did all these aesthetic touchstones come together in the final cut? Are they also tied to your previous films?
Sandoval: I find it fascinating how these cinematic influences reappear in my own work years after I first saw them. Most of these nods were not intended. I had my own idiosyncratic vision for the film. Only after I finished it and experienced the film as an objective observer did I recognize her.
I showed Cinephile friends an advance; more than some mentioned in the mood for love. On the other hand, the opening and closing Mondays in my film were intentional allusions to News from Home, Akerman's letter film about a European emigrant in America. The juxtaposition of images of America with a voice that speaks a foreign language is just a spook.
I didn't go to film school, so canon became my de facto film school. I saw many of them at a formative time when I was still learning the language of cinema. Maybe they are so anchored in my subconscious and bubble up in unexpected moments of my work. The difference now is that these homages in my work are not ends in themselves. For me, they simply mean – something I investigate and reconsider – articulating my own ideas and visions.
Filmmakers: I recently interviewed Filipino-American filmmaker Ramona S. Diaz about her Maria Ressa-Doc A Thousand Cuts. She surprised me by finding that Duterte, or any administration, isn't really a barrier to indie production per se, but rather the costly permits (due to the excessive amount of filmmaking). Which made me wonder what are the biggest differences – from fundraising to production – between filmmaking in the US and the Philippines? Are there different hurdles for each country?
Sandoval: The last time I made a film in the Philippines (Apparition) was in 2012. There is definitely financial support for independent films that have become a kind of home industry since 2005 – funded either through government grants or film festivals and supplemented by, to a lesser extent, private equity.
However, until recently, I don't remember having well-defined health and safety protocols for the production crew, and the hours can be brutal. Last year a well-respected seasoned actor died after failing to receive immediate medical care following an accident on the set. So they take this matter seriously.
The spread of art house titles is negligible. In the theater, there's hardly an art house or independent chain to speak of, and practically none outside of Manila, while the local titles that streamers like Netflix pick up are more of a mainstream hits. What worries me most, however, is the specter of censorship and restrictions on artistic freedom that has emerged with the passage of the anti-terrorism law under Duterte, and how it can potentially endanger the lives of activists and artists who are critical of the government, an issue that I am in Apparition have examined.
Filmmakers: In 2018 I interviewed PJ Raval about his doctor Call Her Ganda following the aftermath of the heinous murder of a trans-Filipino woman by a U.S. Navy (including the anti-imperialist passion that led to overwhelming public support for Jennifer Laude's family) and before that, S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons on their 2016 Doc Out Run, which tracks the leaders of "the world's only LGBT political party" as they try to vote a trans woman for the Philippine Congress. Honestly, when I saw both films I was pretty shocked that such a Catholic country could even accept its trans citizens. Is that how you think about it, and perhaps you allow a greater openness to trans stories like that of your debut film Señorita? (Or is it just the optimistic American liberal POV holding on?)
Sandoval: It's not acceptance, just tolerance. And the compelling films you quote about the dangers and struggles of trans women are documentaries, not popular entertainment.
A very special kind of impermanence – an exaggerated, belligerent femininity that only serves to mock or sexualize the transperson – thrives in media and pop culture in the Philippines above all to support machismo and regressive notions of masculinity. My character Olivia is the opposite of that mode, and Lingua Franca is in stark contrast to this paradigm. She's not perfect or a saint, but she's layered, nondescript, and complex. She has an identity that not only affirms the masculinity of cis men or makes them feel more masculine. It just is.
Filmmakers: The undocumented experience of immigrants in the age of Trump is at the center of Lingua Franca. The fact that, like many undocumented Filipinas, your character is a caregiver – i.e. H. An "essential worker" – makes the movie all the more relevant in our current coronavirus-focused world. Has the meaning of the film changed to you over the years from pre-production to this pandemic?
Sandoval: Most of all, I felt like I was reaching a turning point in my sensibility as a filmmaker doing lingua franca. I understood what a good movie looks like and sounds like a good movie. When I first started, I was drawn to political issues because I felt they had the patina of dramatic and moral weight. It's an automatic gravita. While doing lingua franca, I consciously tried to avoid relying on the currency and the gravity of its issues – such as immigration and transgender issues – as crutches, much like the way insincere Oscar hopefuls make films about the Holocaust. Instead, I used them to add depth and texture to the setting and to set the tone and atmosphere of the film. I wanted to make a film that is set in today's world and plays with the crises and neuroses associated with it, which ultimately felt timeless.