July 2016 Artist Feature: JOELLA CABALU
Joella Cabalu is a contemporary Filipino-Canadian documentary filmmaker residing in Vancouver, British Columbia. She studied Documentary Film and Digital Film Production at Langara College. Her film It Runs in the Family has made its way into numerous film festivals and was shown at 14 Pews in Houston for the Houston Asian American Film Showcase.
Matt Manalo: Joella, kindly tell me a little about yourself.
Joella Cabalu: I was actually born in California, but grew up in Brunei and immigrated to Canada when I was 6 years old. I have vague memories of Brunei and never lived in the U.S. nor the Philippines, so Vancouver has really been my home for the last 25 years. I've only started to reclaim my Filipino identity in the last couple of years which I attribute to my journey with this film.
MM: Tell me about your creative process as a film maker.
JC: A challenge for me is to come up with original stories, which is one reason that I gravitate towards documentary because there are already so many human stories! So I think the first part of my creative process is to be open and to be genuinely curious about my environment, about people and their lives, about other artists' visions. Then the second part of that process is to not judge, to not put parameters around my own thoughts, and to simply follow where my curiosity goes by asking questions and reflecting why things are why they are. I try to record my ideas in my phone even if they're just a spark of an idea. The ideas that nag me the most, I try to honor them by writing down all my thoughts and questions related to it. Lately I've tried not to be protective of my ideas and openly discuss them with other people - friends, artists, strangers to see what triggers them. It's a good way to see if there is interest but also it makes me accountable to follow through with the idea to completion! As you can see, my process as a filmmaker has a lot of contemplation before I even film anything!
MM: What are the challenges you faced with the making of It Runs in the Family?
JC: Generally, a challenge with the film was engaging family members in a discussion on a topic that is very sensitive. Recognizing that the majority of them have never openly talked about issues on homosexuality and religion and the impacts on the family unit, it was a continuous dance of checking in with people's comfort levels and reassuring them that the aim is not to be judgmental but to be open-minded and understanding. That was certainly a challenge for myself too.
Filming in foreign countries was challenging especially in the Philippines. All of my local crew were incredible, compassionate, and professional but it was a steep learning curve for me to quickly learn the culture in Manila, in particular the coding system of vehicles to reduce traffic! I had hired a driver and on the first day of filming he never showed up to pick us up. We found out that his vehicle was "coded" which meant his car wasn't allowed to be on the road on that day! Fortunately, with the help of my relatives we were able to secure another driver on short notice but that was a stressful beginning and put us behind schedule by a couple of hours. I was so happy to have my relatives there to help me out!
MM: If you were to work with any film maker, who would it be?
JC: I think it would be fascinating to work with Wes Anderson and see what his creative process is and how he applies it. His style is so consistent in all his films, so I'm curious how he manages to make the look of each film unique.
MM: What advice can you give our readers who want to pursue film making?
JC: Ask yourself "why?" and ask it often. Why do you want to make films? Particularly in the documentary world, it can be very challenging financially to secure funding for projects but to also pay your rent! Why do you want to tell a particular story? And why should it be you to tell it? So your "why" that's to be pretty strong and compelling.
MM: Where else can the film be seen?