While some might dismiss filmmaking as mere entertainment, when women find a platform, the results can be palpable and highly significant: A Girl in the River, directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, told the story of a girl who survived after her own dad and brother tried to murder her as part of the practice of “honor killings” in Pakistan. The documentary got international traction–including an Oscar win in 2016–and the Prime Minister eventually changed the law.
Another such visionary: Isabel Sandoval, a New York-based Filipino filmmaker who focuses on stories of the marginalized. Her critically acclaimed film Apparition will be featured at the the MOMA in New York for the retrospective around Philippine contemporary cinema starting tomorrow, June 1.
Apparitionspeaks of the unsung heroes of the Marcos revolution in the Philippines in the 1980s: a group of rebel nuns who helped oust a dictator under the chaos of his regime (yeah, they’re some seriously badass nuns).
Isabel didn’t enter the world of filmmaking with connections or money. At age 26, she was working an unfulfilling job in marketing, and decided enough was enough; she was going to pursue her passion for film.
Since then, Isabel’s films have won awards at the Asian-American Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, the Deauville Asian Film Festival and the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema. She’s presently at work on her next film focusing on an immigrant transgender woman and her struggles in America. We caught up with Isabel ahead of the Filipino Independent Film Festival at the MOMA, which will run June 1 through June 25:
How did you break into the film industry?
I didn’t go to film school. My film school was watching films. The value in that is doing your own exploration and finding your own voice, instead of absorbing an academic teacher’s vision spread across generations of students. I’ve always been passionate about movies, and I launched a Filipino film festival in New York, which ended up opening many doors for me. I was able to meet all kinds of amazing people who made me understand the ropes and the process, and we later became friends. When I spoke to them about my ideas, they were all excited to give me a hand.
A still from Apparition
The independent film industry attracts a lot of passionate people who depend a lot on favors. Whether we like the boys’ club model of Hollywood or not, the reality is the film industry is a friends’ club, and you need to make friends first before finding your way.
Do you have any other advice to get started in film?
This is totally unofficial, but here’s a tip: If there’s a film director you admire, email them and offer them to volunteer. Granted, maybe not Jim Jarmush, but most indie filmmakers do need help. You will not only learn from the best, but be a truly valuable player in making their lives easy. You will make connections and be forever seen as the one who donated their time to elevate a director’s mission. Consider your services as the best investment in your future.
Also, check out the support group for female filmmakers, Film Fatales.
Why is representation in film important?
It gives women the opportunity to become thought leaders and create their own vocabulary for the world to use. Women need to break the rules and shift the paradigm. Women can finally carve out their own identity and influence the world.
What does it take to truly make change?
Having more female filmmakers is half the battle, because we need to create the demand first. What we really need is female buyers to finance projects, female distributors to reach a mass audience, and female critics to raise the awareness. Not just filmmakers. Support is needed on all fronts.
Is there a formula for success?
Success starts with original, offbeat material that’s not in the market. All Hollywood franchises emerged from innovative and fresh ideas. You don’t want to make a career imitating others.
No matter what your definition of success is, it’s important to have integrity as a filmmaker—and have a body of work you can be proud of.
Isabel Sandoval will be giving a Q&A after the projection ofApparition at the MOMA in New York on June 4.
Check out the other amazing independent films showing there in June: A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema.
Follow Isabel on Twitter and Instagram.