Ed Note: For Hispanic Heritage Month, we wanted to do something different: to honor all people that have Hispanic heritage not just the obvious ones. One of the largest groups that gets ignored are our Filipino brothers and sisters. From history, to language, to food, Filipinos are much closer to Latinos than you might realize. Check out all the reasons Latinos and Filipinos are primos and see our Filipino content here. Even though Hispanic Heritage Month is ending, this list is just in time for Filipino American History Month.
Like our primos from Latin America, Filipino filmmakers have been making a name for themselves in independent and world cinema. Because of our similar-sounding surnames and even Spanish-titled films (take Raya Martin’s Independencia, for instance), you might have wandered into what you thought was a Latino film — only to hear the quasi-familiar sound of Tagalog instead.
Here are some of my favorite Filipino filmmakers now streaming or screening at a festival near you. With Filipino American History Month in full swing, we hope this introductory listicle inspires you to ask your friendly neighborhood Filipinos for their own suggestions. Tara na (let’s go)!
Marissa Aroy | @MarissaAroy
Crowned “one of the most influential women in the world” by the Filipino Network, this Emmy Award-winning documentarian has covered stories from Sikh-Americans to Paraguayo musicians. Her newest film sheds light on the often-overshadowed Filipino-Americans who played a pivotal role in the American farm labor movement and the United Farmworkers union.
Delano Manongs: The Forgotten Heroes of the UFW
For fans of this Philippine art house favorite film is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. That’s because this master from Mindanao has sustained audiences around the world with fascinating feature-length films, emphasis on the llength. Example: his four-hour epic reimagining of Dostoevskya’s Crime and Punishment that screened in theUn Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival.
Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan
Norte, the End of History
Ramona Diaz | @CineDiaz
Award-winning filmmaker Diaz explores the Filipino experience from all angles, from major figures like the controversial former First Lady Imelda Marcos to unsung heroes like overseas educators struggling far from home. Her latest character-driven documentary focusing on Journey frontman Arnel Pineda was nominated for Gotham’s Audience Award, while her next project addresses reproductive health policies in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.
Don’t Stop Believin’ (Everyman’s Journey)
Jess dela Merced | @HYPEBEASTSmovie
Up-and-coming filmmaker dela Merced made a splash this year with her short film, Hypebeasts, while still completing her MFA program at NYU. In addition to working with Spike Lee on her thesis film, she was recently featured at last month’s IFP Market at the prestigious RBC’s Emerging Storytellers program to pitch her first feature-length film — a coming-of-age story set in Detroit.
Stephen Dypiangco & Patrick Epino @NatFilmSociety
Both are filmmakers in their own right, yet this pair is best known for their offbeat PBS-syndicated web series, the National Film Society. Besides their mutual opinion that La Bamba is the Greatest Movie Ever! — this dynamic duo’s shared love for childhood action films inspired their Kickstarter-funded comedy Awesome Asian Bad Guys.
Awesome Asian Bad Guys
Hannah Espia | @HannahEspia
While female directors (sadly) remain few and far between, Hannah Espia represents what we hope to be the future of women in film. Her debut film, which she wrote, directed, and edited, looks at the impact of immigration on the children of foreign workers in Israel and was the Philippines’ foreign language submission to the Oscars.
Raya Martin | @RayaMartin
The prolific and internationally-acclaimed Martin has more than a dozen films to his name and was the subject of several retrospectives around the world — all at the ripe old age of 30. He is considered one of the most distinctive voices to emerge from the Philippine New Wave. Though he has co-produced films in Spain (Buenas Noches, España) and Argentina (La Ultima Pelicula), his work mainly focuses on the Philippines — and we hope it continues to do so.
How To Disappear Completely
H.P. Mendoza | @hpmendoza
After gaining recognition (and an Independent Spirit Award nomination) for musical films focusing on gay and Asian American characters, S.F. Bay Area-based Mendoza departed from his perceived niche with the haunting I am a Ghost. An impressive low-budget feature shot entirely in San Francisco, the film picked up the Audience Award at film festivals in Madrid and Nice and earned Mendoza a nod as the Best New Horror Director (by SF Weekly.)
I Am a Ghost
Diane Paragas | @DianeParagas
NYC-based filmmaker Paragas partnered with cultural critic Nelson George to produce the documentary Brooklyn Boheme, which showcased the borough’s vibrant black artistic community and premiered on Showtime as part of Black History Month. In addition to directing and producing for BET, CBS, and MTV — to name a few — Houston-born Paragas is currently working on a narrative feature about a young undocumented Filipino girl in the heart of Texas.
Jose Antonio Vargas | @joseiswriting
This Pulitzer Award-winning journalist became part of the national immigration debate when he publicly revealed his undocumented status in a 2011 New York Times essay. His autobiographical documentary, appropriately titled Documented, was broadcast on CNN earlier this year and he is rumored to be working with MTV on a new social issue project.
For a crash course in Filipino art house favorites, check out the Siskel Film Center’s recent series on Filipino cinema: New Directions/New Auteurs.
Theresa Navarro wears many hats as a Filipina American arts professional, organizer, educator, producer, and actress.