This month, Cinema Asian America on Xfinity On Demand presents Bay Area-filmmaker Mona Lisa Yuchengco’s moving portrait of celebrated Filipino filmmaker Marilou Diaz-Abaya, “Filmmaker on a Voyage.” Diaz-Abaya, who passed away in 2012, was one of the most prolific filmmakers in the Philippines from the 1980s-2000s and certainly its most influential female director. During her career, she directed more than twenty-one feature length films, and was acclaimed for her social consciousness and commitment to telling stories that were untold in Philippine popular media, from the 2001 “Bagong Buwan” (New Moon) which explored the experiences of the Muslim communities in Mindinao, to her 1999 portrait, “Jose Rizal,” which told the story of the Filipino national hero.
This is the first feature documentary made by Yuchengo, the former publisher of the ground-breaking Filipino American magazine, Filipinas. She discussed her relationship with Diaz-Abaya, and what inspired her to make this film.
For those readers who have not had an opportunity to see the films of Marilou Diaz-Abaya, what was her significance as an artist to the Philippines’ national consciousness and to world cinema in general?
MY: She captures the soul of the Filipino from its depths and gives it hope and purpose. She shows us the significant human experience (SHE) in ways we have not experienced before. She also imbues her films with love, sacrifice and redemption so every human being can relate to it from all kinds of existence.
How did you meet Marilou Diaz-Abaya and why was it important for you personally to make this film about her?
MY: Marilou was my sister-in-law. Her husband and my first husband are brothers. When she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, I felt it was important to record her achievements. After all, she is one of our best Philippine directors, an icon in the industry, and we need to honor and pay tribute to her. She also wanted to impart some messages to the next generation before she died.
You worked for many years in print journalism, as the publisher of Filipinas Magazine; what inspired you to begin working with moving images and sound to tell stories?
MY: When I sold Filipinas Magazine in 2005, I missed telling stories, especially stories about our community. I thought movies could be the next medium for this. Marilou gave me a crash course on filmmaking before she died. About a year ago, I launched an online magazine, PosotivelyFilipino.com, that tells stories about the Filipino, wherever she/he is, a window on the diaspora.
What is exciting to you right now, in Filipino / Filipino American culture and the arts? Who are taking the mantle from Diaz-Abaya and moving the conversation forward?
MY: There are many independent filmmakers now who are making their mark in terms of content and technical creativity. Since funding is so difficult to secure, they are more creative in expressing their ideas. The only director I know of on the same league as Brocka, Bernal and Diaz-Abaya is Mike De Leon, but he is not as prolific and is not outspoken. I also like very much recent films such as
Ron Morales’ “Graceland,” Erik Matti’s “On The Job,” and Marlon Rivera’s “Woman in the Septic Tank.”
What are you working on now?
MY: I am working on two films right now, as the executive producer, both documentaries. The first one is on a Filipino American, born without arms, but is a licensed pilot who flies with her feet. The second one is historical on the Buffalo Soldiers. These were African American soldiers who were sent to the Philippines during the Philippine American War but broke ranks with the US military because they refused to kill their “same skin” brothers. About 1,200 of them remained in the Philippines and we are meeting some of their descendants. Actor Danny Glover is part of the team behind this movie.