Filipino actress wins Gimli Film Festival’s emerging filmmaker award

By | July 27, 2020

A Filipino actress in Winnipeg says she’s honoured that her own story of a difficult mother-daughter relationship won a prestigious emerging filmmaker award.

Joanne Roberts, 29, took home $15,000 in prizes when she won the Emerging Filmmaker Pitch Competition at the 2020 Gimli Film Festival on Saturday. 

“Just being able to get my foot in the door and be able to tell these stories about unspoken issues, about stigmatized issues, it’s a wonderful feeling,” she said. 

The concept for her five-minute short film, Anak, is exploring what she calls “the grey area of a loving relationship” and the ways mental illness, a cultural divide and intergenerational trauma can make healthy love difficult.

“When you think about a mother-daughter relationship, especially, you think about an abundance of unconditional love, and sometimes that’s not the case,” she said.

“Sometimes parents don’t get it right, sometimes children don’t get it right.” 

Anak follows the story of Mia who is in a session with her therapist, Jane. Together they discuss the relationship Mia has with her mother, who has just moved in with her under the false pretense that she would also go to therapy. Mia wants to forge a healthy relationship but, Roberts says, “unfortunately that’s something the mother is unable to give.”

“The key moment of this film is this woman deciding if she wants to sacrifice the relationship she has with her mother or to sacrifice her mental health and wellbeing to pursue what is ultimately an unhealthy relationship.”

Roberts says the concept is autobiographical. She’s not in touch with her own mother.

“It’s absolutely really, really heart-wrenching. When I write this script I can’t help but get really emotional,” she said.

“It’s really cathartic as well though, exploring these emotions, coming to terms with them.”

Roberts says she feels liberated to share a common experience in Asian cultures that isn’t often talked about.

“To be able to sort of break the lid on it, to be able to talk about it, because it’s a very unspoken issue, especially in Asian culture. It’s a very secretive culture,” she said.

Roberts’ pitch was selected out of 24 applicants. Four others were short listed for the prize which helps artists bridge the gap from emerging to established, and supports organizations that provide the best opportunity to advance their career trajectory. 

Roberts was awarded $10,000 to help cover production costs, a mentorship with industry professionals from the National Screen Institute – Canada, a one-year membership with On Screen Manitoba and a $5,000 gift certificate to William F. White International to rent motion picture equipment.

Anak will be screened at next year’s Gimli Film Festival.

Virtual film festival

The festival this year was quite different in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In past years festival-goers flocked to Gimli Beach to take in the films, but this year about 3,000 people tuned in from home.

“It’s one for my personal memory books, that’s for sure. It’s what we had to do this year and there is a downside and an upside,” said festival director Aaron Zeghers.

This year’s Gimli Film Festival looked different than past years as movie-lovers tuned in from home rather than from the beach. (Gimli Film Festival/Facebook)

Roberts wasn’t the only winner of the Emerging Filmmaker Pitch Competition whose talents were showcased at the Festival.

The 2019 winner, Matthew van Ginkel, premiered his short film First Session that he created using the prize he was awarded.

The short film follows a protagonist struggling with mental illness and his choice to pursue therapy. 

“The Gimli Film Festival is here to support emerging filmmakers, here to support local filmmakers, young filmmakers and this [prize] is one way that we’re able to do that,” Zeghers said.

“It’s always really exciting to see these young filmmakers really get this opportunity that can be hard to come by.”

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