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HFPA in Conversation: Documentarian Ramona Diaz Trusts the Moment

Filipino-American documentary filmmaker Ramona Diaz grew up watching western cinema. She tells HFPA journalist Ruben Nepales that she went to movies every Saturday with her dad. When she saw François Truffaut’s Day for Night she knew she wanted to be a director. “It’s a film within a film, it’s a film about making a film. It was like summer camp for adults and people were paid to do that. I want to do that, and I want to be Francois Truffaut. Because he was in the movie as a director, so I was like “that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

Later Diaz got interested in documentaries.“Documentary filmmaking is very Zen, you really have to be in the moment and trust the moment. Sometimes you can’t control it, it unfolds in front of the lens. But as a director, I still have to direct your gaze, that’s what directors do, they direct a gaze. So even if life is unfolding in front of the lens and you are very Zen and life is happening, you still have to know where to put the camera. You still have to know what you are seeing through the lens, and you still have to communicate that to your cinematographer.”

She loves getting to know the people she films, like journalist Maria Ressa and singer Arnel Pineda. “You always have to really be like three steps ahead of the situation to see where it’s going to go. That’s why I love getting to know the people I film because sometimes I can read them. At some point I know where they are going to go, I know how they are going to react.

Listen to the podcast and hear how she describes Imelda Marcos, former First Lady of the Philippines; what kind of memories she has from receiving a student Oscar for her documentary Spirits RisingThe Learning, about Americans recruiting teachers from the Philippines; why Don’t Stop Believin: Everyman’s Journey  documentary about rock fairy Arnel Pineda was a challenging production; what kind of solidarity she witnessed between new mothers while filming MotherlandA Thousand Cuts