• Interviews

HFPA in Conversation: Isabel Sandoval – Exploring Power and Privilege

Filipino-American filmmaker Isabel Sandoval found her voice as an artist when she was making and editing Lingua Franca, a film about an undocumented Filipina trans woman who works as a caregiver for an elderly Russian woman in Brooklyn. Sandoval tells HFPA journalist Janet Nepales that she was truly intuitive during the process.

“I am at my best and I am at my most and in my most creative element when I just listen to my gut instinct and my intuition. The creative choices and decisions that I made were not always by design or deliberate, but it was just what felt right to me as I was making it. I was trying to make a film that satisfied my own high standards and expectations of myself, both as an artist and as a cinephile.”

In 2019 she became the first transgender woman of color to compete at the Venice Film Festival. Recently Lingua Franca was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards and she won the Best Narrative Feature at the 6th Annual Geena Davis’ Bentonville Film Festival. In her films, Sandoval highlights women who are disempowered and marginalized in a fraught socio-political setting.

“My films explore themes of power and privilege and especially the difference, the power differentials between characters in my films. In Lingua Franca for instance, although it has the framework of a romantic drama, within the intimate romantic relationship between Alex and Olivia, because one of them is a trans women of color and an undocumented immigrant, while the other is white and is an American citizen, the power that they now mix within the confines of that relationship, can serve as a microcosm of the political forces and kind of indifference in the power of the people in America on a wider scope or level.”

She believes that with audacity and tenacity it is possible to overcome challenges. “When underrepresented voices and minority artists and storytellers really take the reins and really take control over the stories that we tell about our communities, that art that we make is truly moving and powerful and transcendent.”

Listen to the podcast and hear how she benefited from a psychology and business education and how she became a filmmaker; what is the first movie she remembers seeing in   a cinema; which filmmakers she admires; what was her mother’s reaction when she heard that Isabel wanted  to make movies; how she learned to be independent and where she learned to embrace the fact that  she is different; why she came out twice to her mother; what kind of student she was; how she got the title The Queen of Sensual Cinema; why it is important for her to tell Filipino-American stories and why there are more possibilities for minority films now than before; how she advocates against crimes towards Asian-Americans; why she moved from New York to North Carolina; what advice she would give her younger self; what is her upcoming short film Shangri-LA about; and what is she doing next.