By Roleen Camille Delos Reyes
Transit, n. – the act of moving people or things from one place to another
That is the Merriam Webster definition of the word. But at 16, Hannah Espia found the film All About Lily Chou-Chou as her own definition of what “moving” really is. It then became a mission to be that filmmaker capable of making movies that can actually bring people out of the bounds of their realities.
Hannah Espia’s Cinemalaya entry titled Transit is about the family of an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) facing the woes of a deportation law in Israel – a place famed for its sacred roots but not spectacular enough to cover personal hurdles and a strained family dynamics.
Espia, a Film graduate from the University of the Philippines Diliman, won as best director for Cinemalaya 2013. Her thesis production, Ruweda, was also given the Audience Choice Award for the short film category in the film festival in 2012.
The young filmmaker said Transit was inspired by one her travels to Israel, as her family makes a living from organizing tours to the Holy Land.
“During one of my trips to Israel, I met an OFW who was bringing his baby to Manila because of the deportation law. Curious, I started doing research with my co-writer Gian Abrahan and we started writing a story based on that,” she recalled.
Despite finding a story that she could easily chase, filmmaking was not an easy task. Espia shared that shooting abroad meant sending people aboard to Israel and working with a minimal crew. Her only solace was being with the OFWs.
“In Israel, we worked with what we had. The OFW community in Israel helped us a lot,” she said.
Despite the hardships, she described the Transit crew as a “fun bunch.” Since most of them were fresh from film school, they were all excited and passionate workers.
“One of our cinematographers, Lyle Sacris, was our teacher, and some days we felt like we were doing our internship. Paul (Soriano) is a great producer, and although he is a director himself, in this film he really gave me creative freedom and made sure that I was able to tell the story as best as I could,” the young filmmaker shared.
The hard work eventually gave birth to a beautiful film that won as Cinemalaya’s best new breed film, with its lead stars bagging trophies as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. Transit also won as the Audience Choice, the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NetPac) Prize and a special citation for ensemble acting.
However, Transit’s crowning glory was being chosen as the official entry of the Philippines to the Foreign-Language Film category of the Oscars.
Espia said after Cinemalaya, the production team got a letter from the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) about a recommendation for Transit. Thus, they sent a screener.
FAP is a seven-member committee tasked to select the country’s entry to the Academy Awards in the United States, better known as the Oscars. The FAP is chaired by renowned director Peque Gallaga, and is composed of veteran filmmakers and artists, such as Gina Alajar, Robert Arevalo, Jess Navarro, Elwood Perez, Jose Carreon and Willie Mayo.
To be qualified to the Oscars, Espia said they had to have a commercial run of the film. Her producer Paul Soriano thought it was worth risking it – and with good foresight.
Being shortlisted by the FAP shocked the Transit team, even so when their film was chosen as the country’s official entry.
“We weren’t even in the shortlist because we were a last-minute entry. So we were really surprised when we found out,” she said.
Transit figured with the films On The Job by Erik Matti and Thy Womb by Brillante Mendoza in a three-way fight as the Filipino entry to the Oscars.
Other films that made the 2013 FAP shortlist were Supremo, El Presidente, Dance of the Steelbars, Boses, Ekstra and Tiktik: the Aswang Chronicles.
Earlier this October, Transit was shown at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. It will also be screened at the Tokyo Film Ex from Nov. 23 to Dec.1.
Final nominations for the Oscars will be announced on Jan. 16, 2014, while the winners will be awarded in March at the United States.
Until then, Espia looks forward to what may as well be a very exciting time as her team makes Transit known all over the world.
“Transit has always been the “little film” that surprised us, so hopefully it will keep surprising us in the next few months,” she said.
Transit will be screened at the UP Cine Adarna from Nov. 6 to 9. The Nov. 8 screening will feature an open forum with Espia, along with the film cast and production staff.