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Philippine Embassy debuts Cinemalaya Winner “Transit” in Berlin Print E-Mail
Written by Philippine Embassy Webmaster   
Wednesday, 22 April 2015
Berlin, 10 April 2015.  In celebration of National Women’s Month and National Heroes Day, the Philippine Embassy in collaboration with the Philippine Studies Series Berlin welcomed Hannah Espia to Berlin for the screening of her 2013 Cinemalaya-winning film “Transit”, which was also the Philippine submission to the 2014 Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category.  Ambassador Melita Sta. Maria-Thomeczek welcomed an eclectic mix of students, artists as well as members of the Filipino community who joined the packed screening room at the Kino Moviemento, Germany’s oldest cinema.  Ambassador Sta. Maria-Thomeczek hoped the audience would gain a better appreciation of the sacrifices and persevering spirit of Overseas Filipino Workers, many of whom are separated from the families.  The film was followed by a question and answer session moderated by Ms. Rosa Castillo, the convener of the Philippine Studies Series Berlin, with Ms. Espia at the Kino Moviemento Lounge.  Ten17P and Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment granted the Embassy special rights to screen the film for free. Transit, which has featured in the Busan, Tokyo, Jerusalem and Palm Springs film festivals explores the intersecting stories of Filipinos in Tel Aviv when the threat of a law deporting the children of migrant workers looms in their precarious lives. Janet (Irma Adlawan) a domestic worker on an expired visa, struggles to hide her half-Israeli daughter, Yael (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), a rebellious teenager caught up in a juvenile romance. Most endangered in the situation is four-year old Joshua (Marc Justine Alvarez), whom Janet and Yael protect because the boy’s father, Moises (Ping Medina), works on weekdays as a caregiver in the city of Herzliya. The film also explores the life of a young lady, Tina (Mercedes Cabral), who arrives to start a new life in Israel.  Transit examines what it means to be a family and what it means to be a stranger, within one's home and in a foreign land.

Richard Kuipers of Variety.com provided his take on the film: “Centered on desperate measures taken by Filipino parents to prevent the forced removal of their Israeli-born, Hebrew-speaking children, this gracefully directed and inventively edited picture represents an impressive debut for helmer and co-scripter Hannah Espia... 'Transit' also speaks to the broader picture of displaced people - whether refugees, asylum seekers or foreign workers - who have left their homeland in search of a better life."


Before the screening, the Embassy sat down with Hannah Espia for a chat on Transit’s genesis and her next project

.1. There isn't too much information on you on the internet.  What's your origin story?  What drew you into filmmaking?  
I graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Film and Audiovisual Communication in 2012.   I was always interested in culture and the arts.  My dad is a musician; he’s been Gary Valenciano’s guitarist for the past 20 years while my mom’s parents were missionaries so she lived in places like Nepal and Bangladesh.  So, growing up, my parents were very supportive of my artistic endeavors like ballet, painting and theater.  Ultimately, I felt drawn to film, which is a combination of all these art forms. 

I’m also a big fan of Japanese cinema and I love the works of Shunji Iwai, particularly his film “All About Lily Chou.”  I’m drawn to Japanese cinema because they are so precise and detailed and I like how their films are so silent.  Their cinema is also tonally different to Hollywood films but still accessible to Asian audiences.

2. What inspired you and your collaborator, Giancarlo Abrahan, to make Transit?

I wasn’t too sure whether I would pursue a career in film, so after graduating from university, I started working for my mom.  Our family has a tour company that focuses on “Holy Land” tours so I had the opportunity to visit Israel a number of times.  On one of my visits, I was waiting for my flight back to Manila at the Tel Aviv airport.  I ran into an OFW who was bringing his three month old baby back to the Philippines.  His baby was quite unsettled during the flight and people were getting quite concerned.  The father explained “bawal kasi magkapamilya in Israel” and he later informed us that because of new Israeli regulations, his wife had recently brought back their other child to the Philippines and this time was his turn. 

His story sparked my interest so I began to delve a bit deeper into the Israeli law created in 2009, which prescribes the deportation of children of foreign workers who do not meet a specific criteria.  The criteria includes factors like being in Israel before the age of 13, whether the child speaks Hebrew, and whether the child has had five years of residency in the country.  I began to think of what would happen if a child had been in Israel for only four years.  Working with Giancarlo, the story began to evolve from there.

3. Transit is largely focused on two Filipino families based in Israel.  In the movie, you tackle issues like identity, integration and “status”, specifically the grey area of irregular immigration status. What personal insights have you gained after Transit as an Overseas Filipino now living in Europe?

This is a really difficult question that’s stumped me.  I’ve really been thinking that what we should address is the motivation of Filipinos in leaving the country.  However, I suppose the biggest take away I’ve had from making the movie is that there should be laws or regulations that allow for families to be together.

4. We heard that Transit was filmed in the span of nine days.  How did you guys manage to produce the movie under such tight time constraints?

We shot the film in nine days with a 14 person crew.  We really didn’t sleep.  It was effectively a non-stop shoot. We used multiple cameras because we could not afford having multiple takes of each scene. We actually got a lot of help from the local Filipino community and we even shot in their apartments.  To cut down on costs, we worked with a tour company, which helped us secure film permits.  That said, we still did a lot of guerilla shots.  There was one scene where we got on a public bus and shot a scene.  The locals probably assumed that we were tourists.

The Filipino actors had about six (6) weeks of prep time before we went over to Israel.  We wrote the script in English and then asked our Israeli friend to translate dialogue into Hebrew.  He also phonetically spelled out the pronunciation of the words so the actors could memorize their lines better.  We also had Hebrew audio samples and Skype sessions with our Hebrew coach so that the actors could get a sense of the accent and inflection. 

5. What are your future plans?  Do you have any upcoming projects in the pipeline?

My next project is about a Filipina moving to Europe to live with her boyfriend and his parents.  I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from my experience living in Bratislava, Slovakia the last four months.