“Whenever I try to start a project, I always ask myself if I’m scared to take it. Because if it doesn’t scare me, it’s not worth doing.”
This fearlessness is the driving force behind award-winning Filipino producer Bianca Balbuena’s projects. Her most recent production is A ‘Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery’, an 8-hour black and white Filipino historical epic. Nobody believed in it and no one wanted to fund it. But through her perseverance, the film premiered at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival and won a Silver Bear award.
Here are our key takeaways from Bianca about making films that matter and her inspiring journey:
#1 – Developing courage under fire
“I would say it’s self-education, I had to learn on my own, make mistakes on my own, and learn how to make money as a producer.”
Although Bianca studied film as a mass communication student in University of the Philippines in Cebu and Manila, there was no better teacher than learning by trial. With dogged determination, she has worked in a range of roles – cinematographer, production assistant, assistant director – before finding her true passion as a producer.
“I think the reason [A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery] was made was because I never gave up. When people see that you’re still pitching them the same project after 3 years, they start to think ‘There must be something in this project; she’s not letting it go’. It gives them faith.”
#2 – Winning over critics, including close family
One of the biggest hurdles at the start of Bianca’s career was her parent’s thought that making films was just her hobby and it wasn’t a suitable career option.
“It took me years to prove to them that film was an industry and a business, not just art. Now that they’ve seen my films on the big screen, and attending film festivals with me, they get a new perspective. They now understand what I do.“
Likewise, the tune of industry peers changed after the critical success of ‘A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery’. She’s since been inundated by collaboration requests and funding offers for future films.
#3 – Awards come and go. The audience is forever.
“The laughters, sighs, tears, gasps and applause inside the theater- quite priceless.”
With 21 films under her belt and international recognition including a nomination for Best Producer of a Foreign Language Film at the Madrid International Film Festival 2015, it is still the audience response that affects her most.
“Say you spend 8 months shooting a film. It’s just you and the director watching and editing, so you don’t know how it’s going to be received. So the most rewarding thing is at any premiere, with an audience with different life experiences, and they laugh and cry at the same scenes. You’re part of this unifying human moment.
“I made them laugh at one moment together, it’s quite an experience.”
#4 -“I’ve learnt to use to my advantage that I’m a woman.”
Bianca describes her role as a producer like one of a mother: nurturing a film from a seed of an idea, to birth, and to the global stage.
“I’ve learnt to use to my advantage that I’m a woman. Whenever I pitch, I try to use my emotional side, my innate nurturing and motherly vibe to command people and closing deals.”
Above all else, she believes that it’s her unbridled passion that collaborators respond to the most.
“You win people over with your aggressive passion. You just have to show them why you love it, then maybe they’ll love it too.”
#5 – The power to change and the responsibility to empower
“[Philippines is a country] with so many issues on a global and local scale. There are so many stories that need to be told. But we keep telling the same stories over and over again, for instance romantic comedies.”
To note, she did produce a very successful romantic comedy ‘That Thing Called Tadhana’ which screened in festivals in Osaka, Bucheon, Guam, San Francisco, Hawaii, Japan, Laos, acquired by iTunes and became the highest grossing Philippine independent film in terms of investment-profit ratio.
When asked if this is an issue of commercial viability, Bianca is unrepentant in her belief that good box-office takes will never be as important as having the power to inspire.
In her opinion, there are enough women in the mainstream Filipino film industry to challenge the mainstream roles of female characters, who are mere decorations to men.
“These women have the power to do something progressive. They have power to influence this change. They will still have an audience and they can empower women.” “Entertainment and film can be an important tool to empower women and, and this is especially relevant as our leaders are being so misogynistic.”
Currently, Bianca is traveling festivals to screen ‘Singing In Graveyards’ which premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. What’s next is ‘Motel Acacia’, a horror film about a sex motel in Spain set against the backdrop of illegal Filipino immigrants in the country. She’s stepping into this new genre in typically fearless fashion.
Read about the two other outstanding personalities featured, the indigenous filmmaker Nadira Ilana and her search for her native Dusun roots
And the accidental filmmaker Ang Geck Geck who shocked everyone with her debut short film on child sexual abuse!