5 Contemporary Filipina Directors To Watch For Women’s Month
The film industry, even during its former days, has always been male-dominated both internationally and locally. It wasn’t until more recent years that women started to occupy space too—rightly so. Women directors started to receive recognition. The production of films also had a drastic increase in women’s utilization: female cinematographers, writers, editors, and all. Even all-female film productions are now also a thing. Now, we have countless bodies of works in the film created by women. We are in a new era.
What better way it is to celebrate Women’s Month than by binge-watching all these contemporary Filipina directors;
Dwein Baltazar started in the industry as a stylist for both film and TV. After three years of that work, she had to remind herself why she was in the field—had to ask herself what was her goal. So after that, she returned to writing and submitted to different grant-giving bodies to kick-start her career as a filmmaker. The rest was history, as she is now one of the most recognized directors of her current generation. Her works embody the dawn of deeply contemplative films in the current times. She has a different way of evoking loneliness and singularity, proven in her two films in 2018.
In 2012, she was able to debut her first film, Mamay Umeng, at Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival. In 2018, Baltazar had a breakthrough as she was able to release two big and successful films just within a year. Gusto Kita With All My Hypothalamus debuted at CineFilipino Film Festival, it went on to win Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay in FAMAS! On the other hand, Oda Sa Wala debuted in the QCinema Film Festival, where it went on to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actress.
Most of Martika Escobar’s works are reflections of her relationship with cinema. Her works are always one of a kind, surreal with a touch of weirdness. After she graduated with honors from the University of the Philippines, her thesis film competed at the 19th Busan International Film Festival. She is also an alumna of Berlinale Talents Tokyo, Asian Film Academy, and is a recipient of the Purin Pictures Film Fund.
Escobar broke through the local scene with her short film Pusong Bato, in 2015. It competed in the Cinemalaya Film Festival 2015 and won the balanhai trophy for Best Short Film. In 2020, she returned with Living Things, a short film that features a woman whose boyfriend became a cardboard standee. Living Things went on to receive the balanghai trophy for Best Short Film Again. Martika broke the international scene in 2022 with her debut full-length feature film, Leonor Will Never Die. She became the first Filipino filmmaker to win at Sundance as she received the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award.
There’s no denying Antoinette Jadaone’s impact on the contemporary film scene. Best known for spearheading the hugot era of films, Jadaone’s crafts usually explore the sensibilities of love through a fresh rom-com style. Many new directors recognize her influence over their crafts, in terms of handling romance. For example, That Thing Called Tadhana is a love letter to the abandoned, told in the form of a travelogue that spans Rome, Manila, Baguio, Sagada, and back to Manila. After that, a few other directors followed the travelogue rom-com path.
Jadaone started her streak of hit films in 2011, with her Cinema One Originals film Six Degrees of Separation From Lilia Cuntapay. The film won Audience Award, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Editing at the said film festival. It was in 2014 when Jadaone changed the game with That Thing Called Tadhana. She shifted a genre, creating romcom 2.0 in the Philippines. She went on to direct a few other immensely recognized romance films, like Never Not Love You and Alone/Together. Her influence is felt through a decade-span of films inspired by her direction. Nevertheless, Jadaone cannot be caged inside just one genre. In 2020, she released the semi-political film Fan Girl, which bagged plenty of awards at the Manila Film Festival, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Irene Villamor started her career with the help of Antoinette Jadaone. Villamor co-directed one of Jadaone’s films, Relaks, It’s Just Pag-ibig, and went on to be one of the leading directors we have right now. Needless to say, Villamor also became a prominent voice in the film industry, and much like Jadaone, she also molded the romance genre that we are witnessing now. Her films, even when always tackling heartbreak, are also able to explore self-love and womanhood.
Meet Me in St. Gallen was one of the first few films that proved Villamor’s prowess in directing films in the romance and heartbreak genre. Her writing also stands out as she usually brings out the most quotable heartbreaking lines in her films. This was shown in Sid & Aya: Not A Love Story. In 2019, when she directed Ulan, the genre shifted again, as she was able to incorporate self-love and womanhood in the character of Maya, played by Nadine Lustre. Ulan is still one of the most inspiring and captivating contemporary romance films in the country. The way Villamor was able to mix folklore-inspired childlike sensibilities with adult romance—was truly unbelievable!
In contrast to the former directors, Rae Red’s works are more angsty and darker, but still on the right path of exhibiting womanhood. Red’s works are consistently feminist in ideation. In her debut short film, Luna, she tells the story of a girl going through puberty, on a mission to do the one thing her mother has always forbidden her to do: cut off her hair.
Rae Red directed her first feature-length film, titled Si Chedeng at Si Apple. She directed this along with Fatrick Tabada. It tackles two women in their 60s, trying to run away from a crime—but it’s a dark comedy. It went on to win Best First Feature in Young Critics Circle. In 2019, Rae Red directed the action-thriller Babae At Baril. Being in faith to her gritty feminism, it tells the story of a saleslady who had enough of being an underdog, discovering how much power owning a gun can give her. The film went on to win Best Picture and Best Actress in FAMAS and Gawad Urian, also winning Best Director in Gawad Urian.
How about you? Do you have your favorite Filipina director that we should watch this Women’s Month? Let us know!
Xian Oquendo is a free-spirited writer and camera-person from Manila. His passion connects facets of poetry and visuals. Whether inside the cinema or in the groove of the city's streets, he is always in the pursuit of the transcendental.