In the ever-evolving landscape of independent cinema, Joyce Lao, a proud Igorot woman hailing from the Ibaloi tribe, has left an indelible mark with her cinematic masterpiece, "Eva's Gabriel." This compelling film, where Joyce played a pivotal role as co-writer, producer, and lead actor, recently secured four prestigious awards, including Best Acting Ensemble at the New York International Film Awards and Best Male Director, Best Drama Short, and Best Short Film at the Rango and Golden Beach Film Festival.
A Narrative Born Amidst Turbulence
The genesis of "Eva's Gabriel" unfolded against the backdrop of the tumultuous COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns, and the fervent social movements such as Stop Asian Hate and Black Lives Matter. Collaborating with her producing partner, Buali Shah, and their dedicated team, Joyce embarked on a creative journey that not only sought to captivate audiences but also aimed to mirror the socio-political tapestry of contemporary times.
The Enigmatic Plot
The heart of the narrative revolves around Eva, portrayed by Joyce, a woman in her 30s thrust into government-mandated house arrest following her arrest at a protest. As martial law unfolds, Eva's resilience takes center stage. The storyline takes a poignant turn as she discovers solace in a drawing named Eva Jr., a companion in her solitude.
The plot thickens when Eva establishes a connection with Gabriel, separated by a wall, leading to a profound bond. Months later, with the announcement of freedom for those under house arrest, Eva's jubilation transforms into bewilderment as she realizes Gabriel's inexplicable absence.
"Eva's Gabriel" is her fourth short film.
"Even though this film is not focused on my Igorot and Filipino identity, I and my producing partner, Buali who is a Pakistani-American, showed that we can also play characters and roles that are not culture-centric. We can also play and write roles that are typically played by white and other BIPOC actors," she added.
The film also stars Anna Bredikhina, Mugisha Feruzzi, and Sonny Chatrath. It is produced by Real Ally Productions, a collaborative project between Real Reel Productions and the Ally Artists Group.
Accolades Speak Louder Than Words
The acclaim garnered by "Eva's Gabriel" at renowned film festivals speaks volumes about its excellence. Best Acting Ensemble at the New York International Film Awards and a trio of awards, including Best Male Director and Best Short Film, at the Rango and Golden Beach Film Festival, underscore the impactful storytelling and stellar performances that define this cinematic gem.
The Journey of Joyce Lao: A Tapestry of Resilience and Transformation
Joyce Lao's journey, encapsulated in the unfolding narrative of "Eva's Gabriel," is not merely a cinematic triumph but a compelling saga of resilience and transformation.
Joyce Lao, born with the legal name Joyce Laoagan, is an Indigenous-Filipino American, proud Igorota from the Ibaloi tribe, with roots deeply embedded in Baguio City and Benguet, Philippines. In the early chapters of her career in the vibrant landscape of New York City, Joyce faced formidable challenges. Auditioning under her legal name, she found little success despite her seasoned background as a performer. It was a fortuitous encounter with a music producer that led her to adopt the American-sounding surname Logan. Eventually, she made a significant decision to craft the stage name Lao, a name both easy to remember and a concise reflection of her legal identity.
Overcoming Discrimination: A Source of Ambition
Growing up, Joyce confronted discrimination even in her hometown due to her indigenous heritage. Undeterred, she channeled these experiences into a driving force for ambition, striving for more in life. Despite hailing from a traditional family where the arts weren't encouraged, Joyce initially contemplated careers in law or medicine. However, her passion led her down a different path.
Academic Pursuits and Artistic Evolution
Joyce's academic journey includes a Master's in Music, shaping her into a multifaceted artist, embracing dance, music, and, more recently, earning her second MA in Arts Administration from Baruch College.
Navigating Challenges in the Entertainment Industry
Joyce's entry into acting and production unfolded a decade ago during a U.S. talent contest. However, even with an agent, she encountered a stark reality - casting calls predominantly favored non-Asians. If roles were for Asians, they were primarily tailored for East Asian actors fluent in Chinese or Japanese.
Embracing Identity and Defying Expectations
As a Filipino artist, Joyce faced the paradoxical demand to eliminate her slight Filipino accent to sound American or to learn Spanish for roles with a Latina identity. Reflecting on this pressure, she initially sought accent reduction coaching but later chose a different path. Unwilling to compromise her authenticity and recognizing the limited opportunities for Latin-speaking actors, Joyce boldly decided to enter the entertainment industry as herself.
"I thought it was interesting that they wanted me to sound totally American. They also wanted me to sound totally Filipino as well. Since my accent is in the middle of both... I did not want to take away opportunities from the Latin-speaking actors. So, I just wrote and produced my own thing."
In the grand tapestry of Joyce Laoagan's life, each thread is a testament to resilience, authenticity, and the unwavering commitment to break free from societal expectations. As "Eva's Gabriel" unfolds on the cinematic stage, it mirrors Joyce's personal journey, resonating with universal themes of transformation and the power of embracing one's true identity.
In the Tapestry of Triumph
In each frame of "Eva's Gabriel," resilience, authenticity, and a commitment to breaking free from the shackles of stereotypes are interwoven. Joyce Laoagan's triumph transcends a personal milestone; it serves as a guiding light for diverse voices in the cinematic landscape. As "Eva's Gabriel" continues its global captivation, it stands as a testament to the transformative power of storytelling, transcending boundaries and presenting narratives that resonate universally with the human experience.