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Short film created by an Igorota wins International Awards

A short film co-written, produced, and starring Joyce Lao, an Igorot woman, received multiple awards from prestigious film festivals this year.

 |  5 min read

A short film co-written, produced, and starring Joyce Lao, an Igorot woman, received multiple awards from prestigious film festivals this year.

"Eva's Gabriel", a short film co-written, produced, and played the lead role by Joyce Lao, a proud Igorot woman from the Ibaloi tribe, has won numerous awards at the New York International Film Awards and the Rango and Golden Beach Film Festival.

The short film was written by Joyce at a time when Covid was spreading around the country amid the lockdown, the Stop Asian hate campaign, and before the Black Lives Matter marches. She was quite shocked that the details she wrote on the film was happening while she was planning to start the film production with her producing partner, Buali Shah, and her team.

Joyce Laoagan and BuAli Shah in Eva's Gabriel (2021)

The film won four awards, including Best Acting Ensemble at the New York International Film Awards; Best Male Director, Best Drama Short, and Best Short Film at the Rango and Golden Beach Film Festival. Her co-creator, Buali Shah, is the film director.


The story is about Eva, played by Joyce, a woman in her 30's is arrested from a protest and brought to a government-owned apartment complex for a mandated house arrest. She tries to fight to no avail.

During this event, martial law is declared. After several days, she learns to accept her situation with the hopes of one day being free again. She draws a companion using the supplies given to her, and she names her drawing, Eva Jr.

One morning, she hears a noise and a short altercation behind her bedroom wall. The sound comes from the apartment next door. She tries to listen in but she does not hear anything.

The next day, she waits and stares at her wall out of curiosity when she finally hears a sound behind her bedroom wall. The person behind the wall introduces himself as Gabriel.

Eva and Gabriel develop a deep connection instantly and over time, their bond becomes deeper. After several months, Eva hears an announcement that all those who are on house arrest are set free. Eva yells with excitement and tells Gabriel that they will finally see each other.

When the new security team opens her apartment, she is ready, dressed in her clothes from when she was arrested. She makes sure she looks presentable. She hesitates to step out at first out of habit then she runs straight next door. She begs the security team to open the door because Gabriel is inside. They open the door then she walks quickly to search for Gabriel only to find out that no one is there.

Joyce Laoagan, Igorot Actor | Producer | Writer

Joyce Lao wearing her traditional Benguet clothing.

Joyce's legal name is Joyce Laoagan. She is Indigenous-Filipino American, an Igorota from the Ibaloi tribe born and raised in Baguio City and Benguet, Philippines. Early in her career in New York City, she would audition using her legal name and never got far despite her experience as a performer. She used the American-sounding Logan as her last name upon the suggestion of a music producer. She finally decided to adopt the stage name Lao which is easy to remember and is a shorter version of her legal name.

Growing up, Joyce experienced discrimination even in her home city because she is indigenous. "This drove me to be ambitious and strive for more in life," she said. "I chose to be in the arts because it is where my interest lies and there are very limited indigenous faces in the industry."

Coming from a traditional family, the arts is not a career that is encouraged. She was initially considering becoming a lawyer or a medical doctor but then decided to take her Master's in Music. She became a dancer and a musician and recently graduated with her second MA in Arts Administration from Baruch College.

Her interest in acting and production started when she competed at a talent contest in the U.S. some 10 years ago. Even though she had an agent, she noticed that most of the casting calls are for non-Asians, or if they are for Asians, the roles are mostly for East Asian actors who can speak either Chinese or Japanese.

As a Filipino, she was advised to get rid of her slight accent to sound American or learn Spanish and audition for Latina roles.

As an actress, she was advised to get rid of her slight Filipino accent to sound American. Phoenix Jackson

"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. Although I initially went to this ridiculously expensive accent reduction coach, I reflected on what the casting directors told me and I decided to pursue the entertainment industry as myself. I did not want to take away opportunities from the Latin-speaking actors. So, I just wrote and produced my own thing."

"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.

Credit: The FilAm

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