EXCLUSIVE: VG8 Radio Interviews Filipino-American Indie Film Director Eileen Cabiling about “Basurero,” a short film premiering at Cinemalaya Film Festival 2020


Cinema is online now! People can watch film festivals at the comfort of their homes. The most-awaited short film, “Basurero,” starring veteran actor Jericho Rosales will have its Philippine Premiere at the 2020 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival on August 10 at 6PM via Vimeo livestream.

Here’s a bonus! The Live Talkbacks for Basurero, which is scheduled along with the premiere screening, will be attended by Lead Actor Jericho Rosales, Executive Producer Darlene Malimas, and Writer-Director Eileen Cabiling.

“Basurero” is the directorial debut of Direk Eileen Cabiling. It is a 17-minute short film about “Bong,” a fisherman who has a dangerous sideline. It is based on a true story of a Filipino fisherman at the Manila Bay.

Three days before the premiere screening, VG8 Radio hosts Richard Abalos and Nikie Esmero conducted a special interview with Direk Eileen Cabiling, a Filipino-American filmmaker who was a graduate of the prestigious American Film Institute, a recipient of the Women in Film Scholarship Award, the AFI William J. Fadiman Award for Best Screenplay at AFI and the  ABC/WALT DISNEY Talent Development Grant.

More fun facts about Direk Eileen

Direk Eileen Cabiling is based in Los Angeles, California. Being the first in her immigrant family to be born in the United States, Eileen grew up as the only Asian in her class in Richmond, Virginia- the historical capital of the Confederacy. Her vision is to tell stories about the Global Filipino Diaspora and History, the many layers of the Filipino face along with the deeply complex nuances of colonial psychology and Filipino-identity.

She has worked in the ranks of international film and TV for fifteen years. She has worked as a producer in docs (NHK) and doc series (CNN, Sundance Channel), in production management on New York indies films (Buffalo 66, Welcome to the Dollhouse), as a screenwriter for Walt Disney Studios and Discover Channel and as a story development producer for both major and indie studios.

Behind-the-scene: Direk Eileen Cabiling carefully directs Jericho Rosales and other actors of Basurero.

Q & A with Direk Eileen

Q #1: As the first-generation Filipino immigrant living in the US, please tell us your experience.

Direk Eileen:

I’m a dual citizen of the Philippines and the United States. My mother is from Mindanao. She was born in Kiamba. My father is Pampangan and he grew up in Tondo. My parents were finishing up medical school in the Philippines and they were recruited to the States, and they finished their school there. I was born in Maryland and my lola came. She was our babysitter. I grew up with my parents working all the time so our yaya was my grandma... I just grew up with so many stories because I think my grandmother just loved telling me and my sisters stories. And I heard stories about the Philippines and I think it was her way of showing us and sharing our culture because my home was very Filipino… but my life outside of  home was very not Filipino. It’s very American and very White because we live in the White area. It’s interesting to be an immigrant in a new country, and as an inborn, I’m trying to understand my own family and then also navigating as an American to the school and stuff like that but the US is kinda diverse now.  Now Filipinos are all over.

Q # 2: Beginnings as a first generation Filipino immigrant living in US

Direk Eileen:

I grew up in that world that my family is coming to the US. It’s really interesting to see what people go through when they move to a different country. I grew up thinking that every Filipino in the US was a doctor because my mom and dad, a lot of their friends came, too and those were the other Filipino families that we hang out with so I thought that Filipinos love to be doctors. My mom and dad were the first people in their family to go to college and my grandparents were farmers and they had a rice and corn plantation in Mindanao. There’s no artist or film makers in the family. There’s one of my cousins who is an amazing writer, Aliric Cabiling. He and I are the only ones that went into the world of creative. I learned Tagalog by watching telenovelas. I understand Tagalog but cannot speak fluently.

Q # 3: How did this experience influence you into becoming a writer and director?

Direk Eileen:

I grew up in a city that really struggles with racism… and they were just starting to diversify and so I grew up in a very White community and I didn’t realize until later in life because I think as an immigrant family, you just want to work hard and you want to make money and you want to be able to go to the next level and I think that was a great opportunity for my parents. So a lot of it was just trying to adapt and not trying to stand out and not trying to get anyone angry or pissed off. The way we were educated was very White as well. We read books written by White authors, we read history in White perspectives so being an Asian, you start seeing from their way of seeing even though deep inside there was a big part of me who was definitely not comfortable. I was trying to understand... about seeing that there's something not balanced here or not aligned and there’s a powerful voice that everyone is listening to and kinda not wanting to break. What my journey has been is about peeling that onion and really starting to see that my voice was not being developed or actually looked at or you know, like when you go to school and you’re the only Asian kid, no one was curious about that which I thought was interesting.... When you’re an immigrant family, you lose your voice a little and then you need to find your voice and you need to start looking inside and think, “Is that my voice or is that that person’s voice?” And then you self-value again your voice and especially as a writer or as filmmaker, it’s kind of why we do it is to find our voice. 

Q # 4: Tell us your inspiration for doing “Basurero.”

Direk Eileen:

Basurero really strangely was me knowing that I was going to make a short film in the Philippines and I had to come up with an idea really fast actually. So I really wanted to make a film about the Philippines was at a core like a character study and I kept thinking about my trips as a kid to the Philippines and how much I loved the ocean and so I thought about the fishermen. I started looking at fishermen, and reading about them, remembering them from when I’ve interacted with them in the Philippines. I really read what was going on and found some stories that were inspirational and so I kind of used a lot of present situations of fishermen with what they were going through like the climate change, and not big industry fishing, just the local fishermen and how their livelihood is really hard to make a living especially with a world that play with climate and also like big industry, and territory. I came across some other stories about what fishermen were doing in urban ports. I’m a writer already in the industry and  the story development producer so I really believe that we should write what we know. I mean you write close to your heart. It doesn’t mean that I was a fisherman, you know, and I had struggle catching enough fish and then I have to get these side gigs but what I can do as a writer and I think and  as a film director or someone creating a character is I can go into the inner world of these characters and what is it about their inner world that I’m also relating to in my inner world emotionally and I think that’s what so great about films. At least for me and I think for my whole family, I think films gave us an opportunity to feel our feelings. Because my family was not into sharing our feelings so in films you can go and watch the films and you can experience being angry, you can experience crying. I think that’s why I really love writing and creating characters ‘cause I can take feelings and process them in the film with the characters in the story and again I’m also helping find voices for these characters and in the sense I’m doing the same thing for myself. It’s like a therapy.

Q # 5: How was the experience in a fish port of Cavite?

Direk Eileen:

We shot in Cavite and we filmed in the palengke, in fish ports. We shot very real. We didn’t have tons of money so we had to shoot for 4 days and ended up 5 days. It was a really amazing location because there were real fishermen in there... All the fishermen that were with him (Jericho Rosales) on the boat were real fishermen except for the captain which was played by Soliman Cruz. Echo and Soliman Cruz were the only real actors on the boats and everyone else were real fishermen. Same with the fish market. These were all real people in the market. It gave me that authentic feel from shooting on real locations. We also shot in a real fishing village where fishermen live... Even some of the kids in the film were all real kids from there.

Q # 6: How was the experience in putting your first film together?

Direk Eileen:

One of the struggles was how famous Echo is... There were hundreds of people coming in for Echo... but the barangay representatives really collaborated with us and were really helpful. I really paid attention to the details of the place... All my locations scouting were really researched to the detail... I had Echo come and hang out with the fishermen for a day and practice pulling the net and same with the fish port... 

Q # 7: We also heard that you brought in your international crew from LA to work with you here. We’re excited to learn more about that.

Direk Eileen:

Most of my crew were Filipino. I worked with this amazing production company and  co-producer PJ Vicuna and her husband Gorio Vicuna. Darlene Malimas was my overall Philippine Producer. She’s amazing and she actually has a lot of films coming out. What we did is we hired on the ground in the Philippines. And we had our line producing with  Evangeline Torcino. She works a lot with Brillante Mendoza… It’s interesting when you’re a first time director, all your fears come out and usually go on to your producers… On top of that on the ground crew, I did bring in my own cinematographer... He’s from South Korea. We went to school together and we’ve already made a couple of films together so we speak the same language and I’ve always envisioned to continue collaborating with each other. He brought his assistant onboard from Korea. And I did have a producer from the US. And then one of my really good friends from film school, too. He’s Latino, he’s Puerto Rican Jose Manuel came.

I felt like I needed at least my cinematographer and my DP, producer. I needed like kind of a core as I was moving the project forward especially while we were shooting because we are trained the same way… The way we make films in the Philippines, or the way we make films in the US, or the way we make films in Brazil, wherever, slightly different right? So it’s about adapting, and learning and at the same time I need to be able to just speak. It’s like translation is going on.

Q # 8: What was your biggest challenge in filming the movie here in the Philippines?

Direk Eileen:

I had to learn to be more open in different ways of producing, and different ways of creating story, and different pipelines. We lost a big chunk of budget because we were hit by typhoon. We were supposed to start filming and then we had to pull out because of the typhoon. But in the end, everything happens for a reason. I lost money, I  and also lost time. I lost  my actor for 3 months because he’s so busy and the same with my DP. She had to go back and shoot other projects, too. So it gave me more time to work on my story and to really understand what it’s trying to do in the process. I had to be more creative because I lost money so we couldn’t shoot where we thought we would gonna shoot. You have to be creative. As a filmmaker, you just have to solve problems.

Q # 9: Where has the Basurero been so far and where has it been featured?

Direk Eileen:

It world-premiered in Busan International Film Festival in October 2019. So we finished the film around then and it’s world-premiered with 10 other films all over Asia. 

Other screenings of Basurero are the following festivals:

Switzerland: Official Selection in Competition/Fribourg Film Festival 2020 - Switzerland

United States: 

Official Selection in Competition for the Golden Gate Award/ San Francisco International Film Festival 2020

Official Selection/ Sun Valley Film Festival - 2020 - Idaho

Official Selection/ Minikino Film Week - 2020 - Bali 

Q # 10: How do our Filipino Crew Differ from American Crew?

Direk Eileen:

Filipinos deal better with chaos. They want to be super organized. Filipinos are more trusting that when there’s a problem, it’s going to work itself out whereas in American, all of a sudden everyone is trying to control everything.

Q # 11: What do you think the Filipino film can learn from Hollywood?

Direk Eileen:

In Indie film, we have to work with the resources that we have so it’s different than working in Hollywood where you have millions of dollars. I had to work like kinda Hollywood hours because I brought in international producers and DP who would not work for 24 hours a day. It’s very rare that you work for 24 hours in the US. 

Some graduates of the Certified Voice Artist Program also got a chance to ask questions to Direk Eileen. They came up with questions like what the director would like to bring out, how was the preparation in making films, how to add unique flavors to the story, and the advice for filmmakers after the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Direk Eileen reiterated that she really focused on the character and the details. She would advise to prepare before going on a shoot. She added,

To be a good writer, to be a good director, you have to be reading. Read as many books as you can. Read as many stories. And also watch films if you want to write for films. Eventually you will come up with your own style but it’s a process and I’m still learning that, too. Try to see the story with the camera without the dialogue. It’s a really great time to be creative and try to come up with something out of the box. You can make a film with your phone. You don’t need a fancy camera. There are movies that’s so bad visually but the story is so good that it still shines.

She also answered the question about how to get her casts. She replied, “Keep auditioning the characters until you find the right person.”

After the showing of Basurero, Direk Eileen plans on getting a balanced life again.

Here is the trailer of Basurero, the must-watch internationally recognized short film in Cinemalaya 2020. The film can be viewed from August 10 until August 16, 2020.

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