Filmmaker Isabel Sandoval joined Montclair State University’s Film Forum class via Zoom on Oct. 6, to discuss “Lingua Franca,” an independent film with a unique and evocative story that follows a transgender Filipino woman seeking legal status in the United States.
Sandoval wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, making her a remarkable and unequivocal filmmaker who created a movie that features the struggles of acquiring a legal status, facing transphobia and the blending of cultures within an American society. The film is deeply personal and showcases itself in the most quiet, intimate and subtle ways.
Kimberllyn Oliveira, a junior communication and media arts major, was moved by Sandoval’s latest work.
“[‘Lingua Franca’] was like a delicately gritty masterpiece,” Oliveira said. “It was totally eye candy, even though there were some heavier topics. A lot of people can’t understand that [immigration policies and issues] are a human issue, depending on their level of privilege or personal experience.”
Sandoval’s initial intentions for her film were to evoke a sense of empathy in viewers.
“Although the film is very much anchored in social reality and it’s about this contemporary moment, it is also very impressionistic and subjective in that it tries to put the audience in the emotional and mental state of someone in a very particular predicament, as Olivia [the film’s main character],” Sandoval said.
The use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound stood out in the film. In one scene, an audio overhead of President Donald Trump discussing his thoughts on immigrants and his pledge to remove them from the United States plays as Olivia walks down the street. The scene came directly after she was met with difficulties in regards to obtaining a green card.
The use of the overhead had a chilling effect and it elicits a fear for Olivia and her safety.
The telling of a story that defines intersectionality by someone like Sandoval, who experiences it in her everyday life, is refreshing. Oftentimes, films that feature a story with an intersectional approach tend to misrepresent its characters, due to lack of authentic diversity within its production team; however, this is not the case with “Lingua Franca.”
Michael Arroyo, a junior communication and media arts major, had a personal connection to the film.
“I’m half Filipino,” Arroyo said. “[My mom] came to the United States when she was five-years-old. I found this film very, very inspiring. Seeing Filipino representation in an intimate, important and empathic film such as [‘Lingua Franca’] has resonated with me personally.”
Sandoval had many thoughts on mainstream films that cast cisgender actors as trans people or non-people of color actors as minority races and ethnicities.
“When you’re portraying a very particular experience and subjectivity, it needs to be brought to life by someone from that community.” Sandoval said.
The director explained that culturally mainstream films are not at a point where proper representation is as common as it should be. Despite this, “Lingua Franca” was well received by several film festivals and viewers across the world. Sandoval has broken down countless barriers with her film and recently took home an award for best actress at Russia’s Pacific Meridian International Film Festival.
Sandoval took several risks in her film which resulted in more of a European feel in the way it was shot, and especially in the way it was edited. The approach that Sandoval had with this film is not entirely traditional in American film and sets itself apart from others. These artistic decisions can be a new experience for some viewers and may be challenging to understand in the moment.
“I really wanted to take that risk into a different and unusual American film,” Sandoval said. “Even though people might be turned off or put off by it, at least I can say that I made a film that made an impression that would stick with the people. Either with a strong, positive impression, or a negative impression, but they’re [going to] know who I am after they’ve seen this film.”
“Lingua Franca” most definitely makes an impression and holds up as a film unlike any other. It is a delicate, yet powerful film that showcases a humanistic aspect that results in something truly special.
The film is now streaming on Netflix.