FilCan-produced doc wins Emmy
FilCan-produced doc wins Emmy
By Mila Astorga-Garcia
FILIPINO-CANADIAN documentary film producer, Lisa Valencia-Svensson, is so elated these days. Her first feature length documentary, Herman’s House, won the News and Documentary Emmy Award for Outstanding Arts and Culture Programming at the recently-held award ceremonies in New York City.
Valencia-Svensson quickly points out that the win is not entirely her own but that of her talented team, which includes people of color like her. They still remain an obvious minority at the Emmy awards stage, she says.
“Winning an Emmy is significant,” Valencia-Svensson tells The Philippine Reporter in a phone interview from New York City the day after her team’s big win at the 35th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards held last Sept 30, 2014.
“This is not just my win. It is an encroachment of people of color into mainstream news reporting, and story telling, and media,” she says.
“First, we were surprised by the nomination,” she confides. “We truly had no expectation of winning, which is surreal, enormous, extraordinary,” says Valencia-Svensson of the award, especially after their film had initially experienced “rejection from some funders, distributors and film festivals.”
“This win is pretty extra-ordinary, but we still have a long way to go to allow people like ourselves into the mainstream media world,” she says.
“Herman’s House,” was first aired on PBS in 2013 as part of POV, American television’s longest-running independent documentary series. It is a story about Herman Wallace, who may have been the longest-serving prisoner in solitary confinement in the U.S. Wallace was sentenced to life in prison in 1972 for the murder of a prison guard, a charge he had always vehemently denied. He was confined for 41 years in a six by nine foot cell in Louisiana.
The film, directed by Angad Singh Bhalla, is described in an official POV press release as “a moving account of the expression of (Wallace’s) struggle” inside prison. There, an unusual project conceived by artist Jackie Sumell, who became Wallace’s friend, led to the making of the film.
“Imagining Wallace’s ‘dream home’ began as a game and became an interrogation of justice and punishment in America. The film takes us inside the duo’s unlikely 12-year friendship, revealing the transformative power of art,” the official release says.
Wallace, a Black Panther, was one of the “Angola 3” prisoners whose long-term solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola attracted international attention.
There is a bittersweet aftermath to the film, the press release notes: “Herman’s House aired on POV in July 2013. On Oct. 1, 2013, a federal judge freed Wallace, ruling that his original indictment was unconstitutional. Three days later, Wallace died of cancer in New Orleans at the age of 71, unaware that a newly convened grand jury re-indicted him on the murder charge the day before.”
Both Valencia-Svensson as the film’s producer, and Bhalla as the director, believe that Herman’s House and its recent Emmy win, will bring renewed attention to the plight of political prisoners and the cruelty of solitary confinement in the U.S. as a human rights issue.
Herman’s House was also nominated for a Canadian Screen Award: the Donald Brittain Award for Best Social Political Documentary. It also won the Inspiration Award from Cinema on the Bayou in 2013 and the Magnus Isacsson Award from RIDM and Best Documentary Award from the Harlem International Film Festival, both in 2012. The film is a production of Storyline Entertainment and Time of Day Productions in association with Ford Foundation/JustFilms. It is co-presentation with the Center for Asian American Media. It was supported by the Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, the Ontario Arts Council and IFP.
Others involved in the making of Herman’s House, aside from Valencia-Svensson and Bhalla are Executive Producers: Simon Kilmurry, Ed Barreveld, Loring McAlpin; Co-Executive Producer: Cynthia López; Vice President of Production and Programming: Chris White; and Coordinating Producer: Andrew Catauro.
Herman’s House and Valencia-Svensson’s other works are reflections of her passion for film projects that “explore issues of inequality and social justice and which encourage audiences to view their world through a constructively critical and creatively unique lens,” in her own words.
Valencia-Svensson’s other credits include Producer on Resilience: Stories of Single Black Mothers (OMNI TV), Associate Producer on The World Before Her (PBS POV, TIFF Canada’s Top 10, Best Documentary Tribeca, Best Canadian Documentary Hot Docs, CSA Best Feature Length Documentar, News and Documentary Emmy nominatio), Lone Twin (IDFA, CSA Best Documentary Program), The Market (IDFA, CSA Donald Brittan Award for Best Social/ Political Documentary) and The Real Inglorious Bastards (History TV, CSA Best History Documentary). She was Production Manager on My Toxic Baby (TIFF) and It’s A Teen’s World (CBC), and Studio Administrator on Tiger Spirit (Hot Docs) and Secret of the Snake Goddess (History TV). Her first two short films, Borderless and Sedition, were both directed by award-winning filmmaker, Min Sook Lee.
Even in the midst of all her excitement with the Emmy win, Valencia-Svensson turns the interview around to shift attention and give credit to her friends who helped her project her immense pride in her Philippine roots, by bringing a part of Filipino culture to the Emmys.
“Please note that the top I am wearing is a T’Boli top which I got from the T’Boli weavers who were visiting in Toronto in June. And the earrings and hand adornment, which incorporate Filipino elements like capiz and bells and kulintang gongs, were made by Jodee (Jodinand) Villaflores Aguilon, the Filipino who owns the vintage store A Homerun in Kensington Market. And Jodee and Charm Torres, a Filipina who is starting her makeup artist practice, were the ones who styled me, she tells The Philippine Reporter.
“I deliberately wore Filipino items, and asked Filipinos to help figure out my outfit, in order to represent the Philippines a little bit at the Emmys and to feel like a Filipino team had helped get me ready for the event.”