TRANSIT, directed Hannah Espia, Philippine’s Oscar Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Award, explores the intersecting stories of Filipinos in Tel Aviv when the threat of a law deporting the children of migrant workers looms their precarious lives. Janet, a domestic worker on an expired visa, struggles to hide her half-Israeli daughter, Yael—a rebellious teenager caught up in a juvenile romance. Most endangered in the situation is four-year old Joshua, whom Janet and Yael protect because the boy’s father, Moises, works on weekdays as a caregiver in the city of Herzliya. The film also explores the life of a young lady, Tina, who arrives to start a new life in Israel.
Transit examines what it means to be a family and what it means to be a stranger, within one’s home and in a foreign land.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you come up with the idea of Transit?
Hannah Espia: I came up with the idea for Transit after a chance encounter with one Filipino worker on a flight from Tel Aviv to Manila. My family owns a tour company specializing in Holy Land tours and I have been to Israel a couple of times. When I met the Filipino worker, he had his baby with him and is flying his baby to Manila to be taken care of by his parents. Asked why, he said it was because of the deportation law. From there, my co-writer and I did our research.
BT: The issue of immigration has turned to be one of the crucial matters of our time, especially in countries like Israel that have very tight security. How did you face the challenges of picking such a subject and making it happen?
HE: When I started pitching this film to potential producers, everyone said I was crazy. But I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of “displacement” and I knew I wanted to make a film about it. Displacement, identity and immigration were just some of the themes I wanted to tackle in the film. Making it happen came gradually as me and my producer, Paul Soriano, began forming our production team. Each member made a big contribution in making the film. It also helped a lot that my family works in the tour business and we had some connections in Israel. I think some of the brilliant ideas in making Transit was not getting in touch with a film company but getting in touch with a tour company. They handled the logistics effortlessly.
BT: Your film has different layers and you also deal with issues such as generation gaps, coming to age in a foreign land and keeping your pride and identity. How difficult it was to deal with all these matters and keep the balance between them?
HE: As a first time director, there was just so many things that I wanted to say. I think it’s a common problem for new directors to make a film as if it were the only film they will make ever – we tend to put all our ideas in one film. I think for Transit, it helped that we are seeing the perspectives of each character, and each character had their own issues. A lot of the characters and situations are based from people that I know, and that was how I drew out some of the issues.
BT: Transit opens the eyes of the audiences that are not aware of the richness of the culture of the other countries and have a short sighted judgment about people they don’t know, was it one of your goals also?
HE: The main goal of Transit was to make people aware of the situation that our fellow Filipinos are facing overseas. These days, Filipinos are everywhere and they are heralded as the “new heroes” in our country, but we say this without knowing the battles that our heroes fight.
In a way, yes, I would say that it was my goal to show the audiences how Filipinos abroad are trying to keep their culture alive and at the same time trying to integrate into another culture.
BT: How did you go about casting your film and finding the child actor and how did you work with your actors?
HE: For the adult characters, I made a list of Filipino actors that I liked, and thankfully I got them for the roles. For the younger actors, Jasmine (Yael) and Marc (Joshua), I had to hold auditions. I cast Jasmine because her look was perfect for the role, and Marc just really stood out at auditions.
I work with each actor differently, depending on their needs. I was quite insecure working with Irma (Janet), Ping (Moises) and Mercedes (Tina) because I know they have worked with some of the best directors in the country, and I was just fresh from film school. But we all collaborated really well.
BT: How did you come up with the visual style of your film?
HE: I am a big fan of East Asian cinema, particularly Japanese films, so my visual style is hugely based on Japanese films.
BT: How do you see the chances of Transit to receive nomination for The Best Foreign Language Film Award and possibly winning it?
HE: From the conception to the final film, Transit has always been “the little film that could”. As the director, I have so much love for this film, but I also don’t see it as a “perfect film”. But it has always surprised me and hopefully it will keep surprising me come Oscar time.
BT: What is the next project you are working on?
HE: There are so many projects I want to start working on, but since last year, I have been working on a concept about the “short encounters of long distance lovers”. The themes of displacement and immigration are still there and I am really excited for this project. I have always wanted to direct a love story.