Short film drama written by an Igorota wins festival awards

Joyce Lao wearing her traditional Benguet clothing.

“Eva’s Gabriel,” a short film drama starring Joyce Lao, an Igorota from the Ibaloi tribe in Baguio, received multiple awards in the film festival circuit this year.

The film also written by Joyce, won four awards: 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 30s who is arrested for protesting and put under house arrest in an apartment controlled by the government. She eventually accepts her fate and earnestly waits for the day of her release when she unexpectedly develops a relationship with a fellow prisoner next door, Gabriel, played by Buali Shah. Although they have not seen each other, the relationship grows from their conversations through Eva’s bedroom wall.

Joyce wrote this film 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 and Buali, Filipino and Pakistani Americans respectively, have been friends and colleagues for about eight years and have been producing films for a while. They could not see enough Asian-American representation in film, TV and media most specifically from the communities they represent. When the pandemic hit, they decided to do a project together in the hope both communities will get noticed.

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

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 own 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 Masters 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 totally American or learn Spanish and audition for Latina roles.

“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. Here’s a link to the trailer:

“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.

For more information about screenings, please visit, Instagram @realallyproductions or email

© The FilAm 2022

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