Myra Soriaso A Catholic Schoolgirl

What The Viral Success of ‘A Catholic Schoolgirl’ Means To Student Filmmaker Myra Soriaso

"Did you ever regret it, Sister?"

A Catholic Schoolgirl writer and director Myra Soriaso talks her recent QCinema run, social media virality, and coming-of-age in filmmaking.

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One good thing that the current state of media and technology brings is the chance for independent artists and filmmakers to see their work in the spotlight, and for stories to diversify and connect with more people. Looking for proof? Look no further than A Catholic Schoolgirl, a short film all about possibility, both within its narrative and beyond it.

a catholic schoolgirl qcinema poster myra soriaso

A Catholic Schoolgirl is a short, coming-of-age drama film part of the QCShorts Program at the 2023 run of the QCinema International Film Festival. It’s written and directed by 22-year old Myra Angeline Soriaso from Iloilo, a Communication and Media Studies senior at University of the Philippines Visayas.

With a screenplay written for a college class, a production funded by grants and gracious sponsors, a trailer that went viral on social media, and a queer-coded story about liberation in love, A Catholic Schoolgirl took a lot of work and found a unique success that subtly marks a growing movement in Filipino filmmaking.

The film is 17 minutes long, with its dialogue primarily in Hiligaynon (with English subtitles). Its trailer went viral for its sapphic connotations, its intriguing yet familiar narrative, and a premise fresh to the local scene. In a conversation with NYLON Manila, writer and director Myra Soriaso reveals what kind of story she intended to tell, just how much work went into the film, and what it’s like to garner that much support.


The QCinema Film Festival note for A Catholic Schoolgirl reads: “This is the first time Kaya Fuentes (Ora Palencia) experienced falling in love. As one of the finest students of an all-girls Catholic school, she is ungodly to develop a crush on Sister Agnes (Sharon Idone)—a nun who will soon be destined to a province faraway. Now more than ever, Kaya feels the need to confess before Sister Agnes leaves.”

High school student Ora Palencia makes her acting debut in A Catholic Schoolgirl. Highly praised by Myra, Ora is the center of the film, portraying the brilliant and slightly tormented Kaya Fuentes.

“At its very core,” Myra says. “It’s just about this 15-year old girl na nagka-crush sa isang nun. It’s about how little girls are boxed in this kind of mold when we’re growing up.”

Catholic schools, particularly all-female ones, are often associated with the stereotype of being traditional, restrictive in more ways than one, and non-inclusive. Myra’s interest in all-girls Catholic schools, how they’re “a different world,” was borne out of stories she’s heard from her friends. In them, girls are often taught to behave in certain gendered ways and not taught proper sex education, among others. But a girl isn’t just boxed in in an all-girls Catholic school.

a catholic schoolgirl qcinema myra soriaso behind the scenes

“We made a Catholic school a metaphor for this jar na kina-cage yung mga little girls,” Myra reveals. While yearning and falling in love comprise the premise of the film, it is ultimately about Kaya’s struggle for personal liberation—a journey undertaken by all young women.

“Hindi man ako a Catholic school girl, but I am still a girl in the same society kung saan si Kaya.”


a catholic schoolgirl qcinema myra soriaso behind the scenes

As the trailer dipped its toes in presenting the tension between Kaya and her feelings for Sister Agnes, it hints at an exploration of the complexities of sexuality and coming-of-age in a local, familiar, confined context. But unlike plenty of social media users, don’t think it’s anything like Fleabag Season 2 (2019).

“A lot of people actually mistake it for a love story, but it’s really not,” Myra remarks. “That would be weird, kasi madre yung other person. It’s a story of Kaya, not a story of Kaya and Sister Agnes.”

And while you may be disappointed at the lack of a typical, wish-fulfillment conclusion to its conflict, A Catholic Schoolgirl presents intersectional issues in a way that questions the status quo and champions the rights of girls and women of all sexualities.

a catholic schoolgirl qcinema myra soriaso behind the scenes

“Kahit di siya sapphic story, I still want queer kids to see on screen that’s it’s okay—like, you’re normal. Walang problema if you have a crush on different genders, or ikaw man ibang gender ka.”

Discourse on queer narratives is plentiful, but one stands out: while its important to highlight the unique struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community in narratives, not every story has to be about queer struggle.

“We want to tell stories na hindi naka-center ng sexuality ng isang queer person yung narrative,” Myra asserts. “In an ideal world, yung narratives ng mga queer people and narratives ng straight, cisgender people—they’re the same. In an ideal world, hindi sila naiiba. So dapat hindi siya yung center ng story.” A normalization of queerness in the arts mirrors, or can mirror, a more developed normalization of queerness in society.

Given that such attitudes are being used to guide storytelling (see: this film as well as Samantha Lee’s filmography), local filmmaking seems to be moving towards a coming-of-age of its own.


a catholic schoolgirl qcinema myra soriaso behind the scenes

Myra’s own coming-of-age as a filmmaker began when she was in senior high school. A Catholic Schoolgirl is her first foray into narrative filmmaking, but her first success was Panambi (2021), a short documentary she made with her friends Jane Mariane Biyo and Katya Marie Corazon Puertollano. Panambi was screened at Ji.hlava International Film Festival in Jihlava in the Czech Republic.

In 2022, Myra wrote A Catholic Schoolgirl for a scriptwriting class under Arden Rod Condez (John Denver Trending, 2019) and finished the screenplay before the class even ended. In an opportunity unfortunately rare to regional filmmakers (as a lot of stories given the chance to be told are centered around the metro), she got the chance to pitch the story to Globe’s ANIMA Studios and won a PHP 200,000 seed grant at the Globe Virtual Hangouts GoWATCH Film Lab. Renowned filmmaker Antoinette Jadaone chose the film herself. A Catholic Schoolgirl also received the QCShorts grant of PHP 350,000, which earned it a spot in the QCinema festival lineup of short films.

But even the grants weren’t enough to cover all the expenses of the production—a testament to how much time, effort, and money is truly needed to make art. Myra and her team had to outsource willing sponsors for food and transportation to get through production. “That’s how we survived.”

But A Catholic Schoolgirl and its creators did more than just survive—it thrived. Even though reviews cited a predictable, rough-around-the-edges story, they all included praise for the craftsmanship and care that was put into the short film, as well as for meeting the expectations that emerged from its virality. The film even took home the Gender Sensitivity Award at QCinema.


a catholic schoolgirl qcinema myra soriaso behind the scenes

A Catholic Schoolgirl’s success in the festival run as well as the support it received from social media was, for Myra—a young, up-and-coming filmmaker given the chance of a lifetime—overwhelming.

“Most of the time, kinakabahan talaga ako,” she says of the entire experience, from premiere night to the trailer going viral. But getting to interact with festival attendees who talked to her about the film was one of her favorite parts. “I was so scared kasi baka sobrang taas ng expectation ng mga tao. I was scared to disappoint them, but after the [Q&A], I realized…I’m glad that they enjoyed the film.”

The entire thing was a learning experience for Myra, as well. She got to learn from her team, from her producers to her DP Martika Ramirez Escobar, and from the people she’s met along the way.

a catholic schoolgirl qcinema myra soriaso behind the scenes

“Throughout the process, my mentors taught me to respect the filmmaking process,” she says. “‘Think about what you want to say.’ Dapat sure ka sa gusto mong sabihin muna, kasi kahit baliktarin pa yung script, you know what you want to say.” Along with this, Myra understood the value of taking her time as she’s still just a young filmmaker and there are plenty of opportunities to explore other aspects of filmmaking that fascinated her during the production of A Catholic Schoolgirl.

With a whirlwind of success behind her and plenty of learnings in her pockets at twenty-two years old, the possibilities are endless for Myra—and for regional filmmakers in the Philippines. Diverse stories from diverse filmmakers deserve a spot in the limelight, and A Catholic Schoolgirl is one of many such stories that highlight our rich film culture and the talent found in every corner of the nation.

Images courtesy of Myra Soriaso.

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