Raging Grace, a British-Filipino dark thriller directed by Paris Zarcilla and stars Maxine Eigenmann, emerged as the best feature film at this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival.
In what is a continuation of a vibrant start of the year for Filipino talent in the world of cinema, another Pinoy filmmaker scores quite a cinematic victory in another A-list film festival. His name is Paris Zarcilla, who just nabbed the highest prize at the coveted 37th South by Southwest (SXSW) Film & TV Festival in Austin, Texas, for his critically-acclaimed, multi-genre, diasporic feature film, Raging Grace.
A COMING-OF-RAGE STORY
On March 15, 2023, the 37th SXSW Film & TV Festival announced the films that stood out the most from its diverse selection of over a hundred feature films, ranging from independent to mainstream cinema. Among them was Raging Grace, a genre-bending and sociopolitically charged work by Paris Zarcilla, that received the Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Film, the highest honor at the festival.
“Raging Grace’s heady blend of horror, history, and midnight humor announces the arrival of an exciting new filmmaking talent in writer-director Paris Zarcilla,” states the jury as part of the film’s citation. “In cleverly employing genre tropes to explore vast socio-political matters, Zarcilla has crafted a resonant, urgent work about labor, legacy, and diaspora.”
Described as a “coming-of-rage” story, Raging Grace follows the story of an undocumented Filipina immigrant named Joy who, fueled by her determination to give her and her daughter Grace a better life, finds a seemingly ideal job as a care-worker for a terminal old man. While her new position pays well and gives them security, Joy and Grace start to discover a dark revelation that threatens to destroy all that they’ve strived for.
Homegrown Filipino talent and Asia Pacific Screen Awards’ best actress winner Max Eigenmann plays the lead role in the film. In an interview with the film’s producer Chi Thai, she relates that it’s thanks to their Manila-based co-producer Darlene Catly that they’re able to discover Max via an audition from a selection of “amazing dramatic actresses.” The Verdict and 12 Weeks star is joined by veterans Leanne Best, David Hayman, and newcomer Jaeden Boadilla, who plays as Max’s daughter.
A CHILD OF DIASPORA
This “nightmarish fever dream” of a film is the debut feature of the British-born Filipino creative Zarcilla, who has previously worked on commercials, series, and award-winning shorts. Produced by fellow Southeast Asian and Last Conker’s Chi Thai, who’s of Vietnamese descent, Raging Grace is dubbed as the first British-Filipino feature film in British cinema history. It had its world premiere at the SXSW Film & TV Festival’s highly competitive eight-film Narrative Features Competition.
Apart from the jury prize, Raging Grace also took home the Thunderbird Rising Award which was presented to new directors whose “original storytelling both inspires and delights.” The fest highlights Zarcilla’s “excellence in all aspects of cinematic storytelling” and his unique and profound juxtaposition of “thrilling suspense and evocative social commentary on the modern immigrant struggle.”
A son of immigrant parents, Zarcilla knows the urgency and importance of furthering the oft-ignored and underseen narratives of immigrants in film. “As a child of the diaspora, I’ve struggled against the notions of being the good immigrant and the bad immigrant for as long as I can remember,” the director shares in a press release. “When the pandemic was in full swing, I felt a swell of rebellion that I needed to release—this is what Raging Grace was forged from and I hope its message resonates with audiences all over the world. ”
Using a mix of horror, thriller, and even comedy, Zarcilla also intends to do away with the usual “trauma porn” trope and nature that’s associated with diasporic stories. Instead, while still coming from a “very real place of anger, rage, and trauma,” his aim is to first and foremost create something entertaining and accessible to everyone in his way of helping the conversation go forward.
“It has a design that is to get you on the edge of your seat and enjoy what you’re watching,” furthers Zarcilla in an interview. “But also, it’s there to remind the minorities, especially in the U.K., and very particularly Southeast Asians, even more specifically the Filipino community, to just remind them of the fire that I know they were born with and to inspire pride to be able to move beyond trauma and to really celebrate our culture and to be confident and proud.”
One of the largest film festivals in North America, SXSW is best known for its conference and festivals that celebrate the interconnectedness of tech, film, music, education, and culture. The 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival program includes 110 features that span different genres and celebrate “raw innovation and emerging talent.” ICYDK, Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All At Once premiered at SXSW early last year. The SXSW festivities also include a music and comedy festival and has a nine-day run until March 19, 2023.