Joella Cabalu film The Gran Nigel to screen at Langara Student Film Festival

Joella on-location with Nigel Wakita while filming The Gran Nigel.

Joella on-location with Nigel Wakita while filming The Gran Nigel. (Joella Cabalu submitted)

Joella Cabalu’s inspiration for her short film The Gran Nigel came to when her clock radio awoke her with the fascinating tale of Vancouver Circus School instructor, Nigel Wakita, who had just completed the GranFondo, a 122-kilometre bicycle race — on an unicycle.

Now a fresh graduate of Langara’s documentary production program, Cabalu will be screening her work at the Langara Student Film Festival to be held on Sunday, March 2.

The student film festival is held in conjunction with the Just Film Festival, also being held on campus on the same weekend. It features documentary short films created by students of the documentary program at Langara.

A challenge to herself

A map showing the GranFondo route.

A map showing the GranFondo route.

The Gran Nigel was originally made as a part of an assignment designed to practice students’ interviewing skills, Cabalu said she wanted to challenge herself to interview a complete stranger to better prepare herself for the reality of documentary filmmaking.

“Out there in the real world, I’m going to have to approach people who don’t know me and convince them that my idea or my project is worthy of their involvement,” Cabalu said.

She found the perfect subject in Wakita, who had decided to take part in the race with a more unusual kind of cycling, and one befitting his occupation.

Upon hearing about Wakita’s planned feat during an interview on The Peak, she was spurred to track him down and document his journey.

Inspiration found from other women in film

Cabalu wasn’t always so excited about the prospect of filmmaking. Despite a strong passion for film since she was young, she was convinced that she lacked the personality to be a filmmaker.

In March 2012, Cabalu attended the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, and watched the feature-length documentary made by Toshimi Ono, also a graduate of Langara’s documentary production program.

Ono was “reserved and had a quiet power about her” and dispelled many  beliefs Cabalu held about the industry.

An interview with Toshimi Ono conducted by Women in Film and Television.

After a restructuring at her work, Cabalu thought hard about her passions in life and decided to apply to the documentary program the following year.

“Life is too short,” said Cabalu. “You should do something you are happy doing, that you’re passionate about.”

Advocating for the under-represented

Now that she has graduated, Cabalu wants to make films focusing on the struggles of those people she feels are under-represented in film, such as women of colour. She cites the documentary Sountrack for a Revolution as one of her favourites, and its ability to resonate with the audience something she wants to emulate:

“Something about the struggle and loss and fear are those emotions everybody feels, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone in that.”

Currently Cabalu is working on another short film as well trying to produce a feature-length documentary.

Langara’s documentary production program

The student film festival and the documentary production program are both in their eighth year, attracting a wide variety of students, from post-grads to NGO employees, all with a story they want to tell.

Annat Kennet, the program coordinator, gives this advice to prospective filmmakers:

“Get off the fence and jump into something that has meaning for you.”

The Langara Student Film Festival will take place on Sunday, March 2 and will feature a total of five films made by students.

Find the original version of the story as published in the print edition of The Voice here. (Edited by @nickeagland)

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