Meet Kelsy Lua, an LA-Based Filipino Filmmaker Making Award-Winning Short Films

Kelsy Lua is a film editor based in Los Angeles who has worked on various award-winning films that have achieved recognition both in the local indie scene and at film festivals in the Philippines, her home country. Among Lua’s most recognized works are short documentary films Gawilan and Breach of Trust, and the fiction film On The Clock. All three works seem to share a common thread: finding hope and inspiration under trying circumstances.

Gawilan is a five-minute 2017 film edited, directed, and produced by Lua, and chronicles the true-to-life story of Ernie Gawilan, a Filipino swimmer who was born without legs and fingers, yet managed to qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympics. The film won second runner-up at a Philippine film festival, Istorya Ng Pag-Asa (lit: Stories of Hope), an event organized by the Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo.

Photo provided by Kelsy Lua

The film’s brisk running time takes its audience through scenes of Gawilan’s training, voiced over by the swimmer himself as he retells his inspiring life story in Filipino (English subtitles available). Gawilan reveals that he survived an attempted abortion and was orphaned at a young age, but was taken in by his grandfather. He began swim training shortly thereafter until he placed second in his first-ever swimming competition in 2008, and the swimmer he lost to took him under the Philippine national team.

He traveled around the world with his national team, winning fifteen medals. In 2015, he satisfied the Olympic qualifying time for the 400m freestyle event, allowing him to compete at the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Watch Gawilan here.

A similarly inspiring true-to-life story, but one that takes on a much darker tone, is Breach of Trust, a 2019 film co-edited by Lua that was screened at the AFI Fest, the longest-running international film festival in Los Angeles and a qualifying festival for the Short Films category of the Academy Awards. The short film is accompanied by the soft, poignant original piano score by Anthony Sabatino.

The 25-minute documentary revolves around sexual misconduct allegations against Dr. George Tyndall, a former on-campus gynecologist at the University of Southern California (USC), where he served from 1989 to 2016, taking in an estimated 10,000 patients.

Photo provided by Kelsy Lua

The film chronicles an exposé by the Los Angeles Times that brought the doctor’s crimes to light as hundreds of women who were abused by Tyndall spoke out against him. The interviewees featured in Breach of Trust comprise a diverse cross-section of women of vastly different ages and ethnicities. This underscores not only the length of the decades-long period during which Tyndall committed his crimes, but also their breadth and insidiousness. For instance, he would deliberately prey on newly-recruited international students – notably from mainland China – who had never before been checked up on by a gynecologist.

Watch Breach of Trust here.

In keeping with the spirit of hope in the face of adversity, On The Clock, a short fiction film Lua co-edited, tells the story of Lucas and Sofia Garcia, a young brother and sister living alone in impoverished conditions, with the older Lucas desperately trying to make ends meet as the man of the house.

The film’s title is a play on words: young Sofia experiences her first period and is too embarrassed to go to class because she has no access to feminine products, and Lucas attempts to get his sister said products as he juggles a construction job with unforgivingly strict time-in and time-out practices. Lucas gets himself into deep trouble as he is pushed to his absolute limit, quite literally running for his and his sister’s lives. Victor Munoz gives a spellbinding performance as Lucas Garcia.

On The Clock was selected at the Creative Mind Group Showcase in the Cannes Festival as well as the Diversity in Cannes Showcase. It also won best narrative short at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival. The film is available on Amazon Prime.

Among Lua’s most notable upcoming works is the film Soak. Directed by Hannah Bang and edited by Lua, the film revolves around the story of a 16-year-old who tries to get her mother to return home after the latter runs away. Soak is now part of the lineup of SXSW, one of the top film festivals in the world, where the film will premiere on March 16-20, 2021.

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