On Her Way: An Interview With Director Hannah Espia

Last September 18, the Film Academy of the Philippines named Transit as the official entry of the Philippines to the 86th Academy Awards next year. With critical and commercial buzz coming from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, director Hannah Espia is getting ready for the crucial Oscar campaign. Coming off her victorious circuit in Cinemalaya and the Busan Film Festival, The Menagerie meets up with this young up-and-coming director to ask some questions about her craft and her inspirations.


TLS:What inspired you to do Transit?

Espia: Transit was inspired by a chance encounter with an OFW at the airport during one of my trips from Israel. The OFW was bringing home his three month-old son as a result of the Deportation law of Israel in 2009.

TLS: With the turmoil happening in the Middle East, how did you manage to make Transit a crowd-pleaser?

Espia: One of Transit‘s strength[s] is that it shed light on an issue unknown to a lot of people, including Filipinos. When people talk about the Middle East, they think of wars and conflict. Transit showed a different side of the Middle East and also showed a glimpse of the lives of
Filipinos living there.

TLS: As a director, whose works do you look up to and how did they help shape the way you are as an up-and-coming but strong director?

Espia: I’m a big fan of Japanese cinema and animation. I think what I know about “film language” – cinematography, mise-en-scene, editing – were all in a way inspired by Japanese animation and films. My favorite director is Shunji Iwai, and his film “All About Lily Chou-Chou” inspired me to be a filmmaker.

TLS: What is your opinion regarding the state of Filipino cinema these days?
Espia: Filipino cinema is alive and thriving. The energy brought about by film festivals such as Cinemalaya and CineFilipino is astonishing. I would actually be surprised whenever I learned that a Transit screening sold out. And recently there are news of some mainstream movies not doing so well. The Filipino audience [is] ready for a different kind of cinema, and the international audience is receiving our films well, too. I think it’s a great time to be a Filipino filmmaker, and it is definitely a good year for Philippine cinema.

TLS: Your father worked on the score for the film. What advice did he give to you when you were conceptualizing, directing and finalizing Transit?

Espia: His advice to me was very realistic. My dad started in the music industry when he was only 18 years old, so he knows how hard it is to be young and starting in a highly competitive industry. He told me that people won’t always listen to me because I am young, and to always find a way for people to trust me and my work.

TLS: What mantra or prayer do you say before you start another take?

Espia: I would say my prayers before the day started, and [take] a deep breath whenever I would start a take. Then at the end of the day I give thanks.

TLS: Dean Devlin is such a big fan of Transit. What do you think of all the international reception Transit has received?

Espia: I am very honored and grateful that Dean Devlin is showing his support for Transit. It’s hard to please everyone and I have had some foreign critics say very bad things about Transit (and sometimes about me). The important thing is to always be grateful for the opportunity. Just the fact that Transit is being seen by people worldwide is already very rewarding for me.

TLS: Share with us the moments when you received the news that Transit is the Philippines’ entry in the Academy and the Oscar Awards.

Espia: The first thing I did was cry, and the rest of the day seemed to be blurry after that. I had to pinch myself so many times.

TLS: With this kind of generous reception for your first film, do you feel any pressure for your future projects?

Espia: I feel VERY pressured. Sometimes I think it’s impossible to top Transit. But I am first and foremost a storyteller, and nothing can stop me from telling stories. Right now, I’m just concentrating on the festival run and Oscar campaign of Transit. After that, I would love to get
started with writing my new script.

TLS: What is next for Hannah Espia?

Espia: I have been developing a project since 2012, called “#NoOneWillFindUsHere” which is about the short encounters of long distance lovers. The film is mostly based on my current relationship so I’m really excited how that’s going to turn out. Also, I plan to get a lot of sleep, finally.

TLS: We thank you for your time and answers regarding this matter, Ms. Espia.


Transit is only one of the many films made by Filipinos that has been recognized internationally. Word on the street says that On The Job by Erik Matti will be having a US adaptation in the near future, and 10 year old Barbara Miguel bagged the Best Actress trophy in this year’s Harlem International Film Festival held in New York. Look behind all those Sisterakas, Kung Fu Divas or whatever Vice Ganda is in, and Philippine cinema IS alive and thriving, and we have Cinemalaya and other film festivals to prove our true worth.

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By Daniel Ian Comandante

Arielle Poblete

By Arielle Poblete

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