After making the 2012 feature “Apparition,” Isabel Sandoval was ready to push the rock up the hill again, fashioning a script about a transgender Filipino caregiver in New York faced with the threat of being kicked out of the country unless she could secure a green card, making her romance with the grandson of one of her patients take on an additional dimension since it could mean citizenship. Three years were spent developing the drama that would come to be known as “Lingua Franca” and an arresting proof-of-concept was shot — a sex scene that unfolds in closeup to reveal the acceptance she must find within herself before shedding all the labels that have been applied to her. But Sandoval would find that getting financing for a film centered on a minority, whether ethnically or sexually, was challenging enough, and with anti-immigration rhetoric swirling in the air with the inauguration of a new president, whatever hope she had was lost. Yet others were convinced the opposite was true.
“One of our producers, Gigi Dement, told me that now more than ever a film like this needs to be made,” Sandoval recalled recently via e-mail. “I took it to heart and decided to move forward.”
That urgency has led Sandoval to start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help make “Lingua Franca” a reality, raising funds on Kickstarter before a March 20th deadline to start filming this spring. While a successful campaign would alleviate the pressure of a tight budget, the goals go beyond financing the film, creating a community before the cameras even start rolling to prove to all those who said there wasn’t an audience for such a film were wrong. Naturally, Sandoval hopes that this group can come to include the LGBTQ community and people of color who have been starved of films in which they are prominently featured, but as Sandoval proved with previous films “Señorita” and “Apparition,” which told stories of marginalized women rebelling against the identities that have been placed on them by society, she is gifted with the ability of making the culturally specific feel universal while adding a distinct cinematic flair.
“I’ve always been drawn to stories of immigrants, like Jane Campion’s “The Piano” and James Gray’s “The Immigrant,” says Sandoval, whose work has premiered at the Locarno and Busan Film Festivals. “And while the film does touch on immigration and transgender issues, among other topical themes, I ultimately wanted to do a lush and moody romantic drama that becomes progressively impressionistic and claustrophobic, like a ’70s paranoia thriller.”
Sandoval’s vision for “Lingua Franca” has already attracted an impressive creative team across a wide variety of mediums, bringing together Sandoval’s longtime producers Darlene Malimas and Jerry Kirkman with the likes of Dement, who previously produced the 2011 Oscar-winning short “God of Love,” Tony Award-winning producer Jhett Tolentino and Carlo Velayo, who recently produced Jessica Thompson’s stirring feature debut “The Light of the Moon.” Clint Ramos, a 2017 Tony winner for the Lupita Nyong’o-starring drama “Eclipsed,” recently joined the film to serve as its production designer with more exciting announcements to follow. Describing the assembly of such a talented behind-the-scenes group as a “domino effect” that began after Sandoval spoke at a panel organized by IFP and Film Fatales in the spring of 2016, that sound you hear is the toppling of the barriers for entry that usually prevent audiences from seeing characters resembling themselves onscreen, making the crowd backing “Lingua Franca” one you want to be a part of.