by Steven Sanchez
This past Memorial Day weekend, while other people were celebrating by going to parades and having barbecues, a group of local filmmakers came together and went to work by shooting a short film in Clovis. The short story, titled Impossible, was a movie making dreams come true for those involved as their purpose was to produce the project to submit it to a festival. The one in mind was the 168 Film Festival, the faith-based competition from Los Angeles, founded in 2003; their mission statement, according to their website, is, “for writers and filmmakers to explore scripture and to practice their craft.”
Each production team, from around the world, are given a theme of which to base their film. The theme for this year was “Power.” The cast and crew from Fresno is named Team 30. The Bible passage they were given was Matthew 4:4 which was their source of inspiration in which to set the foundation of their story. They were only given seven days, 168 hours, in which to have it fully completed and ready for submission, hence that being the name of the festival.
The leaders of this cinematic undertaking were director KP Phagnasay and leading actress Alena Gerard. KP, a veteran actor, stuntman, and local acting coach, who runs KP1 Studios, had directed other projects before, but this was his first attempt for this particular festival. Alena, with modeling gigs and features under her belt, was up to the task of headlining this picture and adding this onto her credits. As soon as they assembled the squad, comprising of past collaborators and friends who were either professionals or hopefuls, they were up-and-running trying to formulate a coherent story to coincide with their scheduled timeframe. Out of those seven days, four of them were spent piecing together the narrative. It was decided that the plot would be based on Alena’s past life.
The subject matter would hit close to home for the leading lady, literally and pun intended, since the majority of the film was shot at her actual home. The storyline is about a married woman who’s in a physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive relationship with her husband, and once she’s had enough she decides to take her daughter and leave her life and everything behind to seek a more enlightened one through the power of her faith.
With domestic violence being such a hot button topic, the content has a lot of resonance during the height of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement taking place right now, an outsider may observe and beg the question on why a woman would want to revisit those old scars when it’s already behind her? In all honesty, that was their strategy from the get go, to tackle this subject head-on.
“We felt that it should be told. It is to rip that bandage in order to heal or to create a discussion about the issues of abuse, whether it’s physical or mental,” says KP. “Every community faces these issues and sometimes we need to address that. This is a film that hopes to spark a discussion among our community, etc.”
For Alena, revisiting the darkness was not an easy process for her, and it was presented on the dailies, but in the end, it was a very cathartic experience. “It was scary to an extent…but I’m also happy that I was able to go back to those moments, and as an actress you’re doing something that has meaning, and those feelings give it that genuine feel,” proclaims Alena. “Those are feelings that need to be released, it’s a healing process for those that have been through physical, emotional, mental abuse…you can’t bottle these things away. The healing process is finding a way to move past those feelings.”
In the end Alena hopes that the audience who views the film will take away some inspirational message from the story. “It is possible to overcome it, you don’t have to feel that you’re always so locked away in a prison because your self-worth has been take away from you and you’ve been broken, but you can still re-establish yourself and make something beautiful out of it.”
That was the mindset that the screenwriting team had to face when constructing the story during the pre-production. Made up of three males and a woman, they each had to confront their own personal stories or connections to this subject matter told from different perspectives. “We had different viewpoints and ways of going about it that we didn’t necessarily have a cohesive archetype for a script, but we were able to float around ideas while we were on the same page but different wavelengths,” describes Tomas Pena.
According to Bobby Palacios, his viewpoint was, “We were like all in the sandbox but just in different parts of it, and it was fun to get everybody’s take on the subject matter and go from there while developing a singular plot-thread.”
With the blueprint in hand, production was underway. With only three days to shoot, everything was fast, but efficient. The Central Valley became a set for them, and they used it at their disposal. The majority of the filming took place at Alena’s house in Clovis, and Cottonwood Park, El Cochinito Contento Mexican Restaurant in Tower District of Fresno, and on Highway 41 going up to Yosemite.
The crew’s good fortune was a blessing that was provided by its executive producer, Bobby Bliatout, who was a candidate running for the 22nd U.S. Congressional District and the Chief Executive Officer of Fresno-based community clinics. His hope is to assist the local film community any way he can for it to be put on the map and have other moviemaking meccas like Hollywood and the Bay Area to see the Central Valley as a place for filmmaking talent. In a pre-production meeting, Bobby announced to the cast and crew, “It’s good to see the Central Valley represented this way, and we’re going to do something here…and make sure we run through this right because we want to build this kind of stuff here in the Valley and give people opportunity and the 168 Film Festival is a good way to start.”
As hard as it was for Alena to conjure up her dark memories and relive them, it was no easy feat for Ted Nunes, the leading actor who portrays the husband who abuses his wife, to accomplish. Delving into that mentality of sociopathic narcissism is a route not too many request or look forward to when taking on a character at first glimpse, but Ted found liberation in the process of going down that dark alleyway of the mind. “It’s actually a fun experience to transition to different emotions and evolve an arc like that even though it’s a negative one, but it was a lot of fun, and Alena is easy to work with, we played off each other, both the positive and the negative…it was helpful and it made a difference.”
One of the things that stood out about this picture was the diversity that took place on set. The cast and crew was made up of all walks of life and different races and ages, and that’s how KP wanted it. “I felt we have such great diverse talent, and I wanted to showcase them. We need more diversity in this business. We have a voice, and it should be heard and seen,” KP said proudly.
The cast and crew provided more than good workmanship. In a direct message of appreciation towards her crew, according to Alena, “Actually, all of you guys don’t know how much you helped me while I was going through emotional breakdowns. I can’t express how much of a family it felt, it was just a beautiful family getting together on a weekend and having the time of our lives and just being there for each other. And that’s what actually carried me through, was all of you guys.”
Well, all that camaraderie paid off. The short film became award eligible out of the eleven films that were chosen all over the world and collected a total of nine nominations in the categories of Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, etc. The event takes place on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, at the Regal Cinemas Premiere House at LA Live with a red carpet and ceremony. “I am very proud and pleased to have such recognition for our team. We worked really hard, and it proves that we have talent here. We all got close to one another. We are like ‘Ohana’ (family), and that is how I wanted it to be,” KP declares.
Director – KP Phagnasay (nominee, Best Director/Best Editor/Best Production Design/Best Sound Design)
Actress – Alena Gerard (nominee, Best Actress)
Actor – Ted Nunes (nominee, Best Actor)
Actress – Kendall Hernandez (nominee, Best Supporting Actress)
Cinematographer – Dan Watt (nominee, Best Cinematography)
Make-up & Hair – Gena Kazazian (nominee, Best Make-up & Hair)
Executive Producer – Bobby Bliatout
Executive Producer – Jamie Ishisaka
Camera Operator – David Marshall
Screenwriter/Script Supervisor – Lianna Jean Manibog
Assistant Director/Screenwriter – Bobby Palacios
Second Assistant Director/Screenwriter – Tomas Pena
Production Coordinator – Elisa Valenzuela
Screenwriter/Crew – Gabriel Delapena
Crew – John Durham
Extra – Alexandria Durham
Sound – Rix Chhuy
Production Assistant – Steven Bruce
PR/Media – Steven Sanchez