10 Questions with Paris Zarcilla

The director behind Raging Grace is one to watch

Real life serves as the basis for terror in Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace, a psychological thriller in theaters now. The movie examines the life of an undocumented Filipina caretaker who works for a terminally ill man. Set in a creepy English countryside manor, we see Joy along with her young daughter Grace quickly learning that this dream job is far from what it seems. Zarcilla, who saw firsthand how class and race intersect courtesy of his own family experiences deftly interweaves classic horror tropes with biting social commentary. The result? Best Film and Best Debut honors at the SXSW Awards, with hopefully more to come. We sat down with Zarcilla to discuss the film, which was shot in a mere 20 days, along with his hopes for a future trilogy and the message he hopes people will take away.

1) Having just won the Best Film & Best Debut at the SXSW and the numerous other awards for your film ‘Raging Grace’, did you ever think this was a possibility?

Initially I needed to be able to express the anger that I had, in a place that was safe for me to do so. The idea of submitting to festivals came later. Even with SXSW, it was such a beautiful chaos with so much happening and not knowing where to even look. It’s actually funny, we weren’t going to show up because we really didn’t think we had a chance before going at the last minute. Thank god we did! It was really such an honor to even be nominated let alone win.

2) How has your own experiences as a British-Filipino trickled into Raging Grace?

The film is laced with so many of my own experiences of the micro and macro aggressions that I grew up with in central London. These experiences made their way into the film because I needed to be able to confront those traumas. Being exposed to the work my mother did as a carer and cleaner in her early days, since she sometimes would bring me, and seeing what she was dealing with first hand, it was an eye-opening experience for me.

3) Having been born in London and growing up there, how often do you go back to the Philippines?

I used to go quite often, but stopped when my grandparents passed away. Now it’s not as often as I’d like, but I will be there next year to help promote the film when it goes on general release across the country. I had some formative times growing up, visiting where my mom used to live, which is literally right by the sea. It’s really so beautiful.

4) The casting for your film was so incredible, what was the process like for you?

It was quite hard actually. You are entrusting the cast with a character that is so personal to my own experiences so I wanted to make sure anyone I brought on board would be able to honor

that. Everybody worked so hard on the film because they accepted the responsibility wholeheartedly which was so amazing to see. It’s also so interesting how particular actors give a new dimension to my characters, helping me see a different perspective.

5) What initially made you want to make your film have a horror element to it?

I never set out to make a horror film but the subject matter that I was trying to address naturally lent itself to the genre. When we look at immigrant or migrant experiences, diaspora and children of diaspora, unfortunately most of the time it’s been quite horrific for them. What I also love about the genre is the tools it gives you to be able to confront very nuanced issues.

6) What is one film maker that really inspires you?

Alfonso Cuarón. He’s able to straddle his art house sensibilities with a very commercial mind, which makes for films that are really accessible. For instance Roma, if you were to break that down into a single sentence, it’s a story about a house helper and the family that she helps keep together. I don’t know. It is just boring as fuck? But he’s able to show a poetic, lyrical film about what it means to belong.

7) With this being your directorial debut would you want to make another film?

I feel so lucky to have been able to, one, make the film but also for it to be able to go on a festival journey. I had not anticipated the level of energy that it would need from emotionally, physically, and mentally. So I definitely need a break for a while, but Raging Grace is just the first film in a thematic trilogy I am working on called The Rage Trilogy. I’m very close to actually finishing the next draft called Domestic – which is about a young Filipino couple set in ’90s London. While running a cafe, they set up covert rescue missions on the weekend to help domestic workers escape their abusive employers.

8) What are you most excited about at the minute?

Building a fire, pouring myself a red wine, and reading a book and having my cats next to me.

9) After a long day of filming, what do you do to unwind?

It was overall quite fun, but there were other moments towards the end where I’d just say, I’m going fucking crazy. I need to leave. And you can’t. But the great thing about it was that there were fireplaces in almost every room, and towards the end of every day, I would literally build myself a fire and that would be my meditation. I would sit next to it and ruminate on the day, thinking about the next one.

10) What are three things you could not live without?

Straight up my cats, my five cats, I can’t live without. Then I would say my best friend who is just someone who somehow has seemingly infinite patience for me and lastly this is going to sound so Asian, but rice.


In theaters now. 
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