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Emerging film writer-director Shaina Cabusi

BY FELINO DOLLOSO – Shaina Cabusi is a Filipino-Australian creative hailing from South Western Sydney currently studying the Bachelor of Arts: Screen Production, in her final year. 

She was born with a keen eye for storytelling, and has been telling stories non stop. 

Entering the film industry now, it’s become her goal to tell narratives and create characters that mirrored her personal experiences as a Filipino-Australian woman from the South West. 

It’s her goal to introduce more representation, to break the generalised stereotypes that her culture is often cast under, and write fun, adventurous, out-of-the-ordinary stories with these characters at the heart.

Any current projects you are currently working on?  

At the moment, I am writing and directing a teen action comedy called ‘Belladonna Wisk’s Recipe for Disaster’ as my graduate project. It follows the daughter of a hitman who realises she’d rather bake than assassinate, and thus faces an identity and path only she can decide for herself. 

The project is incredibly close and special to my heart. I’ve written Filipino representation within the story, and have set it in South West, both of which I relate too personally. I wanted this project to be my love letter to my own experiences, a love letter to the underrepresented aspects of Australian media that deserve to be showcased more. 

I know that this story is incredibly important to tell, which has been proven through the momentous support I have received via social media, with posts reaching 100k views advocating for the movie to be made, and in support of the story. We are currently in our crowdfunding phase through the Australian Cultural Fund, with a goal of $8000 in order to properly fund this film. 

Why did you decide to pursue a career in Films?

Since I was 5, I knew that my calling in life was to be a storyteller. Originally, I wanted to be an author. I had this deeply rooted love to tell stories that were out of this world, that took me out of reality and where I could be anyone I wanted to be. Storytelling has always been a defining point in my life, and I carried it with me all throughout Primary school, where I used to write stories about my class, to High School, where I discovered a love for film. My love for film grew as I began to understand and appreciate the power of visual storytelling. I grew fascinated at how camera angles, music and design could tell a story just as powerfully as if it were written in a novel. One thing remained, however, at the core of my storytelling. The desire to represent those who feel unseen, who feel like they don’t have a voice to tell stories. As a Filipina Australian, especially, I always wondered why I would turn on the TV and feel distanced from the stories told on Australian screens. Entering film school, I realised my purpose as a storyteller was to bring more cultural voices and representations to the screen, and give a voice to all that felt like me. 

From what age did you know of your interest in Filmaking or Directing.

I knew that I wanted to be a filmmaker as young as 14, when I first edited my English video project and realised I loved and was fascinated with how stories were woven together through pictures, visuals, dialogue and music

What projects or work have you been involved in Australia and or overseas?

I have been involved in numerous student film projects from AFTRS with my roles ranging from Producer, to Creator, to BTS, with titles including ‘The Kinscription’ (2019), ‘Ditto’ (2020) and PYGS (2021). Outside of AFTRS, I worked on Joy Hopwood’s ‘Rhapsody of Love’ (2020) and ‘Get a Life, Alright (2021), the Tropfest short ‘#ActorsLife’ (2019) by and have been an extra on Stan’s ‘The Other Guy’.

Of the work you listed above, any favourites or one that is closest to your heart so far?

The closest to my heart as of this moment would be the romantic documentary I created during the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, where I made a documentary short about my parents’ love story and how Filipino courtship values are rooted in their romance, and carried on in teachings to their family

Who would you accredit as having the greatest influence on you and in what you do? 

The greatest influence on me, as a storyteller, would most definitely be my parents. My parents, long before I was born, were storytellers and artists themselves, in their own ways. Growing up, they would always tell me tales of their childhood, ones that fascinated me and tales of Filipino lore from the provincials they lived at as a child. From a young age, they introduced me to some of the tv shows and movies that have influenced me today – such as Twilight Zone, X Files, and numerous other titles. Without them, I would not have grown into the storyteller I am now.

Who would you select as the most enjoyable person/s you have worked with and why?

The most enjoyable people I have worked with would definitely have to be my peers at AFTRS.  It’s so hard to choose certain ones! I’ve worked and collaborated with a number of peers from my cohort, and it astounds me how each of them are so unique in their creative process. I know that they all have such bright futures ahead of them, and will change the industry.   

What was the most enjoyable/best part of your career so far?

The most enjoyable part of my career so far has definitely been every single time I have been on-set a film production. it’s just so unreal, experiencing my dreams coming true and transforming everyday as a creative

What else would you want to accomplish?

I would love to go into directing and creating feature films next, which I know is an incredibly far reach as a creative, however I am just so excited to create and write more stories within the Filipino diaspora and represent my culture, my experiences more in Australian screens

What advice would you give to other aspiring Pinoy-Aussie Filmakers who are keen to establish themselves in the industry?

To all the aspiring Pinoy-Aussie filmmakers – don’t ever feel like you don’t have a voice here. You have a voice. And the voice deserves to be heard. Never stop believing in what you are creating, in why you are creating it, and regardless of the bumps you will encounter, the obstacles you will have to hurdle over, never lose sight of why you started telling stories in the first place. Connect with other Pinoy-Aussie creatives, build a community and never ever give up! And in saying that, I look forward to working with you down the line 

article by Felino Dolloso August 2021