SAN FRANCISCO – This year has brought a bountiful harvest of acclaim for Filipino-American Gio Espiritu, who has been collecting awards for her intersecting talents as actor, writer and filmmaker.
Currently based in Las Vegas to be near her fellow creative “kiddo” or “childling,” as she refers to her only child Vesper Evereux, Espiritu recently nabbed the Crisostomo Ibarra Best Screenplay for “Ally 3000” at the maiden Las Vegas Filipino Short Film Festival. She also received the nod for Best Director.
Early this year Espiritu grabbed the Best Short Film under two minutes for “Legacy” at the Silicon Valley Asian Pacific Film Festival. The same work also garnered the Silver Telly Award.
Admirers of Espiritu – a director, screenwriter, playwright, actor and acting coach – are highly anticipating completion of “Love and Karma,” which she describes as a “romantic feature” that she wrote and directed.
Now in post-production, the film topbills Fil-Ams Belinda Panelo and Jojo Riguerra who share the spotlight with Oscar nominee Eric Roberts, international star Bai Ling and Golden Globe nominee Joanna Pakula.
The film also introduces South San Francisco-based entrepreneur and community advocate Bettina Santos Yap in her first foray into one of her many childhood dream gigs.
Espiritu and Santos Yap met as co-directors of the 2004 staging of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” by the Filipina Women’s Network at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco.
The following year they reunited in the first-ever community presentation of the all-volunteer Filipino American-initiated Alliance for Community Empowerment (ALLICE) when it was known as the Filipino American Task Force of Community Overcoming Abuse (CORA), the nonprofit service agency for domestic violence survivors in San Mateo County.
Espiritu gave testimony of her experience with intimate partner abuse at said landmark event at the Philippine Consulate and Santos Yap was elected founding president of the Task Force shortly after.
Their paths crisscrossed as they pursued their twin common passion that eventually converge in a major collaboration that is “Love and Karma.”
Neither can Espiritu’s followers wait to view “Motherland,” her autobiographical journey through the matriarchal line of her family. The documentary digs deep into the women’s lives, from their fabled glory days hobnobbing with the ilustrados or the establishment during the time of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, to their post-World War II reversal of fortune that saw Gio’s mother giving birth at 16 to the future thespian in abject poverty in the bowels of Manila.
”Motherland” glimpses the filmmaker’s own struggle in the spiral of abuse that began when she was a child, worsened in her teens when she spent time in what she calls a “biblical doomsday cult” and then escalated when she entered a relationship to become the aggrieved half in a violent marriage.
The film does conclude with hope as it culminates with “reconciliation and understanding generational trauma, putting an end to the toxic family patterns and curses,” says Gio, as only one who has walked in her shoes would recognize, thereby “colonizing,” her reference to coming to terms with her “own world view.”
Espiritu, of course, dipped her feet in entertainment first as an actor, ultimately becoming a regular on the long-running “ER,” guesting on network chartbusters “Young Sheldon” and “Bones” and headlining on Amazon’s “Dyke Central.”
Like most of her peers, she is relieved the screen actors and writers’ strike is over, but with a caveat.
“I’m still wary about the consent and usage of AI actors (especially thinking about companies generating people of color actors instead of hiring actual diverse artists) but glad that actors and writers can get back to work,” she shared with Inquirer.net.
“Most of the industry is made up of working class, gig workers like me and not the 1 percent of star names that are usually associated with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood life.”
Through the years, she has opened minds and hearts with her filmmaking, as she has done with her social justice activism as a survivor speaker at family and intimate partner violence prevention events and as an advocate for LGBTQIA rights. Her work has reaped awards from the California Senate and Assembly, as well as Filipina Women’s Network and ALLICE.
The self-identified “bisexual, once-undocumented immigrant Filipina mom,” unabashedly touts “Break Hearts Wide Open and Create More Moments of Joy” as her “IRL and reel life mantra.”
A true creative, she raises consciousness as surely as she raises eyebrows. Rewards naturally follow in her wake.