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Directed by Martin Edralin

Cast: Esteban Comilang, Rogelio Balagtas, Sheila Lutaco

Special Jury Recognition for Breakthrough Performance, 2021 SXSW Film Festival

In an early scene in ISLANDS, Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) faces his nightstand, adorned by figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary, to deliver his nighttime prayers. A former dentist in the Philippines who now works as a janitor at a university in Toronto, Joshua is nearing 50, has never had a girlfriend, and still lives with his aging immigrant parents. And so he pleads with God to help him not be so shy, in hopes that he may find a wife and have kids for his mother Alma (Vangie Alcasid) to take care of while she’s still healthy, and because he’s terrified of being alone. After Alma passes unexpectedly and Joshua is unable to manage all of her former domestic duties, primarily caring for his rapidly ailing father, he seeks the aid of his cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), who arrived from Kuwait indefinitely on precarious visa conditions. Now sharing such close quarters, Joshua must contend with some uneasy feelings: is the kinship he feels toward his cousin something else, perhaps of a more romantic nature?

Achingly tender, director Martin Edrilan’s debut feature is a practice in empathy. Cautious against pathologizing Joshua’s taboo attraction as perversion, ISLANDS instead points to the specificity of Filipino immigrant experience, one in which family members, careers, and life-worlds have been left behind, and in which those floating in globalization’s vast wake must create worlds anew. Amidst this bleakness, beauty and joy always persist: from the monthly senior dance classes held at the local Filipino community center, to the brief family reunions that take place over FaceTime—reminders of the power of human connection and community.

—Justin Nguyen

Co-Presented by Council of Philippine American Organizations.

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