‘When You Left Me On That Boulevard’ and ‘The Vacation’

Filipino-Americans left an indelible mark on the 2023 Sundance Film Festival with their unique and personal short films.

Kayla Abuda Galang, a talented filmmaker born in Olongapo City and raised in San Diego and Houston, received the Grand Jury Prize at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival for her short film When You Left Me On That Boulevard. Meanwhile, Jarreau Carrillo, a filmmaker of Filipino and African American descent, was also honored with the Short Film Special Jury Award for Directing for his outstanding work on The Vacation.

With their recent success, Galang and Carrillo have now firmly established themselves as rising filmmakers in the industry. Both are now looking forward to bringing their stories to the big screen with the creation of feature-length films. 

Galang plans on developing two features: ’06-’07, a coming-of-age comedy set in mid-2000s southeast San Diego, and On Earth as It is in Heaven, a comedy about familial grief set in present-day Houston. Carrillo, on the other hand, made The Vacation as proof of concept for his debut feature film entitled The Last to Survive in America, which has now been picked up by Range Media Partners.

See below the reviews of each Sundance short film:

When You Left Me On That Boulevard

Kayla Abuda Galang’s tribute to mid-2000s teenage life portrays the rich tapestry of Filipino-American heritage, where the fondness and affection of its people are on full display.

Set in 2006, Boulevard follows the delightful escapades of teenage girl Ly (Kailyn Dulay), as she indulges in weed along with her cousins before a lively Thanksgiving dinner. Aside from that, Ly must navigate the tumultuous waters of her own heart as she struggles to decipher the mixed signals from her crush and contend with her boisterous yet loving auntie.

Brimming with a boundless heart and community spirit, Galang extends kindness and compassion to her youth. She delves deep within her soul, mining her memories of Thanksgiving gatherings with Filipino-American families from San Diego all the way to Houston. From these treasured recollections, she weaves a heartwarming kaleidoscope of togetherness, a prism of familial love that is unpretentious in its scope and authentic in its embrace.

Dulay, as Ly, is so perfectly reserved and quiet. Donning long black hair with bangs, subtle expressions so as to not look like she’s overdoing anything, and piercing eyes that hold a thousand thoughts — she is the quintessential 2000s teen. Elle Rodriguez plays Auntie Pinky and gives it her all, not just in karaoke singing but also with her portrayal as that one aunt you know who just grabs the entire attention of the room with her energy.

Ly’s mother, Pacencia (Melissa Arcaya), and her cousins, Jamie (Whitney Agustin) and Crizzy (Gina May Gimongala), all wonderfully embody the constant fixtures in a typical teenager’s life — always caring, occasionally chaotic, but never judgmental. Filling up the house is an abundance of titos, titas, lolos, and lolas, as well as the playful pitter-patter of little feet as impatient children dart through the halls. It’s a cacophony of Filipino customs and habits that Galang’s camera observes without any hint of cynicism.

Boulevard succeeds because of how personal it is. The film lives and breathes through its community, and it just so happens that community is one of the most generous and wacky of all. It is a memory, captured in all its rough edges and broken lines, translated onto the screen for all to see and feel.

Weed, ‘Final Fantasy,’ and Magic Sing: Kayla Galang crafts charming Filipino-American short film for Sundance

The Vacation

It’s the last day of summer. In a quaint, unassuming vehicle, a stream of hypotheticals unfolds. It stars Aaron (Drew Morris), an overworked man who simply wants to take a vacation and take his mind off things, but his car won’t start, and his customers keep intruding on his humble sanctuary.

Later on, Aaron’s three friends, Devin (Jarreau Carrillo), Freddie (Ohene Cornelius), and Trae (Trae Harris), a vibrant assembly of contrasting personalities and idiosyncrasies, come inside his compact car to discuss wanting to go to the beach even though the destination remains ever elusive.

Writer-director Jarreau Carrillo wants you to intently listen in on their conversations, resonate with their aspirations, comprehend their struggles, and revel in their camaraderie. It is tightly shot, with minimal camera movement and flashiness, likely caused by the small space the film operates in. 

But that space speaks to the film’s strength, because it allows for the vulnerabilities of each African American character to be fully explored without the distractions of glamorous sets. The beach is an idea of rest and relaxation, a longing in the mind, no different from Trae’s sequin dress, Freddie’s Coachella fantasy, or Devin’s suburban utopia.

The writing is remarkably funny, too. Devin is the target of jokes and conversations surrounding the stark contrast between the experiences of Black and White Americans. Freddie refers to him as “socially conditioned,” while Aaron labels him as “a slave,” to which Devin responds with a hilarious callback to a senseless Kanye quote.

And so the short film exudes a light-hearted and playful nature, capturing a slice of life with its own inimitable charm. Carrillo has a web series full of these kinds of short vignettes on his YouTube channel called Somewhere in the Meantime (my favorite episode is iMnDaTrUnk, which is about a woman deciding to take up breast implants and artificial insemination). Each episode is centered around a character’s honest desires shared with someone else and is imbued with a profound sense of humor. Carrillo’s artistic voice is undeniable, his voice resonates clearly, and it’s one that is both relatable and captivating to behold.

The Vacation ends, and you’re left pondering what the titular “vacation” really was. But as Trae says, “there’s always next summer,” and then the next one after that, and so on. For, above all else, Carrillo’s film is not about fleeting things, but rather a reminder of companionship’s enduring ring and the solace that can be found in dreams yet to spring. –

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