Rice: A Filipino Love Story

: Documentary Short
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Post-Production


A love letter to rice expresses a romance full of beauty, contradiction, and hard choices.


A visual poem, and a stunning homage to rice, a staple food of the Philippines. Rice is central character of a narrative that involves a farmer, a gardener, a scientist, a poet, and a priest. Surrounded by beauty and abundant natural resources, they all face difficult conditions and choices forced upon them by complex and historically entrenched structures and systems.

Life is hard. There is no single, easy, or quick solution to their hardships.


This is my homage to Agnes Varda. Her film, "The Gleaners and I," links questions about farming and food to aging and the creative process. In my film, I want to show Filipino farmers as the agents of their own destiny. Without glossing over real hardship or minimizing the historical scale of struggle, I want people to focus on the beauty, dignity, and clarity of the Filipino soul. The questions are practical, political, aesthetic, and spiritual.

To prepare for filming in the rice fields of the Philippines, I went to the Art Institute of Chicago to look at the original haystack paintings of Claude Monet. I also read One-Straw Revolution, a classic environmentalist text written by an Japanese scientist-turned-farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka. I interviewed an agricultural researcher at the University of Minnesota. I queried my Filipino relatives and friends about the cultural significance of rice.

I spent two months on a ten-hectare rice farm in Zambales province, near Subic Bay Freeport Zone about two hours north of Manila. To round out my narrative, I also interviewed scientists at IRRI in Los Banos and PhilRice in the Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija.


Karin Aguilar-San Juan - Producer, Director, Writer, Cinematographer

I am a second-generation Filipino American. For the past 15 years I have lived in St. Paul, Minnesota where I am a college professor in an interdisciplinary department of American Studies. My academic specialties are urban sociology and critical race studies. I have written and published scholarly articles and books on a variety of subjects. My courses include “Race, Place, and Space,” “The Schools to Prison Pipeline,” “Hunger Games: Map and Mirror for the 21st Century.”

For the past eight years I have been making original black-and-white photographs—portraits and street scenes—in the Manila and the Visayas (Philippines), Ha Noi (Viet Nam), and Detroit (United States). I am drawn to visual media because of the complex emotions that can be evoked without words. For me, emotions precede thought and reason. Therefore, to capture people’s mind you have to first appeal to their hearts. In my experience, a beautiful image speaks directly to the heart.

I developed this film project as a way to contribute to the world’s visual imagination of Filipinos and the Philippines. “Rice: A Filipino Love Story” is my first film.

Pete K. Wong - Editor

Pete is a writer, actor, director, editor, and producer of film and theatre. He is a former mentee to documentary filmmaker Mark Tang and assistant to Hong Kong film producer Bey Logan. He has made several short films and documentaries, including "A New Dream A Son’s Journey," exploring his father’s adoption. In addition to a reoccurring role on Park N Shop commercials in Hong Kong SAR, he played Lieutenant Wuche in a China and Hollywood co-production action film "Shadowguard,The Blood Bond Saga." Pete is a recipient of the Minnesota State Arts Board Culture Collaboration Grant for his feature film screenplay ‘Where Days Go.’ Metropolitan State University designated him ‘One of 40 Alumni Who’ve Made a Difference.’ Always a mentor to young people, he has worked with Children’s Theatre Company’s Neighborhood Bridges, In Progress, St. Paul Public Schools, and East Side Arts Council helping build film and theatre programs. Pete is a certified martial artist of the Kwong Sai Jook Lum Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu under 5th Generation Grand Master Gin Foon Mark and head instructor of the Minnesota Mantis Kung Fu Association founded by Sifu Jack Spizale Sr.

Pete is a charismatic, passionate, and talented individual. Through his love and hard work he continually builds his career inspiring others. He now lives in Los Angeles, CA where he has been developing his upcoming webcomic brand.

Theo Gonzalves - Composer

Theo served on the advisory board for Kumu Kahua Theatre in Honolulu and Bindlestiff Studio, a San Francisco performing arts venue; co-founded the artist-run recording label, Jeepney Dash Records; played keyboards for the Legendary Bobby Banduria; and toured extensively as the musical director for the theater troupe, tongue in A mood. He has performed with several Asian and Asian American artists, including Jessica Hagedorn, Al Robles, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Nobuko Miyamoto, Charlie Chin, and Joey Ayala. Theo's musical work has been featured at concerts such as the Asian American Jazz Festival and performances at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. He has also written, produced, and performed several scores for independent film projects written and/or directed by Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Omz, Chrystene Ells, and Ramon Abad. Theo's scholarly and creative works have been supported by various awards including a Meet the Composer Award, a Visiting Artist and Scholar fellowship at the American Academy in Rome (declined), a senior Fulbright award, a Moeson fellowship at the Library of Congress, and a senior postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution. Theo lives in Washington, D.C.

Marlina Gonzalez - Translator and Subtitles

Marlina is a multidisciplinary arts curator, consultant and writer with a special focus on film, video, new media and theater. As Festival Director of The Asian American International Film Festival in New York City, she premiered the works of pan-Asian film and video artists, many of which were eventually presented at international film festivals in Berlin, Toronto, Hong Kong, Manila. As Assistant Curator for Film and Video at the Walker Art Center, Marlina pioneered the works of media artists of color, women and youth, diversifying the Walker's audience base by bringing established artists like Spike Lee, Danny Glover, the late Gordon Parks, to meet with local filmmakers, community members, youth as a means of engaging viewers beyond the screen. Marlina's passion for multicultural expressions expanded to other artistic disciplines when she became Programs Manager for Intermedia Arts. In 2010, Marlina was named one of The 100 Most Influential Filipinas in the U.S. as an Innovator and Thought Leader by Filipina Women's Network (CA). In early 2012, Marlina was announced as one of the recipients of The Joyce Awards – Commissioning New Works By Artists of Color. She is currently under commission by Pangea World Theater and Teatro Del Pueblo, working on a new play about the colonization and the Tagalog language entitled Isla Tuliro. Marlina holds a B.A. In Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines and a M.A. In Communication from the University of North Texas.


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UPDATE - July 01, 2019

RICE is now a 20-minute cinematic essay with a narration and a story arc...you won't forget the lush green fields, the singing farmer, and the faces of the people whose lives revolve around rice. Thanks to Andrew Benda and Morgan Adamson for the energy boost and incredible skills and talents! Enjoy the new teaser, with original guitar music by Andrew Benda!

UPDATE - November 18, 2018

With Marlina Gonzalez at the Editor's Desk--and seven new tracks of music from composer Theo Gonzalves--we've expanded this film to 20 minutes. "Lakay" Manny Lahoz takes us into Angela's Farm...it's a world where rice the organizing principle for so many decisions and choices...

UPDATE - November 02, 2016

Pete Wong and I spent a weekend pulling together clips and scenes to build the sections of the longer film: A Farmer' Life, Land and Politics, and The Drama of Choices. We'll have a new 2 minute segment to show soon, and we're hoping to finish up with another Los Angeles editing session in January 2017.

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