Meet Emma Francisco, co-founder of San Diego Filipino Cinema

Emma Francisco, shown at her office in Liberty Station on Oct. 31, is an independent film producer and co-founder of the San Diego Filipino Cinema, a nonprofit that nurtures Filipino filmmakers.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda - U-T)

‘Powerhouse’ forges career in filmmaking

Emma Francisco’s college professor told her she shouldn’t pursue a career in filmmaking because it was too hard for women to break through the barriers. Men’s voices were favored. Women suffered. Francisco didn’t listen.

Today, she is a producer of award-winning independent films, the managing partner of Wanderlust Project Films and co-founder of the San Diego Filipino Cinema, a nonprofit that discovers and nurtures Filipino filmmakers from around the world and presents their unique and compelling stories to San Diego’s diverse communities.

“I had to work really hard for my voice to be heard by my peers and myself,” Francisco said.

Francisco belongs to a minority group of film producers. According to Women and Hollywood 2018 report, of the top 300 films of 2016-2018, less than 20 percent of major film producers were women. Of these, 1.6 percent were women of color. The June 2019 issue of Variety magazine reported that women fared better in the independent films industry with 37 percent females in the role of producer.

Francisco credits her colleagues, especially her “reel and real” life partner, award-winning film director, Benito Bautista, for supporting and mentoring her. He gave her her first professional job as producer.

“Emma is a powerhouse,” Bautista said. “If you could see this 5-1 woman in the middle of a 200-person crew of mostly men and a cast of 1,000 — sometimes bouncing between two or more countries — commanding their presence … telling them what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and where it needs to be done. … Wow! It’s inspiring.”

Francisco, who grew up in Manila, also credits her father for inadvertently nurturing her love of story telling, He was a well-known Philippine journalist who often traveled to other parts of the country on assignment. She and her siblings would excitedly wait for his return and listen to his stories of places and people they only heard about on television or read about in books.

Her father was one of her role models. She thought that of all people, he would be the one to support her choice of filmmaking. Instead, he discouraged her. Like many Filipino parents, he along with her mother, encouraged her to go into professions deemed safe and secure, like nursing or computer science. She was stunned.

However, one day she returned from school and found a stack of used books on filmmaking at the entrance of her bedroom door. It was her dad’s way of telling her he supported her decision. It wasn’t until later that she found out that her father had filmed a documentary that was shelved because of its “controversial” content during the time of President Ferdinand Marcos and martial law.

A few years ago, Francisco went back to her old neighborhood to film a project.

“It was surreal,” she said. “There we were, filming, surrounded by my former neighbors. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be actually filming a movie there … where I had dreamt of a career in filmmaking.”

In early 2019, she along with Bautista, co-produced a short documentary film by Ala’ Khan and Reynaldo Escoto, “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” a short documentary about Muslim and Christian communities coming together to pray at Friendship Park in San Diego, the only place on the U.S-Mexico border where families can meet.

Francisco continues to co-create platforms for underrepresented communities to break the barriers of the filmmaking industry, such as Filipino-Americans (who are often steered away from creative careers by their parents), women and LGBTQ. This December, San Diego Filipino Cinema will hold film screenings of short and feature films made by emerging Filipino American and Filipino filmmakers, along with panel discussions on challenges faced today by beginning filmmakers. All are welcome to attend.

About this feature

DeLeon-Torres is a member of the U-T Community Advisory Board. People San Diego Should Know is a weekly column about local people who are interesting and noteworthy because of their experiences, achievements, creativity or credentials. If you know of someone you believe San Diego should know, please send your idea to