"Most of the time your first feature film is just trash,” says UNLV film school graduate Andrea A. Walter, who will be receiving the Nevada Woman Filmmaker of the Year award at this week’s Nevada Women’s Film Festival for, yes, her first feature.
Empty by Design, which Walter wrote and directed and shot in her hometown of Manila in the Philippines, has performed far better than her modest assessment of a first feature film. Produced by Cignal Entertainment, Empty by Design premiered at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May 2019, and it was set to wrap up its festival run during NWFFest’s original dates in March, before the festival was postponed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of its screenings and discussion sessions will now be hosted online.
“Honestly, when our whole team made the film, I don’t know how most of them felt, but I thought, OK, we’re just going to have one tiny screening, done, and then move on,” Walter says. “This whole year has been just pretty wild.”
For Walter, the film’s journey started with a discussion with her roommate and producing partner Osric Chau, who also stars in the film. Chau encouraged her to draw on her personal experiences and write the movie she wanted to make, without any outside concerns.
“I just wrote how I felt,” Walter says. “How I felt isolated as a foreigner my whole life in America, and how I feel isolated when I go home, too, because I’ve not spent every day there anymore. That’s the story I came up with.”
That story follows two characters (played by Chau and Rhian Ramos), both of whom return to Manila after time away and struggle to fit back in, forming a bond around their shared experience of alienation.
Walter first came to Las Vegas to attend UNLV and then stayed for several years after graduating, working in a variety of positions on local film productions, and writing and directing some short films of her own. About three years ago, she made the move to LA, and she’ll be participating in the June 26 virtual Q&A for Empty by Design from her home there.
Still, her ties to Las Vegas remain strong, and she recruited three of her local collaborators to travel to the Philippines to work on Empty by Design with her. “It was so nice that I had some attachment to Las Vegas on this movie,” she says.
That attachment continues at NWFFest, including the centerpiece screening of Vanguard Award recipient Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s Sundance favorite The Mustang, on which Walter worked as part of the Nevada-based crew. “I feel accepted fully in a community I spent a long time trying to work in,” she says of receiving the local honor. “It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.”
Nevada Women’s Film Festival June 25-28, times vary, $7.50 per screening, $20 passes. nwffest.com.