Frances Rubio Honors Her Father's Life While Addressing Caretaking and Mental Health in 'Recording for Dodie'

By WORLD CHANNEL

'The Lookout' is presented as part of Asian American Stories of Resilience and Beyond.
 

In 'Recording for Dodie,' filmmaker Frances "Frankie" Rubio (she/they) turns the camera on themself as she copes with caretaking while separated from their father, Eduardo "Dodie" Rubio, who is quarantined at a nursing facility during the pandemic. Through personal narrative and archival home video, she tells their story of father and daughter in a delicate, loving tribute to the quick-witted, kind-hearted man she grew up with. Rubio's father passed away on May 10, 2022 (this interview with Rubio occurred on April 15, 2022).

Rubio also presents a vulnerable portrait of the mental and physical toll caregivers experience day-to-day and over an extended period of time. The film recognizes the millions of unpaid Americans who take on the responsibility of caregiving and how they manage.

"I wanted 'Recording for Dodie' to mostly be about caregivers and the things that they might feel, but it became this sort of love letter to my dad," Rubio said. "It was very much about holding onto the memories of my dad, wanting to honor and appreciate who he was, and is now, and providing a framework of how I felt about this moment."

Rubio spoke with WORLD Channel about their favorite memories of "Dodie," and how, through filmmaking, she can uphold the legacy of compassion and strength he has left behind.

WORLD Channel: As an Asian American filmmaker, what does storytelling mean to you?

Frances Rubio: For so long, Asian Americans have never been seen as part of the American experience. The perpetual idea of Asians being foreign is something that I've experienced in my life. I'm American; I'm also Asian American. I wanted our story to provide empathy and compassion for people who may or may not know the Asian community. 

We are often underrepresented, misrepresented, and oftentimes, our stories are simplified. There isn’t enough nuance nor conversation. It's all blanket statements when we think about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in a way that is detrimental to our community. Highlighting our humanity in our stories and our experiences, the commonalities of what we're going through, is what I wanted to share. After never seeing myself and my story [on screen] for my entire life, I finally saw films coming out about the Asian American experience, first-generation and immigrant. I wanted to be part of that.

I had been documenting my experience as a first-generation Asian American caregiver – someone who had moved from New York to Los Angeles, who is the eldest daughter of divorced parents and became a caregiver at a really young age. But it wasn't until my dad got sick that I felt the most alone. I wanted one person in the world to tell me it was going to be okay and that there was a way to talk about the nuance of what that experience was, but I couldn't find anything. I realized the power of storytelling in that moment and decided I was going to dedicate the rest of my life to making more people feel seen, heard, validated and comforted.

Storytelling can encapsulate all these different experiences and intersectionality. I want to tell these stories in a nuanced way; being sick, navigating the healthcare system, dealing with mental health and burnout, struggling with separation – things [almost] everyone can relate to. I truly hope that sharing my story, and what my family went through, provides compassion, empathy and a better understanding of the fact that we are just as American as anyone else.

WC: How does your film preserve your father’s legacy?

FR: To me, family is everything. It's why I do what I do. It was hard to watch the archival [footage], because that's how I remember my dad – this incredibly joyful, silly, deeply caring and sensitive individual. I thought I lost this when my dad got sick, [and while] it’s a different version of my dad now, it’s still very much him in so many ways. Every now and then, I captured him joking and pulling a prank on me and my family.

I feel so lucky that my parents came to America from the Philippines. I think about the struggles of coming to a new country, the sacrifices they made and trying to fit into a society that didn’t necessarily always welcome them. I saw how much my dad wanted to preserve these memories of me and my brother growing up in America – our family, the parties, the graduations, the birthdays and the holidays. As I was going through the archival, I recognized how much I also wanted to do the same.

I wanted to capture who my dad is and highlight the fact that this amazing human being, [with] my mom, did a difficult thing by coming here, building a life, raising kids and doing what they could to build their legacy. I feel privileged that at this age, in my 30s, there is opportunity to share our stories now.

WC: How does your story represent resilience?

FR: One of the hardest things to grapple with was even sharing the story. It was wanting to be vulnerable and showing that our family was going through this. Even now, I'm nervous. But I did want to share that this is happening; some of us are struggling with this, I was struggling [with this] and my heart was breaking. It was also [about] taking the pandemic in stride, one day at a time, not knowing what was going to happen, continuing to document this and trying our best to show that we were there for my dad.

Resiliency is dealing with adversity, persevering and coming out on the other side. My family coming here and dealing with the everyday things an American does and then some, as an immigrant – that feels like 100 percent resiliency. Telling the story and showcasing resiliency allows us to show the adversity we experience and highlights the obstacles and hardships we run into. I hope that we can change the system.

WC: What does your film say about the state of caregiving in America?

FR: There are so many amazing people in my and my dad's life who have been helpful – nurses, doctors, and social workers – and many people who have cared and supported us. As much as there are resources, I also feel like there weren't enough. There's not enough financial support for families to be together or enough options for families to have [their loved ones] be at home. My best case scenario was bringing my dad home, and I was looking into programs and organizations, but there is no available funding or support. 

Caregiving has been really difficult, and it was hard to capture the breadth and depth of that experience, because there were many joyful, funny and amazing moments. It's been about managing the realities of what caregiving and being sick in America is like while also seeing that there is still the human spirit of who my dad is. 

I want to change the way we think [and talk] about caregiving in America. It's often difficult to talk about certain things within our families, but if we could have open conversations, it would help us prepare for caring for our aging populations and caregiving in general in America.

WC: How were you able to be so vulnerable with your film?

FR: The process of filmmaking was mostly capturing this for myself, first and foremost. I was trying to problem-solve, navigate bills and track COVID at my dad's nursing facility. I was barely understanding what was happening in the world and how my dad got COVID and what that meant. Filming was really difficult, and I felt like I was reliving it over and over again. [But I also had a] group who helped me work through the story and supported me from an emotional standpoint. The fact that they all happened to be Asian women was a joy.

No one knows the things that I was going through. I was feeling guilt, not knowing how to give [my dad] support, letting him know we're here and we care, and that we were trying to find ways to bring him home. I felt like I had to put up a front, to save face, when, really, I wanted to be honest that this is a real struggle that was plaguing me. Talking about my own mental health and my struggles with it feels like a level of vulnerability that terrifies me. I don't want [my family and peers] to see me in this state, which I think is a weakness. [But] I can't just do this behind closed doors and struggle on my own.

The other piece of what scares me about telling this story is that it's my family's story. I’m protective of them, protective of our experience. I worry about what it does to our family name; what it might do to my brother, to my mom, to my dad's side of the family and to my dad. To me, the exchange is bringing down the wall of saving face to hopefully open up the conversation and make change.

WC: What do you want audiences to take away from 'Recording for Dodie'?

FR: I want people to understand the nuances that different people were experiencing during [the COVID-19 pandemic] and to shed a light on one particular experience that came out of it – the story of what my dad means to me and my experience in going through this. 

I hope that [my film] can help others who might feel alone or not seen or heard and let them know that they're not alone. That's what I wanted when I became a caregiver, to discuss all the parts that come with it. The guilt, the stress, the moments of joy that we do have with our loved ones; the entire multifaceted experience of caregiving is something I wanted to share. And on top of it, to then share it from a first-generation American experience with immigrant Asian parents.

Frances Rubio's 'Recording for Dodie' is now streaming on the PBS app and WORLD Channel’s YouTube. Asian American Stories of Resilience and Beyond is presented in partnership with the Asian American Documentary Network and the
Center for Asian American Media.

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