"Empathica" a short film by Taylor Bibat In addition to normal teenage struggles, Aiya absorbs the feelings of others. In a different world, ex-superhero Empathica struggles to wrangle back her powers after losing control of them. When they are thrust into each others' presence they are forever changed. Puppets, dance, and heart...
I am proud to present “Empathica,” a short film about genuine connection and the strength of sensitivity. For almost a decade, the idea of a superhero–Empathica–has helped me through my own journey. Imagining myself as this character with empathic powers and pondering the innate challenges those powers imply, has changed my personal story from one of judgment of and frustration with myself to one of strength and gratitude. I want to empower others, especially young people, to value their feelings and compassion, and see this sensitivity as strength– a world bettering power. Our world needs more people with this brand of strength. Empathy is the only thing that can save us as a species, and the art of film can be a gateway toward a better story for us all.
So here it is: Empathica is a middle-aged, former superhero who has retreated inward after losing control over her empathic powers. She lives in Urbania, a gritty world of “heroes” and “villains,” that is expressed in this film through puppets and miniature sets. In another world, directly reminiscent of our own and expressed with human actors, lives Aiya (“EYE-uh”), a teenage girl who longs to be part of the solution, but is overwhelmed and paralyzed by the heaping injustices of the world that just won’t stop invading her bedroom. Her outlet is dance which allows her to move through the pain toward something positive. Back in Urbania, crisis erupts and Empathica is forced to reluctantly come to the rescue, resulting in a completely improbable colliding of worlds. Empathica appears right there in Aiya’s bedroom (now as a flesh and blood human) . Somehow they know each other. After a brief interaction they are returned to their own worlds, newly empowered and forever changed by each other.
Puppets, dance, superheroes and sci-fi, activism and current events, coming of age and intergenerational learning, female empowerment, and flipping the script on “strength” and “weakness”… these elements successfully come together because of writer Danny Bernardo’s clever structuring of my characters and their emotional journey.
So why puppets? Puppetry is my artform. Though I have an acting background and also love telling stories with humans, I default to thinking in puppets and shapes. Puppets are innately metaphorical and I think they can often express truth, as opposed to “reality,” in a deeper way. Maybe we will see the occasional puppeteer’s hand or catch a glimpse of the “strings.” What does that say about Empathica’s emotional state or present context?
I have been an artist, storyteller, puppeteer, and creative producer for as long as I can remember. Theater was my chosen medium for most of my life until I discovered a love for filmmaking and moved from Chicago to LA three days before my 30th birthday to immerse myself in the industry. Over the next 6-7 years I just learned as much as I could “on the job.” I worked every gig I could get including:
Production Office PA (and later SPFX PA) for Fate of the Furious at Universal
Floor PA for PBS Kids/Jim Henson Company’s Splash and Bubbles
2nd AD of the test for the Netflix/Jim Henson Company’s Dark Crystal tv show
Assistant to the Line Producer/Producer Director/Showrunners (at different points of the process) for the Warner Brothers/CBS limited event series The Red Line
Assistant to the Producer on the MGM animated feature The Addams Family
Art Department for the puppet feature film, Yamasong: March of the Hollows
Producer of an NDA’d short puppet film with Nexus Studios
Producer at Fonco Studios
various roles both in creative and production on commercials, music videos, and small independent projects including puppet films for Heather Henson’s Handmade Puppet Dreams
Through these jobs I spent many hours learning from pros at the top of the industry. It is now time to bring my own artistic voice and leadership to the forefront and value my own stories.
For this project I have brought together a team of people who are not only accomplished but who I know will be genuine teammates to myself and each other. The team so far is 2/3 female and over 40% BIPOC and range in age from teens to 70s. I myself am female and half Filipino/half Polish American and my co-writer is gay and Filipino American. I believe working with a diversity of voices makes the strongest work and I am lucky that my creative friends come from all walks of life. Our world needs to meet Empathica in order to empower more Aiyas.