An interview with Angelena Bonet | Change The World | VMA19 Best Woman Filmmaker Winner | May Edition
Angelena Bonet is the director and writer of 'Change The World', an autobiographical documentary about the incredible courage to face the world after violent violence. Her inner energy allowed Angelena to overcome further personal traumas and to be more determined than ever, in order to inspire other women all over the world.
The same energy helped her to win several accolades worldwide, including an 'Award of Prestige as Best Woman Filmmaker' at the Vegas Movie Awards.
Below is the interview with Angelena. We hope you will enjoy it and get inspired by this amazing woman.
• Hi Angelena, we are pleased to meet you for this interview. Congratulations again on your win at the Vegas Movie Awards! Your career begins as a model. Then, you hosted a TV show. Tell us about your first steps in the showbiz. What are the achievements that you're most proud of so far?
Thank you so much for the beautiful introduction and my ‘Award of Prestige as Best Woman Filmmaker’, I’m so honored and grateful for this accolade! As you said, my career began as a model in Sydney, Australia. I was discovered in a hair salon at 18 years old and my first photoshoot was for Vogue Australia. The next couple of years I studied at business college and worked as a secretary so modeling was just part-time for me and many shoots and catwalks jobs were unpaid. A couple of years later I won a couple of big bikini competitions and landed my first cover of Inside Sport magazine, which is the Australian equivalent of Sports Illustrated. It gave me incredible exposure and my career just took off from there. I appeared on numerous TV commercials such as Pepsi and McDonalds, shot an American film in The Philippines and was then cast on the TV soap opera 'Breakers' for two years, which aired in more than 50 countries.
I then landed two more Inside Sports covers, including the Sydney Olympic Games Issue in 2000. I was body painted in the Australian flag and it was the biggest selling issue ever. Working with that publication was definitely a dream come true for me and opened many doors for major contracts with swimsuit and lingerie companies, including Elle MacPherson’s Intimate apparel range. My career took me around the world, and when I returned from working in Milan I was named the new Australian Supermodel on national prime time news. Subsequently, I was booked for a Panasonic billboard campaign. While visiting L.A. I went to NBC studios to see The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and was invited onto his stage to help warm up the audience on two separate occasions. Shortly after I moved to Toronto and hosted the FIFA World Cup Show in 2010 and was an actress on the W Network TV series Ghostly Encounters. There are just so many wonderful memories and I was lucky enough to work with some amazing and talented people but they are definitely the highlights.
• We really enjoyed your documentary movie 'Change The World'. It's a completely independent project that you achieved all by yourself. This shows how much love and dedication you have put into this project. What were the biggest challenges you faced in the production of this feature?
The biggest challenge I faced in the production of this film was the enormity of what I had chosen to do. I call myself “the one woman show” because I literally do everything. My production company, Crystal Heart Productions consists of me, myself and I! It was so much work and definitely a labor of love. I also worked full-time and self funded my project so let’s just say there wasn’t any balance in my life. I’m so proud of myself that I persevered and completed my film. The other big challenge was having to relive the tragedies. It was confronting and painful and at times very difficult. Facing my fears and accepting my suffering was instrumental in my healing. I also got to see the magical times and that helped bring me back into balance. As challenging as this project was, it was also wonderful to see that me surviving the murder attempt is a miracle, life and time is precious and I don’t take anything for granted.
I wanted to empower all women and girls to come together in one accord and make the change in our lifetime once and for all.
• Your emotional involvement in this project is huge. It emphasizes your personal journey and how you managed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. Stronger than before and more aware of your true self. Why did you choose to tell this intimate story to the world and decide to turn it into a documentary?
I began in early 2016 with the idea to make a short film about women’s rights. As I was editing the footage from the V Day One Billion Rising event I was involved in, I realized that it was paramount I let the audience know why I was so passionate about ending violence against women and changing the world. I needed to be brave, to be vulnerable by being transparent and let people know I had been the victim of a violent crime whereby I was kidnapped with weapons, gang raped and almost murdered. While I was with the detectives I learned that sexual violence against women was a global silent epidemic and crossed all socioeconomic spectrums. I was just disgusted that I was one of millions of women experiencing the same horror. My evidence took seven months to come back from Forensics and my case had been expedited. It made me so angry and sad at the same time that some human beings could be so evil and cruel and not serve justice for their heinous crimes. This happened to me in 2012, before the #MeToo movement had begun and no-one was talking about it in public. The empathy and compassion I had for all women deepened, my eyes had been opened and my spirit wanted to help. I wanted to give everyone who had been silenced a voice because I knew firsthand how traumatizing it is. Not only was I groomed by my main perpetrator over a period of time, but my parents were too. After the attack, they didn’t believe that person was capable of something so evil and have since ostracized me from the family. After losing my dear soulmate five years prior, suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and then losing my immediate family was unbearable and as a consequence, I was suicidal and didn’t want to live anymore. I wondered how many other women had been revictimized and outcast by their families after their rape also? I was beyond scared to go public with my personal journey but I had to find my courage and not feel ashamed. I reminded myself that the shame lies with the predators, not the victims. Ever. I wanted all of us to reclaim our power and stand together in solidarity and be heard. As I began the film, I started adding more and more footage from my past and as I was going back through my life and putting the jigsaw puzzle together it had an intense healing effect on me. That’s when I decided to put the songs I co-wrote with my late fiancé and my eulogy from his funeral in my film. I wanted to empower all women and girls to come together in one accord and make the change in our lifetime once and for all. •‘Change the World' dares to question discrimination and sexual harassment and assault against women. Now more than ever before, women are speaking up about their experiences. What other steps to create awareness regarding this delicate subject should be taken according to you?
We’ve seen a massive shift with women speaking out on social media platforms and rallies, such as the 2018 Women’s March in New York City. We’re in the fourth wave of feminism and in order to continue the momentum from Betty Friedan and Naomi Wolf and create lasting change I feel all governments need to address this issue as the international emergency that it is. This is not just women’s rights, this is human rights and affects all of humanity whether directly or indirectly. I want to see all schools worldwide provide programs to teach young people about gender-based violence and respectful relationships. Schools play a significant role in educating young people about gender-based violence and helping change the underlying attitudes that lead to it. I think girls from school age need to learn self-defence martial arts on a weekly basis throughout their school lives to equip them with self-esteem, confidence and skills to protect themselves should they face an attacker. About 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; about half occur on a date so I believe schools need to educate girls on the risks and how to survive such attacks.
• You managed to turn a negative encounter into positive action. You found the strength within yourself and within your music. What is your approach when you write music? Does it start with the lyrics or do you follow your emotions?
My approach to writing music is with my emotions first, then the lyrics. With my album, which is now the soundtrack, Erick was adamant I wait until he had finished recording the instrumental pieces of music so I could listen and feel the music in order to write from my heart and soul. After he suddenly passed away, I experienced such unimaginable feelings, emotions and my world had completely changed in an instant. Six weeks later, I was heading to my twin brother’s wedding and I was feeling so sad and started crying and thought to myself that this was such a tragic fairytale. Then I had the idea it could be a title for a song. I knew our tunes inside out, back to front so in my mind I went through and wondered which instrumental piece of music would suit this title and my emotions. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and wrote the first line “Once upon a time, in a land far away” then wrote the last line “the end”. The song was written within about 15 minutes. Some weeks later I then wrote Live Forever which was all about mine and Erick’s experience of his passing, twice and our goodbye. I wrote the album like chapters of a book and as each song was written I felt my heart changing and I was moving forward in my grief. I knew that this was such a unique project and was created purely by our unconditional love for each other. I experienced the magic of music and the power it has to heal us. I am forever grateful to Erick for his gift to me and the legacy he has left.
• Your music has a very typical sound and helps you to free your emotions. We feel sorry for the loss of your fiancee, Erick. In the documentary, you talk about the wish to maintain a promise you made to him.
Erick and I had been working on my album for nearly three years when he suffered a massive heart attack at our home in August 2007, three days after we got engaged. I gave him CPR, he ended up in a coma in the intensive care unit and was on life support for a week. As you can imagine, it was absolute torture. While at his bedside, I promised him that I would finish our project someday, somehow. I couldn’t believe it was happening and my grief was unbearable. I have to say though, that having our music and my promise to him is what kept me going all these years. It gave me a focus, a purpose and something to keep striving for and I can honestly say that without it, I wouldn’t be here. Thirteen years later it is complete and such an incredible feeling to have kept my promise to him. I’m sure he would be very proud of me!
• You clearly showed how women can escape from a vicious circle by raising awareness and speaking up about the violence used against them. You started your journey all by yourself and discovered surprisingly that many women had your back. Who is helping you currently?
I am blessed to have some amazing, true friends in my life. Some of whom I have known since childhood and some I consider to be my soul family. I have even reconnected with some dear friends since 2012, which has been amazing. I’ve met so many inspiring people through my non-profit work and interviews and many women who have experienced similar violence. There is a mutual respect for each other and compassion for what we have endured and you realize you’re not alone. It’s beautiful to know many women have my back and that has been instrumental in my healing and my ability to rise above. I also have my own back and feel my journey has been a huge lesson in self love and forgiveness. I had to love and nurture myself back to health and take responsibility for my own healing and happiness. Easier said than done but healing is a process and definitely takes time. I’m in such a fantastic place in my life these days, I know who I am and so excited with what is taking place! My family are still in denial and we are estranged but I love them unconditionally and forgive them. I understand that they too are victims of the perpetrator who orchestrated my rape and murder and have been manipulated. You cannot control the actions of others, only how you choose to react. I am at peace and very proud of my ability to overcome adversity and find my courage to speak out. My focus is on others, how I can help them and ease their pain. My dream is to leave this world a better place than I found it.
• How are you looking towards the future? Do you believe you managed to make a change?
I am feeling very positive about the future and as they say “onwards and upwards”! I think we are in a time of a revolution and humanity is evolving. Changes happen throughout each generation and I believe we are making some head way right now. Yes, I believe I’ve managed to make a change in our world. I have women come up to me at women’s rights events telling me what they have experienced and that they’ve never told anyone until now. Or they tell me they have reported their crime to police and gone to get professional counseling because of me. They say it’s because I speak out about my own journey that they have found their courage also. That makes me so happy to see their healing begin and lose the shame. I also receive many messages through social media and my website telling me they were suicidal but I have inspired them to live. To give people hope and strength is a gift and I feel very blessed that I have made a difference in people's lives. As Mother Theresa once said “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to creates many ripples”.
Having our music and my promise to Erick is what kept me going all these years. It gave me a focus, a purpose and something to keep striving for and I can honestly say that without it, I wouldn’t be here.
• What’s next for you, and what’s next for 'Change The World'? Where can people follow your work and subscribe to your projects?
I am currently editing the third feature film ‘Angelena: Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ of my trilogy series and will be heading back to North America in the Fall to conduct more interviews with members of the United States Congress. I am currently working with one of Australia’s best vocal coaches, which is such a joy, and hoping to write more songs in the near future. ‘Change The World’ is still on the international film festival circuit and I’m planning to release it on iTunes and Netflix later this year. People can follow my work at the links below.
• Thank you very much for this interview, Angelena. It has been an honor to interview you. Vegas Movie Awards wishes you lots of luck with all your future endeavors!
Thank you so much Vegas Movie Awards for your kindness and support, I really appreciate it! Being a part of your awards has been such an exciting experience and I am so honored to win ‘Award of Prestige as Best Woman Filmmaker’. That particular category means the absolute world to me and I will be forever grateful. Wishing you continued success and all the very best with your amazing film festival!
WATCH THE TRAILER:
Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/angelenachangetheworld