Alumna Sarah Filush Camacho brings social issues to the screen

Alumna Sarah Filush Camacho brings social issues to the screen

“Life is not fair, and sometimes you just gotta do the hard thing and do it all by yourself.” These words play on repeat in the head of University of Guam alumna Sarah Filush Camacho — words of advice from her former business school professor, Dr. Annette T. Santos.

“Whenever I hear her voice, I’m always like, ‘OK, Dr. Santos. Let’s do this! And I always end up doing it!” Camacho said laughing.

Changing hearts

Camacho found a passion and a talent she didn't know she had somewhat later than she expected. She studied human resources at the University of Guam and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2011, and then, several years later at the age of 27, she took an ambitious turn into filmmaking.

“I had no prior experience … no formal training, but I have a passion. I have a passion to try and make my island a better place, and I found my outlet with filmmaking,” she said.

The first topic that inspired her to turn on the camera — the invasive coconut rhinoceros beetle and its devastation to the island’s coconut palm trees — resulted in the short film “Beat the Beetle” that earned her a nomination for the “Best Made in the Marianas” film at the Guam International Film Festival (GIFF) in 2015.

The following year, she was awarded the “Best of Festival” award at GIFF for her film “Kids from Chuuk,” which told the story of four Chuukese high schoolers in Guam overcoming stereotypes and racial discrimination.

Later that year, she came out with the documentary “Chew” to spread awareness on oral cancer caused by chewing betel nut.

“All the films that I have created so far have been trying to inspire change into the hearts and minds of people,” she said. “I feel like I can change people’s hearts through storytelling. It’s kind of a power trip, but I feel like it’s a good power trip to try to change people for the better.”

Camacho and her husband and videographer, Frank Camacho
Camacho and her husband and videographer, Frank Camacho, film a scene for “Blue Island.”

Starting conversations

In a short time, Camacho has developed a name for herself and her films. She and her videographer and husband, Frank, are now being sought after by local organizations and individuals with stories to tell to shift the mindset of the community on less-talked-about issues. Certain topics can make people uncomfortable, she said, but those are the conversations she wants to start.

Premiering on Monday, April 15, is Camacho’s latest film, “Blue Island.” Aligned with National Autism Awareness Month, the film tells the story of a Guam family’s journey to bring previously unavailable resources to Guam for people with autism. The couple, Vinny and Tanya Duenas, founded the local nonprofit HunterSpeaks Autism Organization.

“What this family has done for Guam is going to change people affected with autism here and into the future because now there is treatment and care for these kids and families,” she said. “The biggest issue is just acceptance of their children [in society] … the fact that these parents feel that way about their children on our island just breaks my heart,” Camacho said.

As with all her films, she said she hopes this film promotes better understanding and educates people on positive actions they can take, either as those affected or as members of the community at large.

“The reactions that I get from people who watch my films is, ‘Thank you so much. I had no idea,’ and the fact that I’m able to do that with the power of film is my favorite thing,” Camacho said.

Upcoming premiere

“Blue Island” will premiere, along with showings of Camacho’s other three films, at 6:30 p.m. on April 15 at the Guam Museum in a special event Camacho is hosting called “Premiere with a Purpose.” It will also be aired regularly from April 16 to May 14 by Sorensen Media Group on ABC7 and Fox 6 in Guam and Saipan.

“I’m here today, and I feel like I’ve accomplished things that terrified me before,” Camacho said. “And it is because of the influence that I had from the University of Guam. I give [my instructors] so much credit, and I’m such a proud product of UOG.”

Camacho, right, with Tanya Duenas
Camacho, right, with Tanya Duenas, co-founder of HunterSpeaks Autism Organization, at the Guam Museum, where Camacho’s film on autism, “Blue Island,” will premiere on April 15.