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“The Cut” is a weekly reporters notebook-type essay by an Ideastream Public Media content creator, reflecting on the news and on life in Northeast Ohio. What exactly does “The Cut” mean? It's a throwback to the old days of using a razor blade to cut analog tape. In radio lingo, we refer to sound bites as “cuts.” So think of these behind-the-scene essays as “cuts” from Ideastream's producers.

In 'Nurse Unseen,' Filipino nurses are seen and a filmmaker is celebrated

Nurse Unseen filmmaker Michele Josue (far right) with other subjects from the documentary.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
"Nurse Unseen" filmmaker Michele Josue (far right) with others from the documentary.

It’s not a secret that I love seeing my Filipino culture on display. I salivate for Filipino cuisine, I yearn for a Filipino superhero movie and if a song by a Filipino American musican is playing — *cough cough Bruno Mars cough* — I will not hesitate to tell everyone within earshot.

When the 47th annual Cleveland International Film Festival came around, I was particularly excited to see “Nurse Unseen,” a documentary showcasing Filipino American nurses, who were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I was proud to see that it won CIFF’s 2023 Global Competition. The winner is selected by audience vote and the competition includes films related to human-health and environmental-health-related issues.

Filmmaker Michele Josue and producer Carlo Velayo in Downtown Clevland wearing traditional Filipino formalwear after the Nurse Unseen world premiere.
Carlo Velayo
Nurse Unseen
Filmmaker Michele Josue and producer Carlo Velayo in Downtown Clevland wearing traditional Filipino formalwear after the Nurse Unseen world premiere.

“We’ve been working so hard for this moment to really hone the film and make it as great as it can be,” Nurse Unseen filmmaker Michele Josue said after the film’s world premiere in Cleveland.

CIFF has become a haven of success for Los Angeles native and fellow Filipino American Josue. She won CIFF’s 2014 Roxanne T. Mueller Audience Choice Award for Best Film for her first feature film, “Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine.”

“I actually have a very personal affinity for the Cleveland Film Festival. They’ve always been really good to me and I always say it’s one of my most favorite film festivals,” she said before the 2023 festival started.

Nurse Unseen tells the stories of Filipino nurses working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. While nurses of Filipino descent make up just 4% of the U.S. nursing workforce, they accounted for nearly a third of registered nurse deaths at the height of the pandemic, according to National Nurses United.

A large cohort from the Philippine Nurses Association of Ohio (PNAO) went to the film’s premiere.

“To finally be in this space with our community and then seeing everyone coming out to represent, it was just really heartwarming,” Josue said.

Feeling Seen

Comedian Michael Che made a joke criticizing the lack of diversity in American television at the 2018 Emmy Awards: “Can you believe they did 15 seasons of ER without a Filipino nurse?”

The joke lands — especially for many Filipino Americans — because people of Filipino descent are often drawn to the nursing field. There are both cultural and historical reasons for this, which are main topics in the film.

"Nurse Unseen" isn’t a TV drama or romantic comedy, but PNAO President-elect Maricar Gomez said she felt represented watching the documentary. She said the movie’s title was a perfect fit.

“I saw a lot of nurses on the film that I could emulate and lots of people that I work with every single day,” said Gomez.

Maricar Gomez and Audrey Godoy from the Philippine Nurses Association of Ohio.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Maricar Gomez and Audrey Godoy from the Philippine Nurses Association of Ohio.

PNAO President Audrey Godoy said the documentary made her feel a stronger appreciation for Filipino nurses.

“I believe this film is going to be epic. I think it’s really going to showcase what Filipino nurses do, the hard work that we do and what we represent,” Godoy said.

Josue and her crew and other organizers hosted an after party for the film in Cleveland Heights, where members of PNAO and others were able to show appreciation for Josue and her latest film.

“That was the highest hope for our film, to have people, specifically Filipino nurses, to feel empowered and validated by seeing their story on screen,” Josue said. “Our nurses were sacrificing and contributing so much not only our community, but all of us and keeping us safe during the pandemic. They were being overlooked, when really they should be celebrated.”

Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.