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An Interview with Angelena Bonet

Angelena Bonet is an Australian multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker, singer-songwriter and humanitarian. She is the Founder & CEO of Crystal Heart Productions and Crystal Heart Records and has created five documentary films, their original soundtracks and music videos, plus two web series Heart Of The Matter and The Angelena Bonet Show. She writes, directs, edits and produces her work in their entirety, including co-writing and singing the soundtracks and describes it purely as “a labor of love”! Angelena's work includes a documentary feature film tetralogy consisting of Angelena: Change The World, Angelena: Heart Of The Matter, Angelena: Light At The End Of The Tunnel and Angelena: Warrior Woman which are all available on Vimeo On Demand. She has also created a documentary short film Change The World which is on the international film festival circuit and recently screened in Sweden, Toronto, Brazil and Tokyo. All her films feature the Original Music Soundtrack she co-wrote and sung from her heart and soul with her late fiancé, Erick Deeby. He had written and recorded instrumental pieces of music for her between 2005 and 2007 then suddenly and unexpectedly passed away three days after they got engaged in August 2007. She then wrote the lyrics and melody to his music after his devastating death and during her time of deepest grief. She wrote the album like chapters of a book and features songs such as “Change The World”, “Tragic Fairytale” and “On My Way” and cites the writing process as cathartic and an organic process that saved her life. She promised her late fiancé whilst he was in a coma that someday, somehow she would finish their special project and she has kept her word. She produced their album at Trackdown Studios in Australia's Fox Studios, along with the music videos that became the soundtrack for her biopic documentaries. Their music has won numerous 'Best Original Soundtrack', 'Best Original Song', 'Best Music Video' and 'Best Soundtrack In A Short Film' awards not only in Hollywood but worldwide. She moved to Toronto, Canada in 2010 to continue her career and worked as a Model/Actress and TV Host. Then on May 26, 2012 she was a victim of a violent sexual crime but miraculously survived the attempted murder in her homeland. Suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of the horrific attack, orchestrated by someone that she knew and trusted, she vowed to never be silenced and chose to stand up and speak out, not only for herself but for every other woman and girl. Angelena is proud to share her story and songs, which have won over 300 film festival awards worldwide thus far, including numerous ‘Best Inspirational Film’, ‘Best Social Justice Film’, ‘Best Woman Filmmaker’ awards. She has also won the ‘Humanitarian Award’ at the Jane Austen International Film Festival in the U.K., the ‘Human Spirit Award’ at the DOCS Without Borders Film festival in The Bahamas and just last week the coveted ‘Grand Prix | Best Woman Director 2021’ at the Nicomedia International Film Festival in Turkey. Angelena has been a Jury member for the past four years of The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA) and a judge for the 40th Anniversary 2021 Australian Directors Guild (ADG) Awards. She has just released her single "On My Way" which is available on iTunes. This was the second she wrote and is about hope, the power of love and the dawn of a new day. From international model to multi-award winning documentary filmmaker, singer-songwriter and humanitarian Angelena’s message is one of peace, love and unity.

Please tell us about yourself. How did you start your career, and how did you get into the world of filmmaking? What are some of the projects you did before ‘Change the World’?

I grew up in Sydney, Australia in the suburbs and am the youngest of five children and have a twin brother. I am from a musical family and first appeared on national television at the age of four on a preschool show called Romper Room with my twin which was filmed at Channel 7 television studios not far from where I lived. I had such a magical day and it no doubt had an impact on me. I began ballet lessons that same year and piano lessons at six. Dancing and music was my passion and I studied jazz and tap from the age of ten. I then continued my dance studies as well as singing and drama at The Australian College of Entertainment during high school. I was discovered at a hair salon when I was 18 years old and asked to model for a shoot in Vogue Australia. I then signed with a top Sydney modeling agency and things just took off from there. The very next day I was booked on the television soap opera Breakers where they wrote me into the script and I was on that show, which aired in more than 50 countries, for the next two years. I was then on the cover of the three biggest selling issues of Inside Sports magazine and was named ‘The New Australian Supermodel’ on prime time news when I returned to Sydney after modeling in Milan. It has been a very natural and organic journey for me and once I began professionally modeling it opened doors to dancing in music videos, acting in TV and Film and putting into practice all the skills I had honed growing up. I met Erick in 2002 and we spent so much time at his recording studio where I got to watch his bands record, mix the tracks and shoot music videos. I would go with him to buy recording gear too so I was absorbing it all and learning all the time. We began collaborating on our album a couple of years after we got together and he became my mentor. I really honed my songwriting skills and recording technique with him and he wholeheartedly believed in me and knew my potential. When he passed away I was beyond devastated and suicidal. I was in such deep grief and shock because it was so sudden and three days after we got engaged. I was also terrified of the intensity of the pain and how I was ever going to recover. I could never have imagined I would be writing the lyrics and melody to the instrumental pieces of music he had written for me with him gone. The music became my sole focus as I had promised him while he was in a coma that I would finish our project and having that to keep was what saved my life. I put pen to paper over the next few months and just wrote every word from my heart and I then realized that I was writing it like a book with chapters. As each song was written I noticed I was healing and my emotions were being given a voice and outlet and I am extremely grateful to Erick for this magical gift because as much as I don’t like hearing myself say this, I don’t think I would be here without it. As I was healing I then felt strong enough to return to modeling again. In early 2010 I signed with an talent agent in New York and based myself in Toronto. I fell in love with both cities, the people and loved working in their TV and Film industries. I hosted the FIFA World Cup Show (Rogers Communications) that year and was on an episode of the TV Series Ghostly Encounters. I came home in 2012 for a visit and six days later I was a victim of a horrific violent crime in Melbourne. Once again my life was turned upside down and I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the crime and was also dealing with the police investigation. This experience changed my life and today I can say for the better. It completely opened my eyes to the pain of this world and the cruelty that some humans beings are capable of inflicting. To say I was disgusted with my perpetrators is an understatement and I’d never felt such rage. Once again I was suicidal and this time I really didn’t think I could go on. I lost loved ones afterwards too because of their denial as they too had been groomed and manipulated by the main perpetrator and that was when I decided enough was enough and I was going to go public. I was told by one of my case workers at the time that sexual violence against women is a silent global epidemic and that 1 in 3 women and girls will experience some kind of abuse in their lifetime. I couldn’t bear to think of another woman going through the suffering I was and I felt a very strong desire in my heart to help people. This was before the #MeToo movement began and no-one was talking about rape but I found my courage and made the commitment that I would not be silenced. I believed that if we all came together with united voices we could change the world so I then began my humanitarian work in 2013 by aligning myself with ethical non-profit organizations. I started my production company Crystal Heart Productions when I returned to Toronto in September 2014 and put all my energy into this. I wanted to channel my skills in front and behind the cameras for good and into a show for women with purpose and meaning. And that is how my vision for my talk show Heart Of The Matter was born. It was created from my heart to allow women to not just be seen but heard and in turn inspire each other. When I won the ‘Social Awareness Award’, the category that Vegas Movie Awards created after watching my show, I was truly touched because this project means so much to me. To contribute positively to society is what is really important to me. My journey has been very challenging and painful but also really beautiful and magical. I have gone with the flow and always followed my heart and incorporated my life into my art and I am very proud of what I’ve been able to overcome and weave into my work. I follow my heart and walk to the beat of my own drum and I am very excited to see what this new year brings!

As a filmmaker and musician, who or what are your influences?

I have always loved film and music since I can remember and has been a huge part of my life. I was so focused on modelling and acting and busy traveling that music took a back seat for awhile. Then when I met Erick we were at his recording studio all the time and was around the songwriting and recording process. We had been together for two years when he asked me to collaborate on an album. We developed the sound over the next two years and he became my mentor. The style is very much influenced by the bohemian area of Kings Cross in Sydney where we were living at the time. I’m also a huge fan of 70s and 80s music and love Fleetwood Mac, Blondie and David Bowie. Finding my own sound and style has been an organic process and having Erick believe in me really inspired me to create my album. He knew my potential and was very supportive in helping me hone my craft and become an artist. I never could have imagined that he would die suddenly and I would continue the project without him. He just finished recording my instrumentals in his studio, we got engaged and three days later he suffered a massive heart attack at home. I performed CPR but he never regained consciousness and went into a coma for a week before his life support machine was turned off. It was beyond devastating but having our music saved my life. I had promised him I would finish it and I meant it. I know Erick would be very proud of our album and the fact that I had the courage to write it at that difficult time and persevere with it for 13 years and not let the crime that almost took my life stop me either. It is such a unique album in the way it has been created and it was written from both our hearts. I will be forever grateful to him for this magical gift. With each of my projects my focus it to be truthful and create from my heart. I think all artists are subconsciously influenced by many different things but I don’t try to copy or imitate anyone or be someone I’m not. What you see is what you get with me.

What is your vision as an artist? What types of stories do you endeavor to tell through filmmaking?

My vision as an artist is to express my experiences and emotions through filmmaking. My aim is to show you my journey, bring awareness to aspects of this world that need healing and to unite us. By bringing darkness into the light we evolve as a species and when hearts mend, harmony reigns. Music and film are both very powerful mediums and can reach different cultures around the world. After having experienced these tragedies and seeing first hand how hard it is to live through and recover has given me the fire to speak out and in turn inspire others who are struggling and let them know that they too can heal and live a happy life again. In fact, your biggest wounds can become your greatest gifts and the shame always lies with the perpetrators, never the victims. The types of stories I endeavor to tell are ones from the heart, inspirational and uplifting.

What are the most difficult aspects of making a film today? Similarly, how has Covid-19 affected independent filmmaking?

Covid-19 has unfortunately affected the entire entertainment industry in a significant way from live performances cancelled, film productions halted and many countries confined to extended lockdowns. Prior to the pandemic, I was constantly traveling between Australia and North America but due to international border closures I haven’t been able to since March 2020. I was due to attend numerous film festivals where Change the World was screening in the U.S. and Canada but had to cancel my trip. The blessing has been that film festivals, business meetings and interviews have continued virtually. By not being able to travel, the past couple of years have been really productive for me. I edited all the footage I already had for the two web series and created Angelena: Light At The End Of The Tunnel and Angelena: Warrior Woman. Film productions are resuming in some countries but things are still not where they were pre-pandemic. It’s been challenging for me to not be at events interviewing people face to face. I can do Zoom interviews but I miss the social aspect of being with the person I am speaking to. Hopefully this year things will improve and we can resume some normalcy. For me, the most difficult aspects of making a film today are the hours and years it takes. I produce all my work in their entirety so it takes hard work and is definitely not a nine to five job! Financing and distributing your film is another aspect that can be challenging but with passion and persistence it is all possible.

Documentaries like Change the World tell an important story and offer a solution as to how one can find peace and serenity, and how to make a recovery after traumatic experiences in life. Where did the idea come from? Does it have roots in your own experiences, your own past?

Creating my biopic film Change The World and inspiring people around the world and touching their hearts is a wonderful gift that I am very grateful for. I have deep compassion for myself and other women who have suffered sexual violence and I am honored to use my voice for good and speak for those who can’t. My spirit couldn’t be silenced and to now be heard is something so special and very hard to describe. When I look back at what I have endured, then the miracle of surviving the murder attempt and to now be winning these special awards is something I could never have imagined would happen! I vowed to make a stand and leave this world a better place than I found it and I am one hundred percent committed. Women are now finding their voice and self-worth and it is fabulous to see. I feel future generations will look back at this point in time with fascination, shock, and dismay and also awe at the courage women have shown by standing up and speaking out about the injustices and violence they have suffered since time immemorial. The social fabric is changing, perpetrators are being exposed and I’m hopeful the momentum will continue and begin to move much more quickly. I see the future in a very positive light, that is my nature. I believe change is possible and that we are at the dawn of a new day. As more and more women are in leadership positions, the world will naturally become a more inclusive one and love will become the focus again. Violence against women and girls will no longer be a silent global epidemic, all girls will receive an education and community, and helping others will become our primary goal. We have set the wheels in motion to ensure future generations have a safer and more equal world. My message is one of peace, love and unity and being an example of how to turn tragic into magic is the legacy I am creating. I honestly believe that when we stand together, with united voices, we can change the world.

What is the most challenging aspect of making independent films? Please tell us about the production.

My creative process is organic and depends on the particular project. The music took 13 years to finish and when I began the album, I could never have imagined it would be the soundtrack to my documentary films. Each project is intrinsically linked and it has evolved over the years. I create from my heart and never force anything. One minute I’m editing a feature film and the next I’m in the recording studio laying my vocal tracks. I am constantly switching between projects and I love that I get to mix it up and have so many outlets for my creativity and ideas to flow. I don’t have a strict structure and my hours are always varied. When I began my first film I had no idea I would make five or have two web series. I am open to going with the flow and trusting my instincts and where I want to focus my energies at one particular point in time. It brings me so much joy and I get inspirations at any time of the day. Independent filmmaking is very challenging and if someone had told me before I started just how much work I was taking on and the long hours and years it would take to create I would have been so daunted but as they say “ignorance is bliss”! I wouldn’t change anything because this journey has been so rewarding on a personal level and having the courage to share my experiences and help others with their own adversity is a gift I don’t take for granted.

You also wrote and composed the music for the film, and as I understand it, there is also an album. Could you talk about the music and the songs, and their relation to the theme(s) in the film?

When Erick and I began collaborating I could never have imagined he would pass away and I would write and produce the album on my own with him gone. When I decided to create a documentary it was only then that I considered our album could become the soundtrack. Even though I wrote the lyrics just after he passed away, it took me years to actually record them. I just wasn’t ready and I would cry singing the songs. It was only when I began producing Change The World that I put my focus back on the music and went to Trackdown Studios at Fox Studios Australia. It was incredible and inspiring to be recording our songs at the music studio where Hollywood soundtracks have been recorded. Many of my favorite films were recorded there such as The Great Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), I Am Woman (The Helen Reddy Story), Lion (Nicole Kidman / Dev Patel) and George Miller’s Mad Max Fury Road. The recording went so smoothly and was an experience I will never forget. I enjoy performing all my songs because they each have a different energy and feel. Change The World has a strong message, On My Way is about hope, Live Forever is about the moment Erick passed away from both our points of view. Tragic Fairytale has always been the hardest for me to sing because it is about the pain of losing him but also has the element of positivity that true love never dies and I dedicate it to all who have loved and lost. Grief is a natural part of life and I hope this song touches a chord in others and brings some comfort. These songs became my soundtrack as I knew I could clearly tell my story with the music interwoven. The overarching message of Change The World is about overcoming adversity and turning tragic into magic. By creating this film with the soundtrack and producing the music videos has been very healing for me. I have found freedom in having the courage to share my journey. I have also been blessed to have had many great people in my life and teachers over the years but one person I am grateful in helping me get to where I am now is my vocal coach, Stephen Baker. We crossed paths at the right time and he understood my voice and how to take it to the next level. Someone can be an amazing vocalist but not necessarily the best teacher but Stephen is both. He has taught some well known singers and I feel blessed to have trained with him and call him my friend. The soundtrack is now available on iTunes.

How was the film received at film festivals? Please tell us about your festival run.

Change The World has been on the festival circuit for the past three years and I never expected this kind of reception. It has received over 300 awards and nominations and I am very grateful to the film festivals for their love and support! It initially won many awards in Hollywood then a couple of years ago has since resonated in all parts of the world. I am honored to win special categories such as ‘Best Inspirational Film’, ‘Best Social Justice Film’, ‘Humanitarian Award’, ‘Human Spirit Award’ and ‘Best Soundtrack In A Short Film’ awards. To be recognised after what I have endured and for my voice to be heard is so special it brings tears to my eyes. Helping people and serving humanity is so important to me and all these awards feels like a dream and a bit surreal to be honest. I am very grateful and it is so encouraging to know people care and support me. The festival run will end later this year and I couldn’t be happier with how it’s all gone.

What will you work on for your future project(s)? Are you planning to share similar stories in your next films/albums?

There are many things I would like to accomplish over the next five to ten years. I want to focus on Heart Of The Matter again now that my tetralogy is finished, as there are so many inspirational women I still wish to interview such as Waris Dirie and Malala Yousafzai. I will continue to align myself with ethical non-profit organizations by public speaking to raise awareness and mentor girls and young women and document it through “The Angelena Bonet Show”. I definitely want to write more music, make more films and write a memoir. The beauty of my journey is that I never quite know how it’s going to go so while I make plans I am also happy to see where the wind blows me!


Vimeo On Demand - Change The World


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