Nervous Translation


a film by Shireen Seno


Winner: NETPAC Award, International Film Festival Rotterdam 2018

Released in the UK & Ireland 5 April 2019



8 year old Yael is a shy, contemplative girl, living in her own private world. She prefers writing letters rather than joining in with her cousins and dancing to the delight of family members. She lives at home with her mother, while her rock star uncle is the only father figure around her. Her absent father works in Saudi Arabia to help support the family back home. Her only connection with him is the recorded cassettes he sends her mother, which she listens to incessantly in secret. One day she sees a TV advert for a pen that can translate nervous thoughts, so she starts saving and sets out to find this ‘magic’ pen.

Other festival selections:

International Film Festival Rotterdam 2018

Hong Kong International Film Festival 2018

Melbourne International Film Festival 2018


Director’s Statement

Shireen Seno, Finalist in Film

Nervous Translation is based on my experiences growing up as a shy child of the Filipino diaspora, unsure of myself, wanting to belong, and longing for a way to express that. It’s a portrait of the quintessential Filipino family nowadays, since the 80s, where we only see and hear fragments of each other, and always in spurts. 

Set in 1988, Nervous Translation seeks to recapture an important period in Philippine history and draws connections to the present day through issues that are still very familiar to us: the complexity of the family unit in light of migration, an obsession with consumer electronics and personal technology, and the sheer power of nature to remind us of our limits and about what really matters.  — Shireen Seno


“Shireen Seno’s striking, scintillating second feature”— Matt Lloyd Turner, Little White Lies

“Yael’s limited perspective is skilfully evoked, partly through withholding information – we never find out why her arms are bandaged, for example – and partly through the mini-world she constructs, which has a stunning pay-off at the finale. Seno opens up the apartment brilliantly, always finding new angles on the unfolding situation. That late 80s Philippines setting is brought to bear through music and TV news, suggesting a fragile political moment that mirrors the characters’ own situation.” Sight & Sound

“intriguingly and lovingly detailed…an opaque but beautifully composed film” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“wonder in miniature” — Hannah Paveck, Another Gaze

“subtle conceptual” Erika Balsom, Cinema Scope

“Boasting fantastic imagery, arrhythmical cuts, an inventive screenplay and a wonderfully nuanced performance from its child star, Nervous Translation is at once a powerful rite-of-passage drama and an allegory about the uncertainty of life in the Philippines in the late 1980s” — Clarence Tsui, The Hollywood Reporter

Nervous Translation accomplishes a diverse range of rare cinematic feats—it’s among the best recent evocations of a child’s life and thought, and among the most sophisticated fusions of culture and character.” — Richard Brody, The New Yorker
Los Otros: building an experiment film community in the Philippines – Filipino directors Shireen Seno and John Torres explain why they consider hosting workshops and curating screenings to be as central to their practice as producing new films — Sight & Sound


27 Jul 2019: Kino-Teatr, St Leonards

7 Sep 2019: Cample Line, Thornhill +intro

19 Sep 2019: Byre Theatre, St Andrews



2 Jul 2019: HOME, Manchester

15 Jun 2019: Hert & Beds Film Club, Stevenage

9 Jun 2019: Regent Street Cinema, London

30 Apr 2019: Hyde Park Picture House, Leeds

21 Apr 2019: The Cube, Bristol

14-16 Apr 2019. JW3, London

12 Nov 2018: Cork Film Festival – Irish premiere

23 Sep 2018: Berwick: Film & Media Arts Festival: joint UK premiere

19 Sep 2018: Tate Modern, London – joint UK premiere



Written and Directed by: Shireen Seno

Produced by: John Torres

Executive Producers: Ronald Arguelles

Edited by: Shireen Seno, John Torres

Cinematography: Albert Banzon, Jippy Pascua, Dennese Victoria

Production Designer: Leeroy New

Music by: Itos Ledesma

Sound Design: Nicole Amores, John Michael Perez, Mikko Quizon, Kathrine Ariane Salinas

Miniature Design: Carl Joseph Papa

Cast: Jana Agoncillo, Angge Santos, Sid Lucero, Cocoy Lumbao