Working with Miya Rodolfo-Sioson on the Film Miya of the Quiet Strength
Miya came to my office with her mother Sonya for an interview. At the time I was running a student exchange program called SWIFT (Student of the World Invitation to Friendship and Travel) and was in the process of hiring coordinators Her wheelchair could not make it up a couple of steps, so my assistant and I had to carry it all the way to the office.
During the interview, I found her very intelligent, articulate and reserved but expressed my concern about her ability to perform the job. The individual who would fill the position would have to call potential host families for the foreign students, visit them in their homes, and when the group arrived take the students for excursions all over the San Francisco Bay Area.
Nevertheless I hired her and over the course of several years she became one of the most performing and reliable coordinators.
After working with her for a few years I found out the reason why she was in a wheelchair. Until then if people asked her what happened to her she was very vague and mentioned that she had been in an accident. It turned out that she was shot point blank, and became quadriplegic, but was the lone survivor of the University of Iowa shooting which took place on campus on November 1, 1991.
After hearing her incredible story, I decided to make a movie about her life to honor such a brave and interesting person and celebrate my return to independent filmmaking. Even though she had previously refused several similar offers while in Iowa, she accepted. Miya was an activist involved in Central and South America social justice causes at the University of Iowa before the shooting and she became an activist for the cause of the disabled community once she moved to Berkeley.
Working with her over the next eleven months, I appreciated her cool demeanor, her incredible courage when facing adversity and her dedicated cooperation. At some point during the filming of a scene she fell onto the train tracks at the Lake Merritt BART station because her wheelchair malfunctioned and the incoming train barely stopped a few feet from her.
During the filming process she revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The initial cancer treatment worked for a while, but over time it became harder to find an efficient one. We celebrated her fortieth birthday with family and friends but no one knew at the time how long she would live.
She was hospitalized at Highland Hospital in Oakland as we were putting the finishing touches to the film. She was barely conscious but requested to see the documentary. So the unofficial premiere took place in her hospital room with many family members and friends attending. She was too weak at the time to make any comment about the film and died shortly after this private screening took place.