Joseph Israel Laban is an award-winning Tagalog journalist and independent filmmaker. He is also a Palanca-winning playwright and a Fulbright Scholar. He holds a master's degree in documentary filmmaking from New York University where is a recipient of the prestigious NYU Graduate School for the Arts and Sciences Scholarship. He obtained his bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines – Diliman.
In 2011, Laban directed, wrote and produced “Cuchera”, a film about the plight of Filipino drug mules. It was screened at the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival - Discovery Section as well as other festivals including Stockholm, Fribourg, Cleveland and Belgrade. In 2013, he directed, wrote and produced the film “Nuwebe”, also under the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. It has been screened at more than twenty international film festivals including Montreal, Vancouver, Geneva and Goteborg. It has won several international awards from the Queens World Film Festival (Best Director), Harlem International Film Festival (Best Actress) in New York City, Lume International Film Festival(Special Mention) in Brazil, Festival Internacional de Cine Puebla (Special Mention) in Mexico and the 2015 ASEAN International Film Festival and Awards (Best Director) in Sarawak, Malaysia.
In 2014, he produced the film Children’s Show  directed by first-time director Roderick Cabrido. The film has so far won the following awards: Special Jury Award at Fantasporto: 35th Oporto International Film Festival in Portugal; Special Jury Award, Grand Jury Award for Best Screenplay, and Fantastic Cinema Emerging Filmmaker Award at the Fantastic Cinema Festival of the Film Society of Little Rock in Arkansas, USA; Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Sound at 10th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. He also directed, wrote and produced, the short film “Antipo” which premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner. He is the Co-Owner of One Big Fight Productions, a multi-awarded film and television production company. He is also the Founder and Festival Director of the CineTotoo Philippine International Documentary Film Festival, the biggest documentary film festival in the Philippines. In 2014, he was a Fellow of the Jakarta-based DocNet Southeast Asia Producers Strategy Workshop initiated by the Goethe-Institut Indonesien held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In February 2015, he attended the Berlinale Talents at the Berlin International Film Festival.
He is currently working as a Managing Producer of GMA News and Public Affairs assigned to such programs as Front Row where he is the Executive Producer, Director and Writer; and Reporter’s Notebook where is works as Head Writer. He is also the Founder and Festival Director of GMA News TV’s Cine Totoo Philippine International Documentary Film Festival. Aside from his work in television and film, he also contributes to print and online media. He contributed articles and video work to The New York Times and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). He was also a Fellow of the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance in 2007 where he reported on the post-conflict situation in East Timor. In 2008, he contributed to the book “Wrongs Against Rights: Impunity Across Southeast Asia”.
Laban's awards include: the Grand Prize at the 2014 UNICEF Asia Pacific Child Rights Awards for the documentary "Ulilang Lubos", a Gold World Medal at the 2008 New York Festivals for Television for "Batang Kalakal", two Silver World Medals at the 2012 New York Festivals for Television for "Bente Dos" and "Yaman sa Basura", a Finalist Certificate at the 2013 New York Festivals for Television, Silver Screen Awards at the 2008 and 2014 US International Film and Video Festival, finalist citations at the 2014 International URTI Grand Prix for Author's Documentary in Monaco, 2012 PopDev Television Awards and the 2013 UNICEF Child Rights Award and an Ani ng Dangal Award from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Last year, he was a Fellow of the Jakarta-based DocNet Southeast Asia Producers Strategy Workshop initiated by the Goethe-Institut Indonesien held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 2002, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature recognized a one-act play he wrote about domestic violence.
His short film Antipo, about a young man who seeks absolution and forgiveness through the ancient tradition of "antipo" or self-flagellation, was an Official Selection at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner.
Cuchera was Laban's first feature film. It deals with the grim fate of low-rent drug mules and their recruiters. The film was a Finalist at the 7th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and it had its International Premiere at the Discovery Section of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It was also screened at the Stockholm International Film Festival (Main Competition), Cleveland International Film Festival, Belgrade International Film Festival and Fribourg International Film Festival.
TIFF film programmer Steve Gravestock described it as "One of the most shocking debuts in recent Filipino cinema... Cuchera may turn out to be a watershed in Filipino film history — directly linking the melodramatic ferocity of the politically charged works of veteran directors like Joel Lamangan and Carlos Siguion-Reyna with the more intimate style of what some have dubbed the Filipino New Wave."
Nuwebe was Laban's follow up to the film Cuchera. It tells the story of one of the youngest mothers in Philippine history. It initially received mixed reviews from local critics but went on to have a successful run in international film festivals. It was also a finalist at the 2013 Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival. It has been screened at more than twenty international film festivals. It has won several international awards and nominations from the Queens World Film Festival (Best Director) and Harlem International Film Festival (Best Actress) in New York City, Lume International Film Festival (Special Mention) in Brazil and the Festival Internacional de Cine Puebla (Special Mention) in Mexico.
As a Fellow of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) in 2007, Laban was also a contributing writer of the book Wrong Against Rights: Impunity Across Southeast Asia, where he wrote about the challenges faced by the fledgling East Timor press and the country’s quest to find justice to human rights violations under the 25 years of Indonesian occupation.
Laban obtained his bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines at Diliman. He also attended New York University on a Fulbright Scholarship for his master's degree in Journalism with a concentration in News and Documentary.
- 2002 Palanca Awards