Fringe! Queer Film Festival 2020
SHORTS: NO PLACE LIKE HOMO
Brandon, a queer Filipino-American grandson, meditates through his anxiety of having to greet his grandmother "Happy Birthday."
Hi Brandon thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Thank you for asking! I’ve been actually pretty good. Oddly enough, busier than I would be during the “normal” times. How are you doing?
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
Absolutely. During this time, I’ve been focusing a lot on being present, which has allowed me to be more observant of others. I’ve been people-watching at my local park (socially distancing, of course) and started finding new characters through this study. I’ve also been more inspired to write more music and possibly incorporate that in my films.
What is it about short films that interest you so much and has your background in theatre influenced your approach to making Bakla?
Hmmmm....that’s a good question. I like short films because they really force you to highlight what’s important in the story. I also enjoy that they are a lot more accessible and approachable to watch online. I know feature length films (especially independent ones) take a certain kind of commitment to watch, and I like to have the challenge of getting my message across in under 5 minutes.
ABSOLUTELY. I’ve had a lot more experience in theatre, which is a medium that really infuses dance, music, and acting. I grew up doing all three — so it only makes sense that my filmmaking usually will include all those elements. Also, I love the suspension of disbelief and the magical conventions you can create in theatre. I feel like a child when I do theatre because my brain has no limitations to what I can be/become — andI try to have that sensation when I’m creating in general.
Did you have any apprehensions about making such a personal film?
It was really scary releasing Bakla because I didn’t know what my family would think about it. Growing up, the word “bakla” usually has a negative connotation in Filipino culture even though it is meant to describe one’s queer sexual identity. I remember relatives saying to me as a kid, “You better not be bakla or I’ll chop off your “tete” (Tagalog slang for penis).” I think a part of me is still working through this and dealing with my inner child’s fear of being “bakla.” However, I wanted to reclaim this word and own it much like how a lot of queer folks are starting to own the word “faggot.” I know to some it’s still triggering, but I am all for folks finding empowerment within their own way. This happens to be mine.
Bakla had its premiere at the New Filmmakers LA Film Festival 2020, the reaction has been amazing, did you imagine you would get this type of response to your film?
Wow. I still get chills thinking about this premiere and I’m kind of tearing a bit. Someone who watched “Bakla” at NFMLA 2020 actually came out because they watched my film. I was astonished when they told me this at our filmmaker Q&A panel because it was a reminder about how my work can make a positive impact on others. I was not expecting this response and I still hold dearly to this memory as inspiration. In truth, I wasn’t expecting any response and was just grateful that people wanted to know about my story.
"...we need queer films to be out there because WE are part of this world."
Congratulations on having Bakla selected for this year's Fringe! Queer Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
Oh gosh. First of all, I love be queer! Secondly, I love being around queer artists because I feel like a squad of bad ass bitches. I feel very lucky to be connected with a talented bunch of folks who share the same desire and tenacity to create narratives centred around our queer identities. More than ever, we need queer films to be out there because WE are part of this world. So thank you Fringe! Queer Film Festival for allowing me to be part of this squad.
Can you tell me a little bit about Bakla, how did this film come about?
Well, half of the film is non-fiction and the other half is fantasy. My mom actually called me the day of my grandma’s birthday to remind me to greet her and my heart started racing. I am pretty much out to everyone except for my grandma and I actually thought about coming out to her that day. Bakla was really a fantasy of what coming out to my grandma would look like.
As well as writing and co-director Bakla you also appear in your short film, was it challenging to manage these multiple roles?
In all honesty, It wasn’t too much of a challenge because this film was very close to home and personal. I was also very fortunate to have my roommate/co-Director (who is also an artist) to help me go through these vulnerable moments in a way that felt very organic.
What was the experience like co-director Bakla with Michael Thór?
I’ve known Michael now for about 8 years and I definitely find a sense of ease working with him. We’re both Cancers, so we’re both sensitive and caring people, and I think that really translates well when we’re creating together. It also helps that he’s my roommate, so we’ve been able to build that trust and support for each other.
What was it about this phone call with your mother that inspired Bakla?
This actually happened. And I remember when it happened I just felt an instant anxiety and felt the need to channel this into my work. The phone call you hear in the film is actually my mom leaving a voice message — she stills gets weirded out hearing herself in my film.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
Perhaps had a bigger budget? aha. I shot and edited the film during the start of the pandemic with very limited resources.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I think a lot of it comes from not seeing myself on screen. I am queer and Filipino-American, and I haven’t really seen this type of representation of my intersectionality in our popular media. A lot of the driving force for my passion really comes from the need of being understood and acknowledged. Also, I don’t expect someone from outside my identity to write these stories, and I fully take responsibility to create spaces and to write narratives for people like myself. I also yearn to meet other Queer Filipinx filmmakers, so if you know any feel free to connect us!
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking to you?
SUPER important. I am so lucky to be part of a queer artist collective here in Los Angeles called Q Youth Foundation. Without my community I would be so lost. I was lucky enough to be able to ask questions and ask for help from my friends; it almost feels like a family. I would totally do the same for them.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Yes, especially if you’re from a marginalized community. No one else can best tell your stories like you can!
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow creative?
My biggest advice is to always ask questions and to not be afraid to reach out other creatives.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Bakla?
I hope people find the courage to be their authentic selves despite their fears.