VIFF 2011: Charliebebs Gohetia broaches boundaries in Filipino film
If you’re checking out Filipino or queer cinema, or both, at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, here’s a name to remember: Charliebebs Gohetia. He’s worked on three out of the five Filipino films in this year’s lineup: he directed The Natural Phenomenon of Madness, and edited two other features: Baby Factory and Señorita (which are competing for the Dragons & Tigers Award for Young Cinema).
What's more, he has several cinematic links to our city. His first feature, The “Thank You” Girls, premiered at VIFF 2008 as a D&T Award nominee. He also helped select the films shown at the inaugural Pinoy Indie Film Festival held in August in Vancouver.
Although he’s edited, written, directed, and produced several gay films, his new film is about a straight couple. “This one is a conscious decision to do something that is different from The ‘Thank You’ Girls. I wanted to try a range,” Gohetia said on the line from Manila. “I want to see what I am capable of doing. The ‘Thank You’ Girls is more fun, it’s a comedy…. Madness is more conscious, is more of a darker side…. I discovered I could do comedy and drama, by doing Madness.”
The languidly paced, monochromatic film sports two halves: he said, she said. Each part reveals a different perspective of a relationship splintered by a divisive experience: a drunken night culminated in violent sex that she viewed as rape. Some of the same scenes are retold in each version but with divergent elements.
“In the typical goal of a relationship or whatever, we see differences and different perspectives, and I think that’s what usually in a relationship has to be worked on because it’s very different,” Gohetia explained. “Especially in the set-up of the people in Madness, it’s unrequited [love] so that’s more complicated because there is only one who loves the other and the other one loves someone else.”
He added that the story is more complex than “binary divisions” such as boy and girl or black and white. Instead, the film delves into the grey areas of life and love, such as the woman’s conflicted feelings towards the man and the man’s struggles with leukemia.
Adding more complexity to the characters, Gohetia subverted gender conventions. “Usually in the Philippines, the men are very dominating…but in Madness, the relationship has a reversal of roles because the woman is more dominating. The man is an effeminized male in the relationship. The woman is taking on the role of the man…. Usually the man is the macho guy…the stronger sex. But in Madness, the woman is the stronger persona. She is the one who is more…aggressive.”
There’s yet another dimension to the story: the woman is pregnant by an ex who is now in a gay relationship. “She is in a constant search for something that makes her happy,” he said. “And in contrast to that, there’s a gay couple who is very happy, even if they don’t have a child…The normal type of family usually has a child that makes the couple happy…It’s very ironic that in Madness that it is a gay couple that is happy and not the…heterosexual [relationship].”
In the background, a controversial reproductive health bill, which promises to provide universal access to birth control and sex education in schools, imbues the story with political underpinnings. “I wanted to show issues of society in the Philippines that are not socially accepted,” he explained. “We have an issue here about [a] reproductive health bill, that the use of the condom is illegal because the church is against it. I talk about it in Madness because it is a moral issue and the church is against the use of the condom as sexual protection.”
Eduardo Roy Jr.’s debut feature (which Gohetia edited) depicts how lack of birth control has an impact on women. Baby Factory is set in a maternity ward in a Manila hospital and portrays the lives of overworked nurses and perpetually pregnant women.
Politics take a more central role in another Filipino film at VIFF, Señorita, directed by Vincent Sandoval.
“I enjoyed doing the film because it was very different,” Gohetia, who edited the film, said. “Usually we make gay films that are either soft porn or a comedy but Señorita has a political structure and a political story.”
In the dramatic thriller, a reformed transgender sex worker moves to small town to raise a young boy but becomes embroiled in tensions surrounding a mayoral election.
Gohetia noted that Filipino queer cinema has become less prolific since peaking in 2008. He said that the market became saturated, particularly with soft porn and love stories, and that widespread movie piracy also affected production levels.
Gohetia will visit Vancouver for the first time when he attends the festival. He’ll be joined by three other Filipino nominees for the Dragons & Tigers Award: the aforementioned Sandoval and Roy, and actor Eugenia Domingo (Woman in a Septic Tank). These contenders are up against two films from South Korea (Fatigue, Invasion of Alien Bikini), two from Japan (Our Future, Recreation), and one from Tibet (The Sun-Beaten Path). The $10,000 award, which goes to a new director from Pacific Asia, will be announced at the 7 p.m. screening of Mitsuko Delivers on October 6.
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.