"It’s really tricky telling someone else’s story besides your own. That’s why I would say don't be afraid to embrace your perspective of it, and understanding that what you're presenting is not the only perspective. It’s your truth.
But it’s not the absolute and only truth. That’s what makes it unique. Everyone will have a different film, a different perspective.
How do I identify? I guess I identify as Queer, Filipino American. Yeah, even though lately I’ve been saying Filipinx. I kinda like that.
Omg, I was just thinking about that. Why do we say Latinx but not Filipinx?
I know, exactly! I’ve seen a couple of friends do that and at some point I’ve said Filipinx American. Haha. I love the x! So cool, right? It speaks volumes...
What is the role of the filmmaker in the 21st century?
Wow. Great question. There’s a lot to talk about here. Well, filmmaking has changed so much in the last decade and the medium of filmmaking has gotten a lot more accessible and democratized. Filmmaking is occurring in communities where it wasn’t as accessible previously, so I do think you’re seeing different types of narratives emerging, allowing for new voices and new stories to be told. So in that sense, film has the ability to be reflection of the society, and perhaps a filmmaker can represent those not actively being represented in mainstream media, and give people a voice where they currently have none. Filmmaking is also crossing into art activism, and in that space our concept of filmmaking has changed too. Film with a capital “F” as I would describe it, is now being challenged, right? Yes we will always have certain films strictly being made for entertainment, but now people are also paying attention to who is in front of the camera as well as who is behind it. And now the use of filming as a tool has become a way to also document injustices. People using their phones to capture footage of what they are experiencing. I know it’s going outside of film with a capital “F” but it’s still technically using a camera and filmmaking, right? So I think people’s concepts of a camera has also changed. I think now almost everyone feels comfortable filming something with their phone. It can be argued it’s partially become a medium that can document, its partially a medium to create your own narrative without needing a lot of money or support from a studio system. I’m rambling now.
You’ve seen my feature doc. Have you seen any others?
Oh yay, you have!
As someone who enters intimately into people's’ lives, I was wondering what your relationship with vicarious drama is. Especially since you tell striking, necessary stories. I guess I go, how do you deal with emotionally telling their stories? Since you have to be so vulnerable too. Separating your lives from theirs. Like Jennifer Laude. Specifically with documentaries.
That’s a good question. I make a very clear distinction between documentary filmmaking and journalism. I do think journalism is more intended to be a medium of information, events as they unfold. Journalism presents itself as “objective.”
As a filmmaker, I’m not interested in journalism. I’m interested in documentary film, which in my opinion allows for a subjective point of view. The film is my perspective as the artist and filmmaker and I’m not afraid to embrace that. So the films that I make are told through my actual perspective. What an audience watches are things that I’ve thought of, witnessed, experienced, or even things that I’m still learning about. In particular with “Before You Know It,” it’s a portrait - this is how I met the person, this is what I saw as their story during the time I spent with them. So in a lot of ways the film becomes a document of my own experience, though I promise I’m not interested in making a film about myself! I want the subjects to tell their own story in their own words, but I also wish to capture this and share it with the audience and present it in the way I experienced it. Does that make sense? I like to make work that I feel a personal connection to.
With my new film for instance, it’s much more about me contemplating my own ideas of US - Filipino relationships. I grew up in the US with very little knowledge of the Philippines which is crazy because that’s the country where my family comes from. So all of my personal backstory is currently going into creating this new piece since I am so aware of what is missing from the US history books. With that said, yes it’s my experience making this film, but it's someone else’s story I’m sharing. So I’m always conscious of making sure what I’m presenting feels truthful to what their experience is or was. It’s challenging, but it’s also a fun and moving adventure. Part of what's powerful about nonfiction filmmaking is it’s“real”, they’re real, and this is really happening. So to witness first hand what my subjects experience is a really privileged position to be in, and I embrace that and am truly grateful for their trust.
Even with this project, meeting you here. You trusted me enough to come here. What advice do you have for creatives who tell stories beyond their own? Issues with appropriation and exploitation are brought up. What are you general thoughts and personal experiences?
It’s really tricky telling someone else’s story besides your own. That’s why I would say don't be afraid to embrace your perspective of it, and understanding that what you're presenting is not the only perspective. It’s your truth. But it’s not the absolute and only truth. That’s what makes it unique. Everyone will have a different film, a different perspective. I think in terms of representing someone else, you have to find what the connection is there.
I’m the type of person who believes in the human condition. So I do think for instance, if I’m making a film about gay seniors, and I’m not a senior citizen myself, I think about their experiences that I can relate to, and those are the ones I’m going to connect with, and use those as a way to explore. But I think the trick is I gotta let them steer it. I can't go in and say, this is the story I’m going to tell because I don’t even know that yet. I have to experience and witness it, and then present it. I think that's something important to think about. If you are representing a community you're not fully part of, then how do you become part of that community? How do you embrace that community? Let that community tell their own story and you be the vehicle it goes through. I think that's important, you know? Because as soon a you don’t that’s when you run into issues of things being exploited and sensational because maybe it’s not the full and truthful experience. Maybe it’s more fabricated in the way you think it should as opposed to the way it is. You have to be open to all of that, be open to learning and experiencing. Does that make sense?
Yes. We all loved when Ty’s friend was getting married and you could feel his jealousy. But he would deny the urge to get married.
Yeah, it’s a real moment. So much about making that film, Ty’s story in particular, was witnessing things you didn’t foresee happening in your lifetime - issues you didn’t think you would think about, or be challenged by. I think making a film and representing people outside your direct experience, it’s important to understand you don’t know everything. That you have to learn throughout the process. You have to let them lead, because you can’t force a narrative there. You have to understand what the actual narrative is and that the subjects are their own authorities. You can only capture and present what your perspective is on it.
I’m interested when it comes to your personal story, what has been really influential in the way you carry out your life? What personal experiences do you find important sharing? You spend your whole life capturing others.
That’s a good question. I think people are most comfortable putting people into categories and boxes, whether that is assigned gender roles, assigned cultural roles, but you know, specifically thinking as a filmmaker, it can be the types of films I’m making, and I would like to think that nothing is set in stone.
Yes, right now, people see me making nonfiction films, social justice films, but I’m also making Christeene videos for instance. I do have varied interests but I do see a central theme in all of it. They just take different forms. They take different approaches. So yeah, it’s this interesting balance of recognizing people feeling comfortable putting you into labels and boxes, and then feeling that resistance to break that, and the freedom to explore outside of that box. I think there’s a strange balance there. If I were to start writing Black family comedy television scripts, I think I myself would be surprised by that. Part of that is knowing what interests you and going with that, and not worrying too much about what it “means”. I don’t know why I’m using this as an example, but yeah if I wrote a Black family tv comedy, would it still be me? I think it would because I would probably still connect to it somehow and would be writing from my own experiences and perspective. Yeah, there’d be a little bit of queerness and my own artistic sensibilities in there. So what I’m trying to say is, I would like to think that everything is possible. Nothing is off the tables in terms of what you wanna make and what you wanna explore, and not being afraid to understand your perspective is unique and interesting, and to embrace that.
True! Dana had every right to make the painting, but she sure didn’t need to display it.
Yeah, and she has to be responsible about it and stand by it, and recognize there is gonna be pushback, and to understand that. What I don’t agree with is artistic censorship. I don’t agree with I couldn’t do something because I have no right to do something. I think there are ways to be responsible about it. If I’m representing another community, I am no means the authority on that. And if it isn’t my story to tell, how do I connect with it?
Do you have a favorite drag queen?
I do not.
How about a persona yourself?
I also do not. What’s funny is the other day I was playing around with those Youcam makeup apps while I was waiting at the airport and I posted a selfie on Instagram. In the photo I have full on Youcam makeup and I definitely got some comments!
Ohh yes, you have potential!
Haha yeah. I think the closest I get is with my friend Paul (a.k.a Christeene). I do a video series with them where I play a character named Randee. And we do a series called “Reverie and Randee,” almost like a wacky televangelist inspired couple. I’ll send you a photo. And in that I am actually in a form of drag, in the sense I have a fake mustache and am playing a persona in some sorts. It isn’t the same extent to which other drag queens do, but...
You are allowed to define drag however you want.
So maybe that is the closest I get.
Haha that reminds me of the Bamboo Lounge drag show I saw in Tulsa. It was like going to a nursing home.
It’s funny. I think people would expect me to say Christeene, but I don’t necessarily consider Christeene a drag performer, Christeene is something else now. I don’t even know what Christeene is.
How did you get involved with Christeene?
So the performer Paul Soileau, he and I have a good mutual friend who one day said you two should hang out and start doing work together. Strange enough, he was right. We met and were fans of each other's work. That is partially what came out of it?
Do you know the photographer Oscar Ouk by any chance? Brooklyn based photographer who concentrates on drag.
I don’t, but I’ll look them up!
Yeah! I told my brother that he had to reach out to him! He is phenomenal.
Do you come from a very wacky, creative family yourself?
I come from a wacky family that’s for sure. I guess my family is creative in a lot of ways, but it’s not like I come from a long line of filmmakers or anything. My parents were immigrants. Definitely bold in their own way since they immigrated separately here to the United States. My father mostly worked in computer engineering. My mother studied psychology and worked as a social worker. But I think Filipinos in general are very creative people. It’s also a very creative culture and also a very queer friendly culture. Those things make sense to me.
Did you recently go back for the first time for the Jennifer Laude documentary?
Well, I’d been back a couple of times, mostly as a kid so I really didn’t have strong memories of those trips. When I went back as an adult, it was mainly for family. Crazy whirlwinds! Then in 2015 I visited for the first time on my own terms. That was the start of my own relationship to the Philippines. Now I feel like I have my own connection outside of family history, I definitely have my own relationship. It’s great.
What is the Filipinx community like in Austin?
Gurl, you’re looking at it!
I found it! Haha
There really isn’t a huge Filipino population that I’m aware of. I definitely know a couple of folks in town but it’s nothing like SF or NY with big populations. I wanna say in Austin it’s mainly Vietnamese. Everywhere in TX.
Yes! My people!
Where do you feel most at home/why?
For me, “home” is truly a state of mind. It’s not a physical place necessarily- especially since half the time I’m living out of a suitcase. Home is being surrounded by “family”, it’s eating Filipino food, it’s sitting in one of my favorite neighborhood bars, or sitting in a dark theater watching an amazing film or listening to amazing music. “Home” is feeling alive, loved, and aware of the world.
Did you know there is a big population of Viet people in New Orleans?
Yeah, I was just there. My friend made a documentary called “Village called Versailles.” It’s about the Vietnamese population and what happened after hurricane Katrina. The area they lived in got impacted too.
I remember having some relatives from New Orleans come live with me in Texas after the hurricane.
Were you born in the US?
Yes, and I still haven’t been back to the motherland.
OMG! You should go!
I agree. My parents always wanna go every year to show us their birthland but they back out last minute. Maybe PTSD. I understand. I’ve said I should just go on my own.
Maybe it could be a really healing experience if you all go together.
If you decide to go, let me know. I have friends who have recently been going back more and reconnecting with Vietnam.
That would be exquisite. I have thought of just applying for a Fulbright and going. I also want their consent. We’ll see. Talking about Fulbright and big opportunities, do you have a dream project?
Hmmm...hmmm..I don’t know. Not to sound cynical, but I don’t know if I can conceive a dream project since I’m dealing with these projects now. So my dream would be to get these projects done and to do other projects ha ha! I would love to do a fiction film in the Philippines, that’s for sure. I’ve been talking to a friend about working on something together, especially after working on this documentary. That would be great. Yeah, that’s kind of the immediate I’m thinking of.
other sites: Before You Know It, Trinidad, & Christeene