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Bebs Gohetia: Continuing Struggles

Outrage Magazine sits down with filmmaker Bebs Gohetia, Asian Film Awards nominee and the director of “The Thank You Girls”.

Charliebebs “Bebs” Gohetia
Queer Filmmaker

Bebs Gohetia: “Think like a king. It helps. Don’t live to please people. It’s okay to mess up, be ugly, be a rebel, be different.”

Asian Film Awards nominee Charliebebs “Bebs” Gohetia directed The Thank You Girls (which he also wrote), his first full-length directorial debut about beauty pageant losers who embark on a journey from their hometown Davao City to Cagayan de Oro City to join a big contest. Easily recalling Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, this is by no means a mere copycat, as it contextualizes the genre to the Philippines, complete with a loudly colored orange jeep (that Filipino icon), and the ever present gay lingo, of course.

Outrage Magazine discusses the film, about being gay, and everything in between with the maker of Daylight.

Why did you decide to do this kind of film?

Gays, especially transvestites/transgenders, are not well-represented in films. The advent of this year’s pink wave saw the emergence of films featuring bisexuals or straight-acting gay men in their struggle with their sexuality. The trans are usually stereotyped as jesters or the happy sidekicks in Filipino films. I think it’s time for the trans to be represented properly and The Thank You Girls (TYG) will feature a parcel of their issues, struggles, and what they go through. I don’t guarantee that I am able to tackle everything people need to know about them because it would be too broad and many, but at least TYG will provide a small voice for them, and make us understand them a little bit more. I hope that after seeing TYG, people will realize that all of us, regardless of gender and preference, have the same struggles after all.
I also wanted to feature the culture of gays in the province. Gays there have a different outlook towards sex, preferences, and how they see themselves than the ones who were raised in the bigger urban setting like Manila. My hometown, Davao, is a very beautiful place not to shoot a film at.

What were the influences?

I saw a documentary by Kara David in i-Witness years ago about byukoneras in Manila. I thought how different the lives of beauty contest veterans in Davao City would be. I have friends who join Miss Gay pageants and they are happy doing it, they find a kind of happiness in the acceptance they get from pageants, and I think it helps a lot with their personal growth.
I remember being mesmerized by Priscilla: Queen of the Desert when I saw it back in film school, and that also influenced me. I even shot one scene in TYG as my homage to Priscilla. (But) other than the concept of gayness and the roadtrip, I hope the comparison between TYG and Priscilla ends there because TYG has a more Filipino touch to it.

Challenges faced? How these were faced?

I am so lucky to work with first-time actors who were intelligent, eager to learn, easy to coach, and having fun at the same time. I felt they weren’t acting at all, they were almost playing themselves. Challenges were mostly logistics. I flew a few key staff from Manila, and the rest were hired in Davao. We shot for 10 days during the end of March and early April at the height of summer, but it rained almost everyday and we needed a dry weather for the road scenes. That, we didn’t anticipate because I knew Davao’s summer is basically dry and hot. We then had to adjust our shooting schedule depending on the weather.
Setting-up was also a challenge. Since we were understaffed and had to work on a few “real” equipment, the car mount set-up took around an hour or more and ate up most our time so we had to make do with our idle time by rehearsing or resting. At night, we braved though the extreme cold weather of Salumay (a province in Davao, on the way going to Cagayan de Oro). The extras had to wear their flimsy costumes and it was quite uncomfortable for them as we usually finished shooting the pageant scenes in the morning. After a short rest, we travelled to the location again and shoot. It was a test of patience and endurance but we had so much fun.

What disappoints you in the industry? Why so?

I had direct personal experiences of people trying to pull others down. What I observed with this industry is that some people don’t seem to be happy with others’ success. It’s a very competitive, dog-eat-dog world, and I hate kissing asses just to get noticed. The indie world is supposed to be an anti-thesis of its mainstream counterpart, but it’s beginning to evolve into something like it. There are a number of existing factions within an ironically small circle.
There are real, great talented artists out there who aren’t given the break just because they are not good at marketing themselves.

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As a member of the GLBTQI community, and in your personal experience, do we have an edge going into this industry? Why so, or why not? And if so, what are these advantages? Disadvantages?

At the end of the day, it’s always the person’s talent and his attitude towards his craft that matters, not the sexual preference/gender. It’s true, majority of the people running the industry are GLBTQIs because we are a creative bunch and it feels good be in the company of creative people, it makes me strive to be creative too.
This industry is where GLBTQIs excel. We are usually the ones on top, being in charge or are in the creative department. But the dynamics that go around the production is unique because GLBTQIs get to co-exist with straights and the issues they deal with go beyond their sexual preferences. Here, the sexist jokes are geared towards the straight men who are a minority.
Disadvantages? I can’t think of one (for now). As I said, this industry is where we excel and being gay is a non-issue at all.

What made you decide to be a filmmaker, in the first place?

Initially, I just wanted to be in showbiz. I was fascinated with its glamor and I’ve always wondered how it feels like making films and being recognized for doing so. Later, my fixation transcended to something more academic and creative when I realized how dirty showbusiness can be. So I decided to study film and it became more of “I wanna have a creative outlet, I wanna influence people, I wanna tell visual stories” kind of mantra later on.

How important do you think the industry can be to promotion of GLBTQI rights? Why so? And how can this be utilized for this goal? Disappointments in the industry? Why?

The media is a major and powerful life-molder. This mindset of this industry should’ve already evolved and go beyond portraying mediocre stereotypes and creating classifications and categories of people. It should promote diversity and be more accepting of LGBTs and introduce our world as something that is a normal part of society.
We don’t get that much voice in the industry to think majority of the movers are LGBT members. Isn’t it ironic that this industry still has to cope with a double standard industry that considers the straight market as its dominant/major consumers?
Does this industry ever think of the difference between “the society is tolerant of us” and “the society accepts us”?

Biggest challenge you had to face when you entered the industry, and how you faced these?

I take each day as a fun opportunity to do what I love to do. Challenges are for those people who try hard to compete. I don’t.

Where do you intend to take your career in the industry? How?

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Years ago, all I dreamed of was just do a personal video of my favorite song starring and directed by myself. Luckily, I became a film student, then an editor, then the next thing I knew, I was already shooting my first full-length film.
The truth is, I don’t have an immediate plan. I think articulate my “career plan” as “I love to rebel, go against the flow. As much as I can, I intend to do things differently. Wherever that takes me, we’ll see. Whatever that means.

What do you think remain the biggest challenges for the community? Why so? How should these be faced?

The community should first focus on dealing with the problem of and among its members. The G, L, B, T, Q and I in GLBTQI are not united YET. Each group needs to deeply understand the other’s needs, preferences, other what-have-yous. It’s going to take time to gel them all together in one united LGBT world but it’s worth a try. We should not expect the straight world to give us respect if we don’t respect the diversity of our fellow GLBTQI members.

What disappoints you in our community? Why so?

I don’t like those who discriminate other members of the community by boxing putting them in boxes with labels. That is so superficial. It happens online, in bars, clubs. I know it’s a matter of preference and I respect that. But you don’t treat someone as a smaller kind of being just because they’re effem, chub, butch (or straight-acting, whichever is the case). If we want respect then we should start giving it to our kind. If that’s the case, how does that make us any different from the heteros who mock us and think of us as lower forms?
It’s sad to see some members of this community get drowned in the politics of aesthetics. Our world can get so cruel to those who are not gifted with aesthetic value and it’s becoming more of the “normal” world we want to defy.

What do you consider as your biggest achievement? Why so?

I’m having so much fun at this point of my life I can’t factor which one’s achievement and which one is not. I’ve always defined “achievement” as “something I love to do”. It spells a big difference when you’ve been doing things you don’t love your whole life then suddenly, you’re on top of the world doing something you’re so passionate about.

Regrets in life? Why so?

Should I give a beauty queen-ish answer to this? (Grins)
Truth is, I’m trying not to deal with the mistakes I did in the past. I try to learn from them.

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Biggest challenge faced, on a personal level? How did you face this?

I’m in a constant battle against dealing with my self-esteem. I am not sure if everyone goes through that kind of “teenage angst” phase, but it has become a cycle to me. I guess I’ll just have to embrace my drama queen tendencies.

Lesson learned from this?

Think like a king. It helps. Don’t live to please people. It’s okay to mess up, be ugly, be a rebel, be different.

What else do you want to achieve?

I still want to travel the world, visit cities and places that I only see in magazines and brochures. I want to do more films, struggle to live longer so I could witness the discovery of the cure for AIDS and cancer, find my right man.
And most of all, world peace. (Laughs loud)

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