Crisaldo Pablo remembers telling a 20-year-old guy he used to see he’d make a film about their relationship (and, opening his heart then to his now ex-boyfriend, about the boyfriend he had before him, a politician already married, though still a very active MSM). “I took up Bachelor of Arts, (majoring in) broadcasting in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and right from the start, I intended to be a writer/director some day,” he says. But “years passed, and I learned that you have to be a kiss-ass person in order to make it in the industry; I was always shy and antisocial before, so I didn’t get the breaks (even if) I always got low budget projects now and then.”
Having been with GMA-7 since 1995, starting as a writer before becoming a segment producer, and then a head writer before finally directing (for i-Witness and Emergency, by 2002), “I conceptualized Duda/Doubt (his first film) while we (Pablo and the 20-year-old) were a few months from breaking up,” Pablo says, with the process continuing while he was “recuperating from a very turbulent relationship with (that) 20-year-old.”
Interestingly, the biggest challenge for Pablo at that time was not the recuperation, per se – “I couldn’t find a good ending to the movie in my mind,” he says.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, a secret was revealed to me by a friend, and it goes like this: (I helped my ex-boyfriend get a job in GMA-7, and) he was tasked to find stories na madalas ay sa probinsiya (that are often in the provinces). When he was sent to Iloilo, he met this guy and slept in his place – I discovered it a week later, and the guy and I became friends through text. Then in summer of 2002, after Holy Week, when I and my ex finally separated, I got a surprise text from that friend, so I called him to inform him that I broke off with my partner. He said that my ex was a foolish person because when he went to Iloilo, he admitted that he also went to my province and slept with my politician ex-boyfriend, and even asked him if he could stay with him there, and if he could find him a job in the town. That was it.”
The double betrayal became what “I thought would be a very good ending (for my first film),” Pablo says. And a very good ending it became, with Duda/Doubt now considered “a landmark in the Philippine cinema history as the first full-length digital video movie to be shown in local mainstream cinemas in its own original video format. It inspired all other indie filmmakers to make their own (films of this kind), and it also inspired Cinemalaya, Cinema One, et cetera.”
Pablo adds: “You see, all my life I have been searching for that someone special, but they all just left me empty. After making Duda/Doubt, and then Bathhouse (Pablo’s second film), and then all the rest, I actually found true love. And that is my love for making queer themed movies.”
Pablo has never looked back since, “making movies about my kind,” he says, thereby “becoming a queer advocate who intends to continue this for as long as I live.”
“Film is very powerful. To be able to empower someone, a brother or a sister in the GLBTQIA community is worth all the challenges we faced in making queer-themed movies. When we feature topics and issues that concern us gays, we actually provoke our moviegoers to think for themselves in relation to the issues we present,” Pablo says. Thus, “I think one major boost that GLBTQIAs get from our movies and our pioneering our kind of movies is that, finally, people, especially in the film industry, realize that we are here and that we are powerful, so powerful that we can make way for movies made by queers and intended for queers (well watched). They saw our solidarity. They even saw the power of the pink peso.”
Things haven’t always been easy, of course, with “demons” blocking his way at one time or another.
“My personal demon: I grew up longing for that someone special, and that has always been my priority. So, after my young ex, another guy came into my life, and, initially, it was great because he even helped me with Duda/Doubt. However, during my production and post production and screenings of Duda/Doubt, I was his physically and emotionally battered partner. It was the worst time of my life,” Pablo says, choosing, nonetheless, to see the positive side of that story: “It was also the best (time of my life) because I was able to make Duda/Doubt.”
Professionally, there were the “rejections from possible sponsors because of our queer theme,” Pablo says, highlighting how, when Duda/Doubt and then Bathhouse were released, “there were no digital video projectors in cinemas like Robinsons, and I couldn’t afford the rental rate of projectors. So I got myself a sponsor, which (even when they) already said yes, backed out a day or two before the scheduled screening of Bathhouse because they felt that our theme or content was inappropriate to their image. Sa takot ko, isinanla ko buhay ko sa kanila (I sold my life to them) by giving them 15% of our ticket sales share.”
Pablo believes that “there is discrimination, still, despite the fact that only gay movies rake in honest good box office results (other ‘wholesome’ movies pad their box office returns).”
Nonetheless, “I never saw myself doing anything else but making movies,” says Pablo, who is “also interested in science and electronics.” “I think everybody who has the guts, the preparation, and the passion will have an edge in this industry – but, please, for those who want to be in this industry just to be famous, try to do real work first.”
Pablo does what he does “because it is the thing that comes into my mind every day, and I do not see myself not doing it. I feel for every gay person of my generation who had to empathize with the female or the male characters who are straight and had to start from zero the moment they realize that they are something else. I am happy that we now have movies that portray the lives of gay men, and that they are movies where the lead characters are gay and the issues are somewhat gay.”
“I never really asked myself what my gender was,” Pablo says, admitting that “I used to do women, too, and still do, but not very often; and I am not very proud to admit (that). But when I felt that I was more gay than straight, I started (looking for) for queer themed books first, and (did) researches. That was in 1992.”
All these years, Pablo realized that “what gives you peace is not just the coming out (process), although that is such a heavenly experience,” he says, considering that for him, “it was my movies that made me complete. I feel that I can be alone all my life and still be happy, because I am whole.”
Pablo adds: “But if someone comes my way, I will be glad to share life with him, no matter how short.”
Even with his somewhat pioneering efforts for GLBTQIAs, Pablo says he is hard-pressed finding anything inspiring in the GLBTQIA community [“Honestly, hindi ko masagot itong (I can’t answer this) question,” he says when asked what he finds inspiring about the GLBTQIA community]. “We love to criticize each other, and even I am not immune to that. In fact, some gays criticize my movies and then criticize me as a person, and announce to it to the gay community. But when you ask them to be specific about why they hate my movies, they can’t even explain themselves. Maraming kapatid natin ang makapagtaray lang, gagawa at gagawa ng eksena. Sana, magkaroon tayo ng respeto sa isa’t-isa. (Many of our peers pick on things for the sake of picking, and they make a scene when they do. Hopefully, we’ll all learn to respect each other).
To better the GLBTQIA community, Pablo believes “we have to start with the man in the mirror, as Michael Jackson once (sang),” he says. “Linisin natin ang ating mga sarili (We have to start with cleaning our own acts).”
Pablo is proud of his films – but he is, too, of “being the breadwinner of my family, having raised my sister until she finished her college degree.”
But Pablo is also proud of “having a family here in my office, where a few young gay guys who are not blood related treat each other as family,” he says, adding how he is looking forward to buying “a lot where I can build a compound, a mini-condo (done) the old fashioned way, with the first floor at the facade to be leased to offices, while the second floor will be for every single gay looking for a small room to rent, and the third floor will be for those students with talent or intelligence, who come from the province and cannot afford to rent even a bed space. When this is done, that will be one big wonderful family.”