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Using film to highlight how humanity’s commonalities trump differences

With ‘Tamang Hinala’, Ronald Genato touches on HIV as an issue not only of the body but of the heart, considering that stigmatization of people living with HIV is worsening the epidemic. The filmmaker now wants to create more LGBT themed films that “would make the general public relate to the LGBT experience,” Genato says.

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In 2013, while on a bus going back to Manila after spending a weekend in Baguio, Ronald Genato heard over the bus’s radio a news report about a man who jumped to his death at a metro train station. The news made him browse Facebook on his phone, and he noted in the status updates of his friends a commonality: the narrative (assumption, even) that the man who committed suicide was a “discreet male moonlighting as an escort”.

“There were comments in the news feed that the reason for his decision to take his life was – allegedly – because he couldn’t handle the fact that he has was infected with HIV either through his job or by being addicted to recreational drugs,” Genato said.

Genato became so interested in the topic, mainly because “not only are gay issues close to my heart, but I also wanted to understand this ‘crab mentality’* in our community that spew nasty comments on the diseased. (We) judge this person as immoral for his acts even if we don’t know him; we jut have inferences, and we don’t even have evidences. There were also people who had the audacity to invoke their religious beliefs and proclaim that he deserves to die because of his choices in life. Some trolls (with a lot of time in their lives to project their insecurities in others by saying their opinions under the cloak of anonymity) were also insensitive, telling people to stop taking the said train lines at baka mahawa sila sa (and they could infected from the) blood that got splattered in the train tracks. I was really concerned by the lack of HIV awareness and education by the society, and to think it is already an alarming epidemic, and how the government’s inaction and callousness play a role in this.”

This interest led Genato to come up with Tamang Hinala (A Suspicion), a 15-minute short film that tells the story of two gay men, and how a suicide ignites doubts and suspicions within their relationship.

MODERN TALE

Tamang Hinala tells the story of an IT professional, who – while on a bus, commuting to his graveyard shift – overhears a suicide incident that happened on a metro line that same day. For him, this incident mirrors a similar tragedy with a loved one; and that tragedy left lingering questions that caused him depression. Meanwhile, another man pining for his attention is devoted to aid him in his journey to recovery as he too makes sense of it all.

“The statement I want to convey in (and with) the film with regards to HIV is that it is not just a disease about of the body (i.e. HIV), but it’s also a disease of the heart (unwillingness to be loving, or to move on, or to accept people’s sexual orientation and gender identity),” Genato said.

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CONFRONTING CHALLENGES

Bringing the short film to life was not easy.

“While researching on the subject, I encountered roadblocks from the friends of the victim because they did not want to share details of the story out of respect to the family of the deceased; but also because of the stigma and discrimination if a confirmation (about the person’s status) went out. As such, I was not able to extract the real experiences of the characters,” Genato said.

Because of this, “the writer in me had to device ways and use acquired writing techniques… while still being true to what the film wants to say. I focused on the boyfriend of the victim because I knew for a fact that he had one (but sadly he too did not want to participate in this, which was understandable and frustrating at the same time) and try to inhabit myself to his character and focus on what it feels like to lose the love of your life, even if you’ve (I insinuated) already accepted his condition. Hindi pa ba sapat ang love to see you through (Is love not enough to see you through)? Societal dictates pa rin ba will win in the end (Do societal dictates still win in the end)?”

Bringing Tamang Hinala was also challenging “because this was my first directorial effort.” Fortunately for Genato, he was enrolled in The Reality Film Lab (TRFL)** film directing course in the summer of 2014 under directors Erik Matti, Jose Javier Reyes, Raya Martin and Jade Castro, and a graduation requirement was to create a short film based on Reyes’ script that tackles teen depression. “I had a go signal from (director) Reyes to tweak his script and still center on depression, but staying true to the story that speaks to my heart,” he said. TRFL ended up producing Tamang Hinala; while others who were also involved in the film’s production including: Miguel dela Pena and Nikki Puyat, producers; Timothy Axibal, cinematographer; Rochelle Crisostomo, production designer; Kenneth Mandrilla, editor; and Genato’s mentors like Emman dela Cruz.

MAKING WAVES

Tamang Hinala received a Gold Award citation for a Newcomer Filmmaker for Narrative Short at the International Film Festival for Women, Social Issues and Zero Discrimination.

“Of course, nakakataba ng puso at naka-ka-boost ng confidence ang ma-recognize ang film mo ng mentors mo, and even by different festivals where you entered your film (Of course it makes one hapy and it helps boost one’s confidence when the film you made are recognized by your mentors, and even by different festivals you entered your film),” Genato said. But I confess that marami pa akong kakaining bigas, and kailangan talaga ng (I still have lot of rice to eat/more experience needed, and what’s really needed is) more dedication on my part if I want to succeed.”

MEANINGFUL DENT

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Genato aims to continue making films like Tamang Hinala.

“We all know that media is the Fourth Estate of the society. It has a capability to set an agenda that the public will talk about, despite considering other weighty social issues. With film in particular, an effective filmmaker can utilize his voice/statement that can influence how the film audience will think, feel and respond to social situations, institutions, and beliefs after watching the film. It remains to be a powerful tool to inform, entertain, bring forth a message to a particular issue and hopefully, create a meaningful dent in the viewing public’s beliefs,” he said.

Particularly in the case of advancing LGBT people’s human rights, “I think the film’s role is to aptly show through effective technical and narrative tools interpretations of the sign of the times. With films I hope to (develop), I would like to create LGBT themed films that would make the general public relate to the LGBT experience. For instance, I believe that love is universal, and that everyone – gay or straight – experience the same heartaches, same reactions that define our shared culture more than delineations from one another,” Genato said. “As a filmmaker, one must be challenged to weave stories that will not further dichotomize and differentiate a heterosexual kind of love with a homosexual one. We must find ways to subversively influence our society that we are all one and we can be the same since we live in just one society. I know this is easier said than done, but that is the challenge for every filmmaker in the world: To find ways wherein our (commonalities) trump our differences though our works of art.”

*IN THE PHILIPPINES, CRAB MENTALITY IS THE PRACTICE OF PULLING/TEARING PEOPLE DOWN, PARTICULARLY WHEN THEY ARE ALREADY BECOMING SUCCESSFUL.
**TRFL IS A MONTH LONG SUMMER FILM CLINIC THAT OFFERS DIFFERENT COURSES IN EVERY FILM DISCIPLINE.

‘Tamang Hinala’ screenshots
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‘Tamang Hinala’ poster
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