How a Filipino family's fight turned into a BAFTA Student Film Award-nominated film

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“In This Family,” a documentary that hones in on the aftermath of coming out in a strict, Catholic family, was one of the 60 student films shortlisted out of over 460 submissions at the 2018 BAFTA Student Film Awards. Photo courtesy of DRAMA DEL ROSARIO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Twenty-three-year-old filmmaker Drama Del Rosario thinks it’s about time documentaries demand people’s attention, both as a commercial product and for public good, especially in the time of online video streaming. “It's about telling the stories of real people.”

His 2017 documentary, “In This Family,” which was one of the 60 student films shortlisted out of over 460 submissions at the 2018 BAFTA Student Film Awards, is as real as it gets. Anchored by decade-old audio recordings of the fights he and his family would often have about his sexuality, the film explores the 10-year journey it took for his family, his father in particular, to accept him.

“All of these fights between my family about me being gay, them interrogating me, would just happen so often that one day I thought, ‘Okay, why don't I just sneak my phone into my pocket, record the sermon that I already know is going to happen and just see what happens from there,’” he says.

Drama Photo_B (1).png Twenty-three-year-old filmmaker Drama Del Rosario shares that during his first semester at the New York Film Academy, they were tasked to create a 'personal voice film,' which led him to unearth recordings of the fights between his family about his being gay. Photo courtesy of DRAMA DEL ROSARIO

Not really knowing what to do with the recordings, he stashed them away in a CD in his bedroom for 10 years. A school project at the New York Film Academy (NYFA), where he is currently taking his masters in documentary, was what led him to unearth these files.

“One of the first projects in the first semester is to do what we call a ‘personal voice film,’ which is a short documentary about your life,” he says. “I remember telling my instructor, ‘Oh my God, I do not wanna do this film,’ because I knew exactly what to tackle in this documentary. But I knew I had to do it.”

“In This Family” homes in on the aftermath of the coming out moment, and the long road to understanding and acceptance that follows. The film covers the 10 years that it took for Del Rosario’s father to change from “being this horrible, scary homophobic parent into the most loving, caring, supportive parent that a gay son could ask for,” while underscoring the conservative, Catholic family values that created the tension between them.

In This Family_Film Still 3.jpg “I guess it's [also] an opportunity for people to see what it's like to grow up as an LGBTQ person in a Catholic landscape, in a very strict family,” says Drama Del Rosario. Photo courtesy of DRAMA DEL ROSARIO

“I am the only son of an only son. Which means the Del Rosario line is my hands. If I don't have the traditional family, the Del Rosario line will be cut,” he says. “And that's where a lot of the story hinges on. Just growing up in this strict Catholic landscape with their norms and perceptions of what a ‘family’ should be and how their children are expected to grow up.”

 

He says he owes it to the LGBTQ-inclined shows that he and his sister would secretly watch for releasing some of that tension — not just for himself, but for his father, whom he noticed would try to sneak a peek or overhear. “One day I saw my dad watching ‘Glee.’ And from then on, things just started becoming lighter in our family. Less constricting.”

Del Rosario felt it was important to tackle that particular part of the queer experience because, especially for Filipinos, “as a child, what your parents think of you is so important.”

“We talk a lot about gay people being confident with themselves and being comfortable with their sexuality,” he says. “But we should also talk about parents educating themselves [and working on] the relationship of parent and child when the child comes out.”

Though Del Rosario’s interest in non-fiction filmmaking initially stemmed from a fascination with reality T.V. shows and how their “outlandish” stars had interesting stories to tell, his previous works are reflections on the Catholic landscape he could not ignore. His first documentary, a school project in his senior year of high school, was about the Reproductive Health Bill, or rather why the Ateneo High School, a Jesuit school, was not talking about their stand on the bill.

Perhaps the best amalgamation of his interests lies in his 2015 film “Popemania,” a documentary on the souvenir sellers who cashed in on the 2015 Papal visit. The film was originally a requirement for a documentary class he took in college. It eventually garnered the Best Short Documentary Award at the 2015 Gallup Film Festival, among others.

 

 

His latest film in the circuit, “Act Like A Woman,” which most recently became a semi-finalist at the 2018 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards, was born out of another class exercise that eventually led him to find Angel Qinan, a transgender Filipina who is struggling to become an actress in Hollywood. The story follows Angel’s attempts to book acting jobs, with rigid beauty standards and stereotypes about the trans community dampening her dreams.

Act Like A Woman_Film Still 3 (1).jpg “Act Like A Woman,” another film by Drama Del Rosario, recently became a semi-finalist at the 2018 Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards. It revolves around Angel Qinan, a transgender Filipina who is struggling to become an actress in Hollywood. Photo courtesy of DRAMA DEL ROSARIO

 

“So many LGBTQ people, specifically trans people, are denied jobs. Not just in acting, but in being a lawyer, being a doctor, being a teacher. They're just denied those wonderful opportunities to do something good in this world,” he says, explaining why he decided to do the film. “And Angel's story really resonated with me. We both grew up in the Philippines, we both witnessed rejection from our own families, and we also witnessed our own families become more accepting of the kind of people that we are.”

Del Rosario says he makes it a point to see every school project as more than just a requirement, especially now that he’s taking his masters at NYFA. “As much as I can, I am going to send out every single film that I make. Because I'm handed this really rare opportunity to study film in Los Angeles.”

“I guess it's [also] an opportunity for people to see what it's like to grow up as an LGBTQ person in a Catholic landscape, in a very strict family.

I feel like we have all of these stories about LGBTQ people coming out, but there's an added tension and struggle when that family happens to be a Catholic family or a very religiously-inclined family, no matter what religion the family may be.”