Award-winning film on LGBTQ relationship
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - August 1, 2019 - 12:00am

A film depicting an LGBTQ relationship is still drawing rave reviews and countless fans online. This is “Basaan,” a magnificent work of art written by Louie Gonzales and directed  by Gino Jose. The film was shot during the Basaan fiesta in Balayan, Batangas.

“We shot the film during the actual fiesta,” recalled the film’s writer, Luigi Gonzalez. It was raining cats and dogs during the filming; which explains the title Basaan (dripping wet). “Cast, crew, everyone was dripping wet that day. It was so chaotic that we had to come back the next week just to finish shooting.”  The main characters are Trey performed by JC Santos, and John, by Topper Fabregas.

The promo material sent me notes that the film, completed in 2014, follows John, a closeted gay man, as he reluctantly returns to his hometown for the fiesta when his sister, Gibby (Annika Gonzalez), forces him to take her. There, he runs into Trey, an old friend with whom he had history. When Gibby goes missing, John has no choice but to ask Trey for help in looking for her. Their search takes them around the town of Balayan, unwittingly retracing the steps of their past, forcing John to confront issues he had long since ran from.

The film had a hard time getting off the ground. “It was my first time directing anything LGBTQ-themed,” said Jose. “I had to watch a lot of gay-themed shorts to get a feel for how to do it, because there is a difference between how straight and gay relationships are depicted onscreen.”

“The odds were against us from the very beginning,” added Gonzalez. “No one wanted to play John or Trey unless we took out the kissing scene. Luckily at the last minute, we got Topper and JC, who were perfect in their roles.”

After winning the Coup de coeur award at the 2015 Courts des Iles Festival in Tahiti and being screened at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner, the 2017 Outfest LA LGBT Film Festival and the 10th Annual Festival Angaelica, the film was picked up for distribution by Seed & Spark and Revry, an LGBTQ-oriented streaming service. Five years after completing the film, “Basaan” is still widely viewed online.

“The initial response to ‘Basaan’ was mind-blowing,” remembered Jose. “The views went from zero to the thousands in a matter of hours.”

“We’re still feeling the love from fans who felt seen by the film,” added Gonzalez, who felt grateful for the film’s devoted fanbase. “Not a lot of short films are this celebrated this long after their first release. There’s even ‘Basaan’ fanfiction out there.”

Luigi Gonzalez and Gino Jose are both based in Los Angeles. They both recently worked on the Asian-American food and travel show, “Family Style,” from WB’s digital network, Stage 13. They are currently working on a new short film, which they plan to shoot later this year.

“It’ll be our love letter to the Pinoy queer community,” said Gonzalez. Jose adds, “We’ve grown a lot since ‘Basaan.’ Both as filmmakers and people, and we can’t wait for everyone to see what we have in store.

* * *

Film writer Luigi Gonzalez has another feather in his cap: writing the film story “Waivers”. On the surface, Waivers is a hilarious workplace comedy about two women who endure the tedium of a job no one wants to do, but what it really is, is a sad look at the plight of OFWs.

The short film shows the typical working day of two female miners who scour the contaminated ruins of a post-nuclear annihilation Metro Manila for radioactive materials – a job that pays a lot to compensate for the occupational health hazards. Both women go through their day with a positive attitude and a hopeful outlook despite their job essentially being a death sentence.

The script is both comedic and bleak, both hopeful and cynical. Gonzalez recalls scenes of the two waxing existentially about their current predicament peppered in with jokes and witty banter. “The script is loaded with quotable dialogue, including one exchange in particular that uses a certain fruit to aptly describe a certain body part, all the while never forgetting to remind the viewer that death is imminent for these women.”

The theme of imminent death is evident throughout the film, but Gonzalez chooses to have fun with it, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, the most delightful being the name, “Hua Lei Mining,” the company for which the characters work. Says Gonzalez: “It’s an effective pun that not only keeps true to the quirky tone of the film, but it also mocks the characters with the notion that their sacrifice might mean nothing in the long run.” Gonzalez also has fun with character names as every single person who works for Hua Lei Mining – Amy, Janis, Kurt and Jimmy – seems to be named after members of the 27 Club, famous artists who died tragically at age 27.

The film showcases great performances by actresses Aicelle Santos (GMA’s Impostora) and Cai Cortez (Ang Babae sa Septic Tank). The pathos with which Santos portrays the character of Amy, a single mother, is understated but leaves a lasting mark. Amy is a woman trapped by her own situation, as ensuring a better future for her child means she will never again be by his side. Santos delivers a layered performance of a woman hardened by her own sadness.

Cortez’s Janis is the heart of the film. Because the character’s motives are a lot less altruistic than her counterpart, Janis runs the risk of coming across as unlikeable, but Cortez is more than capable. As the one person Amy allows to break her exterior, Cortez provides a compelling and refreshing presence.

In order to convey the film’s desolate tone, director Gino Jose (Basaan) filmed it on location in the lahar fields of Zambales, with lingering extreme wide shots of the dismal emptiness by cinematographer Marco Limjap (My Letters of Happy). Gonzalez describes Jose’s conveying  comedy and loneliness simultaneously like a pro, “delivering the right beats at the right moments with just the right intensity. The outcome is a film that reminds the viewers to look on the bright side, because in the end hope is all we have.”

 Waivers has been screened worldwide and was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 28th CCP Gawad Alternatibo, as well as Best Storytelling at the 10th Angaelica Film Festival. It has been broadcast regularly on Lifetime Asia and can currently be seen on YouTube and the Viddsee website.”

 Both Gonzalez and Gino Jose are based in New York. Gonzalez has a master of fine arts, major in screenwriting (New York Film Academy, 2018), and a bachelor of arts, major  in communication (Ateneo de Manila University (2008).

Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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