Cinemalaya 2019 Pitstop: 'Kontrolado ni Girly ang Buhay N’ya (Girly is in Control of His Life)' by Gilb Baldoza

The film begins abruptly. We see the back of a thinly figure as he strolls down the corridor of a factory at work. When we finally see his face, he looks vulnerable and lost as he's told that his resume is inadequate, taunted to dance, not being taken seriously during his job interview. This is the beginning of Gilb Baldoza's Kontrolado ni Girly ang Buhay N'ya (Girly is in Control of His Life), a  harrowing look into the life of Girly, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, trying to find a living in a third-world society where prejudice reigns.

We see Girly's life and world through his eyes; the camera, handheld and ever-roving fixates on Girly's perspective - we only see what he sees, what he hears. We are placed into Girly's shoes, his troubles and experiences are extended into ours as we watch the silver screen; his emotions and sense of helplessness felt, as he wanders trying to find a living in a world unwilling to accept him. With increasing efforts made to advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, films like Girly is in Control of His Life are necessary endeavors to represent the community and enlighten the masses of their various struggles.

Director Gilb Baldoza has taken the time to answer a few questions about his short film. *Spoilers

SINdie: What about the subject matter attracted you to tell this story? Was there anything personal within the narrative that compelled you? 

Gilb Baldoza: This film is actually my thesis film, and during that time (Early 2018), it was the surge of the #MeToo movement and I was very much inspired by the bravery of women coming forward to fight amidst the crises. And this film is more like a manifesto; that these struggles of abuse also occurs to the members of LGBTQIA+, and we join them in strength and courage. On a personal level, and being a queer man myself, I am devoted to tell the narratives of the third-world queers; the raw and human depiction of 'Girly', as he searches for a job and hope is very much close to my heart.

How was the casting process like? I imagine with the intensity of the story, it must have been difficult finding suitable cast members. 

As a realist filmmaker, I scrutinize the casting at a higher level compared to other aspects of filmmaking -- I believe that a single miscast can ruin the whole world I had been building within the film. I remembered that it took us a month or two just to complete the casting, the most difficult would be the 'Girly' character. We posted some casting calls online and we called for leads and supporting roles, but we had only been satisfied by a few people, mainly because I was really picky as a director. With only a month left, and after already 3 audition days, and we still did not have an actor for 'Girly'. But one time, I went to a theater play, and I saw this actor on-stage. He wasn't really the most beautiful or the most talented, but it just felt like, 'He's my Girly'. I immediately called my producer and said 'We got our Girly'. I talked to the actor (Marcus) and then I showed him the script, and then he found the character very human. To which he was very eager to play. He found the necessity to realize the character of Girly, and the rest is history.

Were there any particular filmmakers or films that really influenced your work in the film? What were they and how did they influence the film? 

I see myself as an amalgamation of the Dogme 95 filmmakers and of the Southeast Asian and Asian modern filmmakers — from the Dardenne Brothers, Andrea Arnold to Apitchatpong Weerasethakul and Wong Kar Wai. In particular, for the film Girly, I believe I was heavily influenced by Dardenne Brothers’ “Rosetta” for it's character-centric narrative and humanism, and Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” on it's visual poetry and vulnerable perspective.

Did you have any concerns during or before the production of the film?

Nothing dramatic. Though, as this was a thesis film, we were expected to produce our own film financially and holistically. Fortunately, Martin Mayuga, whom I met during a festival runway before, sent me a message through Facebook saying that he wanted to produce a short film of mine. I sent him my script and he produced it. I'm very thankful I met Martin at the right time.

There was a particularly graphic scene in the film where the main character gets raped, was it awkward or tough to depict the scene? 

I have, of course, discussed the scene with the cast and crew during the pre-production phase. I am very blessed to have a professional crew work with me in this film as it made the whole shoot at ease. Shooting the scene wasn't awkward or tough, but it was heavy as we were all empathizing with Girly, and feeling the heavy-handedness of the scene.

How did you arrive at the use of the handheld camera for this film? Why the 4:3 Aspect Ratio?  

Coming from UP Film Institute, I learned cinematographic techniques, how and when to use them. The use of 4:3 aspect ratio is to give a claustrophobic feeling as a representation of Girly's world full of layers of oppression -- from social inequality, homophobia, rape, sexual harassment, poverty, etc. I have used handheld, tight camera shots as my directorial signature. I believe that using the handheld effects makes the camera perspective very human, contrasting with the Hollywood style of using stable shots in order to mimic a god-like perspective over the characters. The shakiness and the instability of the perspective immerses the audience to what's happening before their very eyes as if saying that the struggles of Girly is beyond real -- it is happening right now and it could happen to you or anyone around you.

Kontrolado ni Girly ang Buhay N'ya (Girly is in Control of His Life) has recently been screened at Cinemalaya and has won Best Screenplay in the short feature film category.

The interview responses from Gilb Baldoza have been edited for clarity.

Interview by Timothy Ong
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