Lesbian movie Baka Bukas (Maybe Tomorrow) is based on Samantha Lee's personal story going out with a celebrity. It was praised by Outfest as a refreshing voice in Asian queer cinema. Meet the director of Baka Bukas in this interview for LalaTai.
Source: Samantha Lee's Instagram
1. How did you get to the film industry?
I first entered the film industry or, I first became a director because I took up film for university. So that's how I kind of got into film making. It's funny because I studied film for five years as my undergrad, and after studying film, I told myself that I wasn't going to be a film director because I didn't really have a good experience in film school.
2. What inspired you to film Maybe Tomorrow?
Maybe Tomorrow was inspired by mostly just being more comfortable with my identity and who I was. I moved away from home for a couple of years. I moved to Australia and I took up my master's and I started working there. I was just exposed to this more liberal environment where I could be whatever I wanted to be, and date whoever I wanted to date. And so, I was living this really good life in a place far away from home. I kind of just had this realization that like, "Why can't I have the same life back in the Philippines?” Maybe Tomorrow was inspired by that experience, that I wanted to have my "dream life" back in my homeland.
3. Are there any messages you want to convey through Maybe Tomorrow?
I always say that Maybe Tomorrow was the film that the younger version of myself needed to see. It's kind of like a reassurance or a pat on the back to a younger Sam, like "Hey, it's gonna be okay," "I know that you're super confused right now," "You're really scared to come out. But at the end of the day, it's all gonna be okay.” So that's kind of like what I want the audience to take away after watching it.
4. How did you decide on the title Maybe Tomorrow?
The film is called Maybe Tomorrow because it’s kind of like as a hope or a prayer that maybe tomorrow things will be different. It was something I found on Tumblr when I was really young and I always kept in my back pocket. It's from Tennessee Williams's Stairs to the Roof: "A prayer for the wild at heart kept in cages." The title is inspired by that line.
5. How did you depict "love" in the film?
A lot of people think that this film is a love letter to one particular person, but it's actually a love letter to my friends and my community who don't necessarily see themselves portrayed in their local media accurately. Everyone's like, "Oh, you built the monument for this one girl." But I always correct them and say, "Actually, no. It's a love letter to a bunch of people who help me become who I was." It's not just about romantic love. It's actually about love between friends and self-love as well.
6. What kind of preparations did you go through before you started to work on the film?
I really wanted a lot of people to see this film just because I wanted to "normalize" what it was to be a young queer Manilian in the Philippines. In order to do that, I wanted to cast the most famous actresses that I could cast in a small-budget independent film. It was a really, really hard process because in the Philippines, being gay is not seen as a positive thing yet. The management of different actresses didn't allow their talents to even read the script, because to them, it's going to affect all their endorsement, future shows, and contracts, etc. But luckily, I was at the party and I saw Jasmine Curtis, who plays Alex, I was able to talk to her directly and pitch the film directly without the outside influence of her management team. The casting process was basically me trying to talk to as many actresses directly as possible so that I could pitch them the film and get them to say yes before their management can say no.
(So was it a hard process to go through?)
Yes. I mean, it's funny because the "naïve" part of me thought that after making Maybe Tomorrow, my second film would be easier to cast. But it was still really, really, really hard. I mean, Jasmine won Best Actress, her first Best Actress award for Maybe Tomorrow. But it still didn't change anything. People were still resistant to the idea of having their talents cast in a lesbian film, which is...interesting.
7. How does the local media represent the LGBT communities in the Philippines?
The Philippines is a very conservative Catholic society. Growing up, I never really saw a representation of myself or who I wanted to be in local media. Whenever I saw a lesbian or a gay guy in local media, it would always be a hyper-masculine butch lesbian or a super feminine gay man who worked in a local parlor or salon. The lack of representation kind of hinders me from coming to terms with who I was just because growing up in the 90s there was no Internet, no access to blogs or to social media sites where you could connect with people who were the same as you. I feel like this lack of representation really isolated me and kept me away from becoming who I was. I didn't come out till I was 23 because I never really could see people that I could identify with in the local media. That's what I wanted to change with Maybe Tomorrow.
8. Would you like to talk about how you came out?
I actually came out because my first girlfriend broke up with me on a Saturday night. Since the Philippines was super religious, everyone doesn't go out on Sunday, because that's the day that you're supposed to go to church and spend time with your family. Since it was my first real, actual heartbreak, I was really, really sad on Sunday and there's no one that I could drink with because it was a Sunday! So in the tops of my sadness, I ended up actually coming out to my mom because I just needed someone to talk to. That's how I came out. I was heartbroken.
9. Do you want to make another LGBT movie in the future? Why?
I was at the press conference for my second film called Billie and Emma, a lot of reporters asked me why I was making another gay film. I was sitting right beside this director who's known for making a lot of heterosexual rom-coms. He probably makes 4 straight rom-coms every year. And I didn't see them asking him why he was making another straight film. I think that question really bothered me because like, "Why not?"
Billie and Emma
(Source: Samantha Lee's Instagram)
Why is it an absurd thing to them that I'm making another queer film when there are so many people who make straight films all the time? I didn't know why I'm telling that story. People always ask, "Would you ever consider directing a love story between a man and a woman?" I always answer, "Yeah, of course. I would. But if I have to set aside a lot of my time to write the script and pitch it and to find funding for it, why not put all my efforts and energy into making a film for the sector of the society that's underrepresented?" There are already so many people who were making traditional love stories. If I had to go through all that effort and put all my time into something, why not make something that's worth making, in my opinion? If given more opportunities in the future, I'd love to be able to make queer films for the rest of my life.