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Joselito Altarejos beyond the box

By Edgar O. Cruz, Contributor


The Daily Tribune

Little Boy/Big Boy is the new adult drama full-length feature by director Joselito Altarejos, starring Paolo Rivero, Douglas Robinson and Renz Michael Valerio. Joselito is a television and film director and the creative director of BEYONDtheBOX, a group of media practitioners who banded together in 2003 to produce television commercials, audio visual presentations and give TV production workshops.

With Lex Bonife writing the script, Little Boy/Big Boy is their fourth collaboration after the controversial hit gay films Ang Lalake sa Parola, Ang Lihim ni Antonio and Kambyo. A co-production of Digital Viva and BEYONDtheBOX Productions, Little Boy/Big Boy contains a number of sensitive scenes, heart-warming moments and insights on gay/straight relationships. It opened last Aug. 5.

Ang Lalaki sa Parola is frequently mentioned as one of the best Filipino-made gay-themed films of this decade. The director hasn’t thought much about this, but he does not expect it to become an all-time classic nor for it to go beyond the gay-theme classification.

"Well, I haven’t really thought of Parola along that line because reactions to it are varied. Some liked it, and others did not. Older women liked it. I think, on one level, I want it to go beyond the gay-theme classification because I’ve always really seen my films as just a means of telling a story, explosive or not," Altarejos explains.

He says people have different stories, gay or straight. Nobody ever refers to mainstream romance films as "straight" films. In this sense, he wants it to go beyond the gay-theme classification. He doesn’t necessarily expect it to become an all-time classic, but did what he could to foster better understanding of gays.


Ang Lalaki sa Parola, Altarejos’ first gay film, is about searching for oneself. The director believes that in life, myth often clouds reality. Through the film he tries to say that stories are often made to mask certain things in homosexual lives. But Joselito does the exact opposite. He explains, "I shot all the love scenes in full lighting because I just wanted to bring it out in the open. Issues concerning gays — gay sex, and things of that nature — are often clouded with myth. So that film was my answer to that."

Ang Lalaki sa Parola was both a critical and commercial success. It was Graded B by the Philippine Cinema Evaluation Board, which called it "a thinking film." This flick also earned a nomination for Justin de Leon in the Best Supporting Actor Category in the 2008 Golden Screen Awards, while Jeng Torres and Pot Manda were nominated in the Best Production Design Category in Film Academy of the Philippines’ Luna Awards.

Ang Lihim ni Antonio, a cautionary, coming-of-age tale gone tragic, was Altarejos’ way of saying that abuse is unacceptable at all levels. "Many young gay men are abused in this country and people think it’s okay. Victims often stay mum because they feel that they probably won’t lose anything anyway because they are male. See, this is where it gets tricky because abuse sometimes feels good. But that does not make it right. Abuse is abuse and the doer must be ready to face the consequences of his or her actions. Some did not like the ending, but that was my way of saying that something so tremendously dark and tragic will attract something tremendously dark and tragic as well," he says.

Ang Lihim ni Antonio, is still considered the highest grossing digital film shown in Robinsons Cinemas. Invited to different festivals abroad like the Imageout and Cinemarosa both in New York, it had a European Premiere in the Torino GLBT Film Festival. Together with Auaraeus Solito’s Boy, it was hailed as the new wave of Philippine gay cinema.

Ang Lihim ni Antonio earned for its lead actor Kenjie Garcia nominations for Breakthrough Performance by an Actor at Golden Screen Awards and Best New Movie Actor in Star Awards this year. Shamaine Buencamino was also nominated in the same award-giving body in the Best Supporting Category.

Kambyo, on the other hand, showed the different faces of homosexuality — young, gay and happy. It is about the randomness of this journey we call life and all the whims and wonders it has to offer.

A realist window

Little Boy/Big Boy is Joselito’s way of showing normalcy in homosexuality. It’s funny because the need to make a gay film that has mainstream feel to it kept haunting him. The unfamiliarity was attractive to him. The issues gays and lesbians face are the same as everybody else’s. So he wanted to shoot a straightforward, mainstream, somewhat light movie with a realistic feel, which is unfamiliar to most moviegoers. That conservative side, that mystery, is becoming more and more attractive today.

Little Boy/Big Boy tells the tale of the carefree soul of a freelance graphic artist, Raymund (Paolo), and how he is filled with doubt as he is suddenly confronted with the responsibility to look after his seven-year-old nephew, Zack (Renz).

While taking care of his nephew, he meets a closeted young man named Tim (Douglas), and the two fall in love. He educates his new lover about the importance of accepting oneself, especially at a time when prejudice against gays is still accepted as the norm. The film also tackles opposing views on fidelity in the homosexual set-up. It shows a gay man’s capacity to nurture, and how the homosexual is not just an organism for pleasure, but also a catalyst for unconditional love.

Little Boy/Big Boy is a realist window on the lives of many young Filipino gay men today — how they’ve come a long way, and how they’re slowly getting there.

There are now filmmakers who specialize in doing gay-themed films, some of them exploitative. Joselito has no claim, having started this trend. He says, "There were many gay films long before I even did Ang Lalake sa Parola. All it really did was create noise around gay films, and when it got a B from the Cinema Evaluation Board, it certainly shed light that gay-themed films can be quality films."

On the issue of exploitation, Joselito thinks it’s subjective. He explains, "When you make a film, all you really worry about is how to make it work. And after making it, you tend to talk your way out of it. You see your output, and you’re concerned again. So it never really strikes me whether these actors are being daring or not. The moment they’ve read the script and accepted, they knew what they were getting into."

As a filmmaker, where is Joselito headed? Is he going beyond the box?

He answers, "I always do. I don’t like to repeat myself. I think it is clear that with Little Boy/Big Boy, there will be a change in my films. Some journalists have generously attributed this to maturity. Because although all my films express similar ideas, I think they express these ideas in different ways. I like challenging the viewing audience. I like challenging the establishments involved in the films I make. I have created a process in doing digital films. One that is efficient, practical and effective. I hope one day we all find maturity, and that’s why I keep on trying."

Joselito tells different stories in his films. A friend once asked him, after seeing Little Boy/Big Boy, "Why did you go against your template?" He replied, "I did it because I want people to view gay films not just as gay films, but films. Period."