One day when Joella Cabalu was heading to school her brother Jay Cabalu, followed her all the way to the bus stop. He told her that he was seeing someone, Joella notes “Jay made me guess who it could be and after guessing all of the girls he was friends with, and hearing the response no. I asked is it a boy? To which he responded, Yes.”
“I was happy and thrilled,” Joella says. She adds, “Jay was so excited with the new guy in his life that he followed me all the way to UBC on the bus telling his story of how he met his boyfriend.”
It Runs in the Family follows Jay Cabalu as he comes out to his family, and learns that he isn’t alone. Jay and Joella travel from Vancouver to California and then to Manila to meet their queer relatives. OUTtv had the opportunity to ask the siblings some questions about their journey and unique experiences.
“Traveling to Manila to do this project definitely felt crazy. It had been 23 years since I had been to the Philippines. I had thought about what it would be like to return to my place of birth for such a long time. To actually be doing it seemed surreal, let alone the fact that we would be working on a very personal and potentially controversial documentary while there,” Jay Cabalu says.
The project started with a conversation in a cafe that lead to creating a budget, talking with relatives in Manila, and realizing that they were going to see their relatives in the Philippines for the first time since they were 13 and 15 years old.
“Having moved to Canada when I was just 4 years old, I found that I didn’t really identify with my Filipino heritage as much as my older siblings. This was only amplified by the fact that I was gay and felt disconnected from my family,” Jay says.
Jay adds, “Like many queer youth I found that popular culture was a way I could feel apart of something, even if it was superficial. Naturally, when my art career began I moved in the direction of pop art, unpacking ideas in that field. This documentary has reminded me that I cannot deny my roots and I want my future practice to reflect my unique perspective on popular culture.”
On the trip Joella and Jay stayed with relatives and received support and love in response to their trip but it also showed them some of the big differences between the response to the LGBT community in Canada compared to the Philippines.
Jay comments, “I was not surprised at the comment that my family’s prevalence of queer people was deemed a curse. It is a very common belief among religious groups and my family was very devout and involved in our faith. However, during the process of filming I was pleased to find that this was just one opinion and that there were many family members who disagreed.”
Both siblings realized that they can make an impact on the way families and LGBT families are represented on screen.
Jay says, “I’m glad that we got to meet many of our relatives in this capacity. It enriched the time we spent together and allowed us to bond quickly. I was a small child when I last saw many of them so in a short amount of time, I felt like I made very meaningful relationships. As well, everyone was very open and willing to discuss the topic. I think they valued the opportunity to be given a voice.”
Joella adds, “Positive representation matters: having the opportunity to see women, and in particular women of colour behind the camera, made me realize that the skin I’m in is kind of a politic responsibility to talk about issues and bring [them] up.”
Joella hopes this film helps bring people of colour out to make film and receive the funding and recognition their projects need in order to start a bigger conversation.
Jay adds, “It feels strange to be featured in a documentary. You never really know what it’s going to feel like until it actually makes it to the screen. I’m happy to be able to share the positivity in our family’s story and think it will do a lot of good. That said, it can be very uncomfortable to watch yourself on screen in such a personal film. I tend to pick apart my speech and mannerisms!”