They say, there are things that are not worth risking, especially when you’ve found yourself established and secured. But what if your heart says otherwise and calls you to walk through fire? Would you heed the call?
Well for Myra Aquino, it’s do or die. She’ll do what it takes to be a filmmaker rather than living in a common place that she’s not into.
ON HER DETOURS AND BEING A FILIPINO
Myra Aquino, the bubbly director and writer (with co-writer Eric Hwang) of Cinemalaya 2021 Shorts Finalist, “Beauty Queen”, shares to The Film Dream her detours and how she finally realized what path she’s sure to walk on.
“Prior to film, I was pursuing medicine and graduated. But I think it was during that time, where I had to confront what I really wanted to do with my life.
Her initial finished degree seems to be lucrative already but to Myra, heeding the art industry’s call to come home is worth taking risk. “Even though I feel like I could do Medicine, I think the call to be creative was just so much stronger. It just came to a point where I just had to listen to it. That's where I had to make a choice to become a filmmaker.”
As for someone who looks like she has it all, Myra opens that it’s not always been the case. It was a rollercoaster ride for an overseas Filipino like her to determine who she really is as an individual.
“My grandfather immigrated to Guam as a construction worker. So he had my dad and my parents had me. I was born in Guam, and I lived there for like the first 11 years and then my parents made this choice to move the family to the Philippines.” Eventually, her family moved here and that’s when she experienced Filipino culture.
It was once said by a known author Rita Mae Brown that “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going”. This is exactly what Myra believes but this turns out to be one of her frustrations as a Filipino filmmaker. “I tried many times to speak Tagalog and I struggled a lot. I’m very insecure about it because I feel like language really connects who you are as part of the nation and in many ways I don’t feel I’m a Filipino enough because of that.”
In spite of that, she still rose to pursue a film that relentlessly shouts her identity as a Filipino.
“I think recently, I just accept that I am who I am. I am a product of all the different places I've lived in for a certain amount of time. I am part of the diaspora at the end of the day.”
This perceived ‘weakness’ has empowered her and became her greatest strength. All that kept Myra under wraps squeezed stories that will be soon shared to the world. And The Film Dream Team is just so fortunate to hear one of the works she’s currently up for.
"Im currently writing a feature script which is a coming-of-age dramedy set in post-9/11 South Manila. It revolves around three teenagers of different ethnicities who become unlikely friends, and will do whatever it takes to get the latest Nokia cellphone.
“I still grapple with that a lot--- what does it mean to be Filipino? And I think that's why I'm making the next feature because I think it really deals with ‘who is the real Filipino?’, ‘Do you have to look Filipino to be Filipino?’, ‘Can you be someone who is Korean who speaks fluent Tagalog and what does it mean?’ and ‘how do people see you”, and all those questions. Basically, that’s what I am up to now.”
MAKING ‘BEAUTY QUEEN’ INTO REALITY
The film’s just so in time with Miss Universe season but just a disclaimer, this ‘beauty queen’ is so different from the known glitz and glam.
In High School, it’s impossible to not encounter stories of revolution such as Hukbalahap, which was all the inspiration behind the period-film, Beauty Queen. “A few years ago, when I was talking to a very close friend, she was telling me about her great grand aunt who was Remedios Gomez-Paraiso.”
Her close friend, Kaye Gomez, told her about Remedios who was a great commander and a good battle tactician. Remedios’ unapologetic characteristic while still being a woman in lipstick, done hair and dress captured Myra’s heart for it mirrors the image of a woman she always wanted to become.
“As someone who grapples with knowing myself, confidence and self-acceptance, here, there was a woman who existed like 80 years ago who tackled this journey, during the most traumatic period of our time. And she did it with so much… not really glamour but just had so much confidence. That's what inspired me.”
Films such as this are not easy to produce in the midst of pandemic. When asked how she made Beauty Queen into reality, she honestly discloses that everything was done before the crisis came in.
“This is my thesis film for UCLA (The University of California, Los Angeles), where I am actually eligible for applying to a number of grants. So I was able to receive some, which actually enabled me to make this film. Particularly, the budget needed should support a period piece. The Kumander Liwayway story is so big, expensive and could ideally be a Feature film. Actually, even better if it was a TV series.” Myra said.
BTS photos during the Film Production of "Beauty Queen" directed by Myra Aquino
Since she mentioned that this could be a feature film, it led The Film Dream to ask if she had intentions to make this into a full-length.
“There's so many interesting characters aside from Kumander Liwayway, just all the people involved in Hukbalahap. Ideally I would make this a feature film. I think there is a lot more to her story that I wasn't able to tell. And I'm [currently] actually developing the script for that right now. I'm trying to explore the different ways to tell the story aside from the usual approach.” Just as Myra was asked if Beauty Queen could become a great whole movie, she then spoiled that she’s already working on it. What a visionary!
Beyond the inspiration, Myra has such a reverence for the Filipino community. During the pre-production, she was able to collaborate with UCLA Professor Nenita Domingo and her husband, Reuben Domingo who had a background on filmmaking. They also happened to be the producers of her Cinemalaya entry. Beauty Queen film is also a partnership project with Sir Robby Tantingco and Holy Angel University of Pampanga, which then opened the opportunity for Kapampangan locals to join workshops, auditions and become part of the crew.
“I expressed that I wanted to work with a Filipina cinematographer and through the channels, I was able to connect with Tey Clamor who ended up as the DOP for this project.”
All the efforts that Myra did, from research to immersions on the grassroots of Remedios’ homeland is a living proof of her being a Filipino. Indeed, Myra has been championing unknown communities by being a raconteur. Her lenses are becoming spotlights of the untold stories from the past that should be given acknowledgements because these are roots of our identity as Filipinos.
WORTH THE RISK
From medical school to film school, Myra Aquino can definitely say that it’s worth the risk. She may have fears and doubts but when passion is stronger, everything will be fine. “Any risk is worth taking as long as your passion overrides all of it.”
“Of course, you have to be practical and consider the financial implications of pursuing an art. At the end of the day, everyone has a different set of concerns. Ask yourself, “how much do you wanna do this and to what extent? Otherwise you're just putting yourself in two things that demand so much of your time.”
How about if a young filmmaker will ask her, what would she tell them if they want to pursue filmmaking?
“…by recognizing the stories from your own province. Doesn’t always have to be based in Manila. Your experiences in a particular province is really important to hear and people want to hear it. Start making stories as soon as you can.”
Her entry film has been a testimony of community-based storytelling. And Myra, whose life story solidifies risks as dream-come-true, also tells young filmmakers to “Trust your voice and believe that your voice matters and it deserves to be heard first and foremost.”
Beauty Queen is truly a must-watch at this year’s Cinemalaya 2021: Navigating Currents. And if you want to know more about Remedios Gomez-Paraiso, and how she defended the motherland against conquerors, stream "Beauty Queen" at ktx.ph from August 6- September 5.
Watch Myra Aquino's The Daily Daily video coming soon here at The Film Dream website.
Would you love to know more stories about storytellers and filmmakers here in the Philippines?
Sign in as a site member here at thefilmdream.com and we will send you email updates.