Filmmaker Sheds Light on Modern Fil-Aussies’ Internal Struggles

While many Asian filmmakers strive to have their works shine in the Western mainstream film industry, Australian director Matthew Victor Pastor has other goals: He’s out to “document unspoken truths” for his Filipino Australian community.

Pastor released his 87-minute feature MELODRAMA / RANDOM / MELBOURNE!” in May, a year after “I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET,” the first part of his Fil-Aussie trilogy. The movie tells a story about experiences of second-generation Filipino Australians and their efforts to find their own identities in Melbourne.

The movie follows Aries, a second-generation Filipino feminist documentarian who is struggling to finish her new film. Her characters are males customers paying a company to learn to seduce women. Through her lens, the audience encounters diverse characters with varying perspectives, from a virgin to a pick-up artist, from Western to Asian, from old to young — and a journey exploring technology, identity, modern dating and history starts.  

With original punk music and lyrics displayed in karaoke style, the movie won the Best Original Score at the Sinag Maynila Film Festival in Philippines and was selected to show at the 2018 Mammoth Lakes Film Festival. Compared with the previous part of the trilogy, this film expresses stronger emotions toward racist and sexiest perspectives against Filipinos and Asians in the West.

Pastor, with the movie’s associate producer/actress Rachel E. Javier, talked vocally about racial stereotypes, identity issues facing Fil-Aussies and how his new film represents their voices.

What’s the meaning behind the title of this film?

Pastor: It’s melodramatic, it’s random and it’s set in Melbourne. Like the title, the film is separated in three segments. … The definition with “melodrama” is heightened with music in the film. Randomness is the modern world, how everything is coordinated together and creates discussion. Melbourne is the city where a bunch of cultures mix together. You may be surprised to find that the central business district of Melbourne is all Asians. But Australian media doesn’t show it that way.

You are a second-generation Fil-Aussie, just like the two main characters in the film. How did it feel filming this?

Pastor: I’m a product of growing up in a biracial, white-worshipping household. My mom is Filipino. My dad is half-white. We’re always dealing with the stereotypes toward Asians. For example, recently an Asian female in Melbourne, Jennifer Yang, is going for a lord mayor position. In the comments section, the first thing was said was like, “She’s trying to steal the baby milk powder and send it back to China [an Australian stereotype against Chinese].”  Another perfect example is the tram scene in Melbourne, where the two Asian girls were accosted in the film. People will approach to you and ask: “Oh, where are you from?” An Asian woman will very often get targeted by males in the situation.

I don’t think this film is a very popular opinion in Australia. Maybe it’s not gonna be a popular opinion anywhere because of how it goes about showing all these themes. It’s so easy to film something like, “I’m so grateful being in a lucky country.” But that’s not the case for a lot of people that lived in the fragments of identity for their whole lives. I think people are afraid to be sensitive sometimes.

What significance do you hope this movie brings to the Fil-Aussie community?

Pastor: What it can bring is a discussion. Because Filipino Australian stories have not existed on the big screen. There’s short film over there, but there’s no one delving into the psychology. The internalized racism theme has been tackled in the U.S. before. Quentin Lee did the amazing film called “Chink.” But in Australia, it has seldom been addressed. That’s why I keep making full-length features on it.

What inspired you to include karaoke and punk music over the whole film? What role does music play in the movie?

Javier: Karaoke is a symbol in Filipino culture. Here in Melbourne, every Filipino party you go to has karaoke. What the music is doing is bringing what Filipino people are feeling now and doing now. … And it’s also reflecting colonialism.  

Pastor: Yeah. The second reason why I use melodrama is that you often hear Westerners say “Oh, Filipinos laugh and smile whatever the situation is.” I’m using the same stigma in a different way by creating something so dreary and sad and a feeling of discomfort with the songs. I use the karaoke in a documentary way — I’m actually taking the two cultures that I’m from. So the identity of the film is mixed up in this way.

Social media videos appear a lot in this film. Why?

Pastor: The film mirrors the digital age, because the different perspectives of the film and the switch between a documentary and narrative of the internet footages. You don’t know who’s real and who’s not. That’s actually what’s happening right now.

Javier: We tried to think what a lot of people in the Asian community now can actually relate to. If we were all together at the dinner table, we would actually be be on our devices. Asians are more connected to their devices. Filipinos spent the longest time on social media.

Pastor: Also, the 9:16 format, which is the vertical thing, that’s actually become the norm. You might seem fresh in cinema, but you see that look every day in your real life. It’s a perfect way to show how close this world is [to technology]. . From the get-go you’re locked into that frame. And in the cinema hearing the characters talk when they’re like this big, giant head [in vertical mode], it’s so confronting.

What’s your next plan?

Pastor: An upcoming LGBT film “Repent or Perish!”, for which I just finished producing the trailer. And part three of the trilogy, “MAGANDA! Pinoy Boy vs Milk Man,” is also coming out next year. For the rest of 2018, I’m shooting a sexual coming-of-age story titled “The Axolotl can regenerate its heart,” written by Bridget O’Brien.

I want to keep telling these stories in Melbourne, maybe for my coming five or six features. There are construction signs popping up literally everywhere. I’m trying to capture the central business district of Melbourne before it changed. The same of my first and second film, my body of work has to capture the truth of what’s actually happening right now, regardless of how messy my films are. When Filipino Australians to look at our history, or when Filipinos look at Australia, I want them to see the struggles we went through to find ourselves here. That’s a beautiful story.