Bahay Bata (Baby Factory) post-screening Q & A @ Vancity Theatre during the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) Oct. 5, 2011, Wednesday with Eduardo Roy Jr. (Director) and Tony Rayns (VIFF Dragons and Tigers programmer)
The movie screened on a matinee and unfortunately, there were not a lot of people that attended the screening. I have to admit, I wasn’t planning to watch “Baby Factory” that day but I changed my mind at the last minute. Thank God I did because the movie blew me away. For a Filipino film, it was very assured and engaging and well-made and well told. I can honestly say it is one of the best films of the year. It is too bad that it didn’t get noticed in the festival and also in the Philippines.
Transcript of the post-screening Q & A.
Tony Rayns: There is an issue in the Philippine government right now that is heavily debated for quite a long time now about the Reproductive Health Bill, the RH Bill and your film speaks to that in some way. Please say something about that.
Eduardo Roy Jr.: Actually we did that film to have a stand on the RH Bill, the Reproductive Health Bill that is being debated in the Philippines right now [whether] they are going to pass it or not. Actually, the Catholic Church is the major player against it. And I want to show that this is why there is a bill because the Philippines is overpopulated. I mean [there] are 70 million in the Philippines and growing and until now we have little knowledge about reproductive health. Most of my fellow Filipinos don’t know how to use condoms. The minimum number of children [per family] in the Philippines is 5. That’s why I made that film.
TR: The film is very remarkable, I think. It is a mixture of obviously documentary sequences and what must be fictional staged/acted sequences. Obviously, you shot this in a real hospital. This is the only way you could possibly do this, in a real hospital. Can you say something about how you decided on that mixture of documentary and fiction? How it worked and how difficult was it?
ERJ: I think this is the only way to do it for me because we want to capture the real drama in the hospital. So we decided to do docu-drama because of the limited budget, we cannot have a mock hospital. Actually the president of the hospital said, “This will be the first and last film that is shot in the hospital.” So of course with lots of limitations, we cannot shoot anytime we want since we can’t paralyze the operation of the hospital. The delivery room sequence you saw is real. We inject the actress in the middle while there are a lot of mothers giving birth at the same time. And of course the restriction of the camera, the DOP used minimal lighting so that it won’t disturb the operation of the hospital.
TR: How much was scripted and how much was what you found there?
ERJ: I guess 80% of the film is scripted and 20% is impromptu. The delivery scene was impromptu. I gave the doctor the script and then she read it and she told me she can do better and give more interesting dialogue than the script. But the story there, the subplot about the mothers, we researched everything there. Everything is true. The character of Sarah, the nurse, it is the only one that I imagined. But the stories of the mothers were real. Like the mother who has 13 children and the teenage mom, actually half of the population in Fabella [Hospital] are teenagers. I mean the oldest are 15 or 16. The mother who has 13 children is very common there. Every time we go there, there is a mother on her 13th child.
TR: Were you more tempted to have a more storyline structure in the film than have it less free form than it is? I mean I like it the way it is but I wondered if you were tempted to make it more melodramatic, more story oriented, less episodic.
ERJ: The reason why I have that kind of style is because I think it’s enough to have a glimpse of the story of these mothers. Since I used the real time method which usually does not develop a character, but it exposes the character. So I guess the main character is the ward and the hospital and what are those problems of the hospital.
Audience Member: How did you get the agreement for the hospital and the staff and all of the patients there at that time?
ERJ: We have connections. Actually my executive producer is a doctor and it happens that her friend is the president of that hospital. So for us it was easy, the hospital agreed on it. The hospital wanted us to have an agreement with the mothers to have their permission to film them. The staff was so easy. They wanted to act and be in the movie.
Audience Member: Do you have to pay everybody?
ERJ: Yeah and for the mothers, every time we shoot we have this feeding program every lunch and dinner and breakfast plus the payment. And for the staff there, just a thank you and eventually we give them a copy of the movie.
Audience Member: You said that the president of the hospital said that this movie will be the last to be shot at Fabella [Hospital]. Were they not pleased with your production there? What happened there?
ERJ: Actually they thought that this movie will put them in a negative light. When they saw the movie at the gala in the Philippines, they were quite pleased. Though they just said there were a lot of people in the hospital because of the film. We had 50 crew members there and even though we don’t disturb them, it is quite unusual to them to have that many people in the hospital.
Audience Member: I am struck by the title, it suggest a lot of things that come through in the film. The sense of factory, the sense of a place not only of people who are at work but there is a sense of factory going on, it was so striking to see a hospital set film with that kind of quality to it. You emphasized that with your camera, the way you went in and out of the staff quarters. Was that the grand overarching idea, that angle that you brought to the subject?
ERJ: Yeah, if you can notice that my shot every time was a wide shot because I treat the hospital as the main character. If you watch the film you will recognize the geography of the hospital, you will remember the geography of the hospital, you will remember the main character supposed to those mothers. It’s my intention to have that style in my film and instead of an establishing shot, my characters when they are walking, for example Nurse Sarah, the camera follows her. So that is the style to establish the place.
Audience Member: You mentioned that this was shown in the Philippines, how was the response and where was it shown?
ERJ: Actually it is under a film festival in the Philippines. They choose ten new filmmakers and they give us seed money to do the film and we co-produce it and then they have this one week festival and every day we have 2 screenings of it. I’m happy that the Philippine audience liked it, even though it is not a commercial film, there is no big actress there and then there are a lot of non-actors. Most Filipinos are alienated when there are a lot of non-actors in a film. And the structure is not a 3 act structure. So we ran away from the box office. But for me it was ok.
TR: Are there any possibilities beyond Cinemalaya, that it will be screened more in the Philippines, do you think?
ERJ: Actually we are scheduled for a national release on October 19. So hopefully the theatre won’t be first day, last day screening.
Audience Member: Can you tell us what is the purpose of the RH Bill?
ERJ: The purpose of that bill is to lessen the population in the Philippines through contraceptives and abortion. Maybe because of the abortion that the Catholic Church is against it.
TR: The background story is the Philippines, thanks to its years of Spanish colonization, is a very Catholic country. And the Catholic Church is always steadfast to oppose any form of birth control. So like what Eduardo said, there is a huge population problem in the Philippines and endemic poverty is directly related to the size of the population.
ERJ: The only method that the church is ok is the withdrawal method and abstinence.
Audience Member: So did you have Sarah contemplate abortion? I saw that you have this one shot where you kind of froze her in front of that ward.
ERJ: Yeah, just foreshadowing what is going to happen to her. That’s why I didn’t show the abortion scene. It is automatic that you will understand that she aborted her baby. I mean after the toilet scene, I cut to the face of a young child.
TR: I think Eduardo, people might be curious to know, interested to hear how many shooting days did you have, how long did it took to make this film?
ERJ: We have 7 days of shooting plus 1 more day to add more scenes and re-shoot scenes there. So it took us 8 days, twice a week. Our overall budget I think is roughly $50,000 Canadian dollars.