Interview: Joella Cabalu on It Runs in the Family

Vancouver’s own Joella Cabalu opens her debut documentary with sincere words from her brother; “When did I feel different? It’s not something I can sort of pinpoint – I’ve always felt different”. What follows is a series of hopeful, honest, and drama free moments captured by Cabalu as her and her brother Jay journey to the Philippines for a rendezvous with their Filipino relatives. Out of a Roman-Catholic rooted country comes a different take on ‘coming out’ – one that is surprisingly refreshing. When Sad Mag catches up with Joella, it’s a week before It Runs In the Family debuts at VQFF.

Still from It Runs in the Family, directed by Joella Cabalu.

Still from It Runs in the Family, directed by Joella Cabalu.

SAD Mag: How can Vancouverites relate to a documentary that largely has to do with the culture and community of another country like the Philippines?

Joella Cabalu: I think it’s been fascinating for people who are not Filipino or Asian… I think it’s been interesting for them to watch the film – to gain a different perspective on the Asian community and Filipino’s; we’re not all the same, we’re not a monolithic community, and we’re not all conservative either. As I show in the film, even (in the Philippines) there are individuals who are progressive. The country as a whole has a reputation of being very conservative, so I think the film shatters those stereotypes.

SM: What inspired you to take on the project?

JC: Jay, my brother, came out to me in 2007. A month or two after that I saw a documentary at VIFF and it was called ‘When the Bible Tells Me So’. I found that the context of this film and Jay coming out to me was all very timely. The film essentially followed five American Christian families and how they each dealt with the coming out of their child, it obviously resonated with me because of my own recent events. Of the five families in the film, only one of them were a family of colour – so it made me wonder what that would be like for my own family, or a family that was Asian, or Filipino.

Still from It Runs in the Family, directed by Joella Cabalu.

Still from It Runs in the Family, directed by Joella Cabalu.

SM: The entirety of your cinematography team was made up of women—some were of colour, and some identify as queer—how did your team come together?

JC: In terms of hiring all of our cinematographers, it came down to word of mouth – we needed to hire people in the cities we were shooting in. It wasn’t as if I was specifically looking for Filipina women who are lesbian, it’s just what happened. When it came down to interviewing all these women, I would tell them what I was anticipating for this story, and they were just immediately on board. It’s not like I knew what their sexual orientation was at the time – that’s kind of inappropriate to ask – but towards the end of filming that’s something they would share and say that’s why it was important for them to come on board for this project. So it was a matter of really good fortune, and the right people who wanted to be on board.

SM: What place does a film festival like Vancouver’s Queer Film Fest have in a society that is trying to integrate LGBT culture into its own? Does Vancouver still need another film festival devoted to the gay community?

JC: I would say yes. Working in this industry…as a hetero, cis-gendered woman, I can see that I have a tremendous amount of privilege to have my experience just because of the gender that I am…and that’s something that has really opened my eyes to not just attending VQFF, but also being in touch with so many other LGBT groups in Vancouver—mainly LGBT people of colour… And I see that there’s still a lot of work to be done. So that’s why I think VQFF is so important: to have those ten days of seeing yourself, your relationships, and your experiences reflected on screen.


It Runs in the Family screened on August 16, 2016, to much audience delight. The Queer Film Festival is on until August 22. Find screening and ticket information here