BENCH MEETS Filmmaker Bianca Catbagan


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Photography by Gabby Cantero
Makeup by Arabella Paner

Be it angst-ridden (the ‘90s) or app-driven (now), every generation wakes up to find its youth quickly gone; as hazy as the memory of a drunken night that began with so much possibility. Reality pounding at our heads, we ask: where did all that time go?

With Letters to the Future, filmmaker Bianca Catbagan aims to capture that time when identity is exhibited as strongly as idealism is embraced. Aiming her camera at a motley group of 20-somethings, Bia and her crew asked the question: “What would you say to your future self? ” Revealed in raw black and white are the hopes, dreams, fears, and brain farts of quarter-lifers, spanning med student to Jollibee service staff.

B/BLOG sits down with the Bia to talk about a film that may serve as affirmation for an audience and a confessional time capsule for its subjects. For the film’s 26 year-old creator, however, it stands as proof of her resilience despite a shaky start with first film, Suntok sa Buwan.

With film school at New York’s Columbia University awaiting and Letters premiering at the U-View in Fully Booked today, Future Bia can damn well give her old self a pat on the back.


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How did the idea for Letters to the Future emerge?

Birth of the idea was probably 2012. I don’t even think she remembers this but I told Sam [Lee, a filmmaker], ‘I want to produce something…I want to make a video of all our friends just giving messages to their future selves.’ Sam’s idea naman was different. She wanted to make it like a journal, so still capturing what people like. Parang slam book yung gusto niya: name, favorite movie, favorite line from a film, favorite quote. Sa akin yung parang dedication part.

The thing I tell people all the time—the people I asked to help me with the project—is I’m super idealistic to a fault. I tried making a thesis about my own idealism. I felt like in college, I didn’t have a good grasp of film, so I was never able to produce it. So this is my way of capturing my own idealism and also discovering if kids my age still have that.

Before this, you had a pretty major project, as well…

Suntok Sa Buwan, which was so different.

Did the outcome of that meet your expectations?

Feeling ko I could have done better. When people tell me, ‘O, I haven’t seen Suntok Sa Buwan,’ I say, ‘Hindi, okay lang.’ I really could have controlled that a lot more in terms of writing but I really think my weakness is writing. Production-wise, we could have prepared better. It was just really discovering what it was like to make a movie. But the gift I got from that film is the bravery to make a new one. And to keep making big films. I feel like with a lot of filmmakers, it’s always just short forms. There’s always this big fear of making a big movie. In terms of Letters naman, I feel like I have so much more control in terms of my filmmaking. There’s really a lot of me in this film.


Having done both, do you feel like now you’re the sort of filmmaker who likes things a little closer to home or do you still feel that absolute distance from a subject may still work for you in the future, granted different circumstances? 

You’re right, seeing something that’s very relevant to myself and how it was so easy to make—I mean, editing-wise, I was too close naman to the topic. With Suntok Sa Buwan, I was very far away from it, as you described. But with this one naman, I was staring it right in the face that I couldn’t even see what I was doing. I had to step away from it also and I stepped away by asking people to help me edit, by asking people to help me go through the transcripts. But it was much easier for me to make kasi my voice was more resounding. I knew exactly what I was talking about and I could relate to the voices of everyone in the film. There’s a little bit of me in each of the people in it.

At the same time, a lot of these people are your friends. Was it important to include people close to you rather than a more random selection?

We shot it on a long weekend so a lot of my friends were away. A lot of the people I wanted to interview were also away from the city—the time people were leaving for the States. It was hard logistically to get a random group of people, especially ‘cause my text was ‘Hey, I have a documentary I want to make. Can I interview you on camera?’ It’s hard to get a complete stranger to say yes to something like that. But the people who said yes were recommended by friends or kilala talaga ako, or know me as someone who makes films. The familiarity helped me but because of that, I was also limited to my first-degree circle. At best siguro, yung mga people we got were service industry workers. Still, one-degree pa kasi ni-recommend sila ng friends ko. So it was a tough part, trying to keep it varied.


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Do you regret not getting a certain type of person for this? Who do you feel like you missed out on?

Ah, bloggers. I super wanted to get a very popular blogger. Kasi that’s a very distinct job. People making a living out of writing about products or writing about their lives. We’re talking bloggers who have 300,000 followers on Instagram. I wanted to see if there was something about what they’re doing that’s deeper than what it is. I wanted to explore more of that and see if there was something deeper about it or something self-aware na, ‘Ah, mababaw lang talaga ‘to and I get freebies.’ And if they see a future in blogging and where they see it going.

Among the people you did interview, though, what stories really resonated with or surprised you?

I interviewed this one guy—a friend of a friend who works in government. In his message to his future self, he said, ‘Sana hindi ka makain ng systema.’ I liked it because he works in government and you still see someone like him who’s trying to make a change. I guess it reflects something in me because what I want to do with the film industry is help change it in a big way. Hindi lang ‘Gawa tayo ng mga dumb movie para people will like me more as a filmmaker.’ It’s more of I know there’s so much we can do in this country with filmmaking and I can see my friends trying to make great movies, and I want to make that big change also. But it’s tough because the industry is set in its ways much like politics, and there are a lot of idealistic young people who want to do good.

IMG_4686And another person I interviewed, his name’s Jaton, he said to himself that he’s a work in progress and the best thing about him will come tomorrow. I think that’s so beautiful. We’re always growing, we’re always changing, and I think accepting that fact helps you become a better person; be more open to the things that surround you instead of insisting na, ‘This is it.’

You talked about the future and what you want to do. How does leaving to study film in New York figure into that? Are you also scared that when you get there, things may divert your path?

I want to change the film industry but there’s also this part of me that’s so selfish na right now, it isn’t up to par with what I imagine it to be. I really don’t know eh. I don’t want to say naman for sure that I’m never coming back or I’m coming back for sure. But right now, I see this as improving myself so that in the future, I can improve the industry also.

Like screenwriting. Personally, if I can become a better filmmaker by improving my screenwriting skills, I think I can come home and make better movies. That’s all I see for now. I really don’t know what’s next and that’s kind of exciting.


Catch Letters to the Future at the U-View Theatre, Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. The Film shows at 8PM on July 29, August 2, August 5, and August 9. 





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