Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Discussing The Fruit Fly With HP Mendoza

Originally posted at

A few weeks ago I attended a screening of Fruit Fly at The Berkeley Pacific Film Archives. Currently wrapping up a worldwide tour, the film is HP Mendoza's directorial debut. Well known throughout The Bay Area and beyond for his modern interpretation of the musical, Mendoza gained notoriety when he both wrote/starred/composed in the 2006 indie sensation Colma: The Musical. Documenting youth in a suburban town south of San Francisco in which - as the tag line described - "the dead outnumber the living one thousand to one," the picture instantly gained a cult following. Backed by IFC and widely shown at film festivals across the globe, Colma: The Musical helped HP Mendoza attract a loyal and diverse fan base. And with Fruit Fly, Mendoza challenges the musical to an even greater degree.

The film stars L.A. Renigen as Bethesda, a Philippine migrant performance artist who recently moved into an artist commune in The Castro. The plot quickly unfurls and the protagonist finds that San Francisco is not the safe-haven she so craved. Instead, she is road blocked by failed auditions and the constant struggle to piece together her fragmented past. Thankfully, her ostentatious male, gay roommates ensure fun and excitement with every passing day. It is through these men and their subsequent posses that she discovers the term "fruit fly." Previously not aware of such a term, she adopts the label as she finds "fag hag" derogatory and crude. Did I mention Fruit Fly is a musical? So for our San Francisco readers, you too can giggle at chorus lines set outside The Cafe and rhythmic interludes with a Valencia backdrop.

Outside the theater I chatted with HP Mendoza about the transformation of terms and whether his feature was attempting to erase gay stereotypes. Noting that he himself does not have a fruit fly, he continued by stating,

"I'm not really trying to do anything to change the term 'fruit fly,' be it through reappropriation, reclamation, or redefinition. I just want to raise the dialogue. Notice there are two sides to the argument in the movie. I just got into it with someone on-line about the usage of the word 'nigga' by non-blacks. I then went into how we can't be too dogmatic about policing people and their words because we end up looking didactic. I used to crusade against the word 'lady' because it implied that the woman was owned by a 'lord.' Then I learned to just lighten the fuck up."

Well put HP. Well put. At first, the film left me neutral. However, upon further thought and investigation, I realized the brilliance. Fruit Fly is not a film attempting to reclaim gay culture or redefine the hetero-social bonds between homosexual men and straight counterparts. Instead, Fruit Fly is a film that expresses the liveliness of such friendships and the many way such relationships need not be over analyzed. Bethesda unassumingly entered into a gay-oriented circle upon moving to The United States. Such was not intentional. Though the film could attempt to further explain the how and why of her friendships with gay men, the film instead represents the simplicity of the fruit fly - gay male bond. In other words: the "just is" attitude of the fruit fly.

Unfortunately, due to the current economic climate, the movie is not receiving the funding necessary to garnish a wide release. Furthermore, due to the nature of the picture, the audience members have been limited. HP continued,

"I'm happy with the audience I've been getting, but I do hope that more Filipino women learn about this. I shit you not, twice, at different festivals, female performance artists from the Philippines have walked up to me saying they were looking for their biological moms."

For the few fortunate to view Fruit Fly, it seems each day is a bit more lyrical and a bit more colorful. A San Francisco homage painted with synthesized solos and more-real-than-one-might-think characters, Fruit Fly is definitely worthy of a Dolores Park screening. (And you can imagine, due to the title of the movie, I am as critical as they come.)


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