Growing up in a more conservative small town in central California, PJ Raval said there weren’t many people who looked like him, which left him feeling isolated.
Raval is a queer, first-generation Filipino American filmmaker and radio-television-film associate professor. His work focuses on LGBTQ subcultures and experiences he said he feels are often overlooked by the film industry, such as the murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude in the Philippines. He said his experiences inform both his filmmaking and teaching style.
“As a professor at UT, I think it’s shaped me in the sense of the type of films that I’m interested in making — stories that are not being readily told,” Raval said. “I’ve always been interested in featuring characters and storylines that are often overlooked and misunderstood. I think that’s because that’s exactly how I felt.”
His most recent film, “Call Her Ganda,” is a critically acclaimed documentary about Laude’s death. Raval said it is his contribution to the discussion surrounding threats queer people face.
“As someone who grew up as a queer person of color in the United States, hearing the story of a violent crime about a trans woman of color, sadly, was not new to me,” Raval said. “It’s something I’m very aware of — the threat of violence, discrimination, hate. I thought that being able to tell (Laude’s) story in a documentary was a way for me to contribute.”
Raval’s work often deals with very sensitive and personal topics, such as in “Call Her Ganda.” Because of the personal nature of filmmaking, he said he tries to create an open and collaborative environment where students feel free to express themselves without judgment.
“Something a lot of filmmakers wrestle with is feeling like you’re putting yourself out there when you are creative,” Raval said. “I try to emphasize in my production classes that we’re not here to critique one another. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do for anyone.”
Francesca Bertini, a radio-television-film junior, is a student in Raval’s Music Film Production class, which requires students to work closely with local musicians to produce music videos. She said Raval’s class is the first she has really enjoyed in radio-television-film because Raval gives students a lot of room for creativity.
“Compared to other RTF courses, I felt like we’ve been pushed to be more creative,” Bertini said. “The way was open for us to do anything within our realm and our passion.”
Kyle Henry, an associate film professor at Northwestern University, collaborated with Raval on several films while both were studying to get their Master of Fine Arts in film production at UT.
“(Raval) is probably such a great teacher because of his amazing ability to creatively collaborate with others,” Henry said. “The way in which he is able to be a team player and then turn around and be the director, I think, makes him a very informed teacher.”