Transgender people in film have been much in focus this month, with festivals taking place in Bologna, Italy over the first weekend – and Amsterdam a week later.
The Italian Festival, Divergenti, billed itself as an international festival of transsexual film, and was organized by the Italian Transsexual Movement(Movimento Identitita Transessuale – or MIT, for short).
However, as most such events in Italy, this one ranged far wider than mere film, taking in a photography exhibition, a series of sessions looking at how trans identity is represented in the media, and an opportunity to examine the politics of such representation.
Let’s begin with the photos. The work, by Christian Cristalli, was an intelligent, provocative presentation of ambiguity. Bodies that might be this or that: genitalia obscured by artfully placed foliage; and the whole set off by commentary that added defiance to the overall air of ambivalence. We are trans, the work proudly proclaimed: get over it!
Inevitably though, a film festival is about film – and Divergenti did not disappoint. There was a certain amount of documentary, with first up Nessuno è Perfetto! (No-one is Perfect, 2013), directed by Fabiomassimo Lozzi, an intimate exploration of the dreams, experiences – and challenges – shared and faced by four individuals attempting to put together living a trans life.
The Ballad of Genesis P Breyer and Lady Jaye (2011), directed by Marie Losier documented ‘Creating the Pandrogyne’, a subversive project in which musician and artist, Genesis P Orridge, set out to create in himself the likeness of his beloved Lady Jaye. This film won the Teddy Award at the Berlinale in 2011
Then there was Sexing The Transman (2011), directed by and starring Buck Angel, famously billed as ‘the man with a vagina’. This provided an intriguing alternative exploration of female-to-male (FtM) sexuality, mediated through Buck’s own experience as a porn actor, and highlighting the fluidity, the subtle shadings that accompany FtM identity, as opposed to an absolute binary.
Wildness (2012) looked at the Latin American LGBT community in LA, while Turning (2012), directed by Charles Atlas presented us with that strangest of creatures, a musical documentary, exploring the themes of identity, transcendence and, as it claimed on the pack, ‘the revelation of being’.
All good in their way, though for me, there is a point at which one can have too much documentary. Perhaps that is to betray a certain ‘lightness’ on my part. Or simply, being so aware of the ‘standard trans narrative’, a sense that when the lights go down and the screen begins to flicker, I deserve to be entertained!
On the entertainment front honors must be evenly split between Noor (2012), directed by Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti – the story of a trans man finding his male identity and leaving the trans community behind, and Facing Mirrors (2011) directed by Negar Azarbayjani about an improbable friendship that breaks through social and religious barriers.
Sadly, I had not time to catch what I suspect might have been my favorite film of the weekend, La Patente (2011), directed by Alessandro Palazzi, which is a light-hearted comedy about a driving school in Rome, in which trans features as but one element among many, rather than being the focus of the story.
Because, in the end, I think I look forward to a day when a trans film festival is more about history than putting contemporary issues under the microscope.
Though, this being an Italian event, there was plenty of the latter.
A selection of short films showcased perhaps the most creative segment of the weekend, as well as highlighting how trans issues now touch every part of the globe.
Included were Love and other Red Spot Specials (Australia, 2008), Lili Longed to Feel Her Insides (USA, 2011), Burmese Butterfly (Burma, 2011), Ta Av Mig / Undress Me (Sweden, 2013), which also won the Teddy award at the Berlinale, 2013 for best short film, Il Mio Genere / My Gender (Italy, 2012) and La Victoria de Úrsula / Ursula’s Victory (Spain, 2011)
More directly involving were a series of talks, explorations and debates put on by the organizers of Divergenti. One event saw directors and film professionals to debate the role of trans in cinema, recognizing as they did a gradual evolution, from freak show and object of ridicule to a subject for more serious inquiry.
MIT President Porpora Marcasciano presented Dream and Utopia, illustrating much the same theme.
Trans people and the media were also in the spotlight, with two workshops focused on the issues and challenges for the trans community. In the first, Helen Belcher, for the UK’s Trans Media Watch, who is also a Gay Star News contributor, outlined the nature of transphobia and how the media perpetuated unhappy stereotypes. And I dissected the ways in which media transphobia did its work.
A parallel workshop, addressed by journalists and politicians from Italy, reviewed good and bad practices in an Italian context and included, for me the highlight of the weekend, Vladimir Luxuria, better known as ‘Vlady’ is an Italian actress, writer and television host. She was also the first and, at the time, only trans member of a European parliament, elected to the Italian Assembly as part of the Communist list.
None of which come even close to communicating what Vlady herself describes as her ‘fabulousness’. From witty putdowns of political opponents to dealing with hostile media types, Vlady made it more than clear why she was and still is a star, and the rest of us mere beginners.
It was a good film festival. However, as someone there first and foremost to talk about trans and the media, I’ll leave the last word to Vlady. All politicians, she explained, should have a sense of humor.
As for the press, she added: ‘A journalist who exploits your birth gender is taking sides… and usually they choose to side with the aggressor.’
Those who feel they missed out this time might like to know that Bologna is to play host to the 11th Gender Bender festival, organized by the LGBT Center in Bologna, in October-November later this year. Full details can be found on the Gender Bender website.