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SF Transgender Film Fest inspires us

by Sari Staver

Scene from "Happy Birthday, Marsha," the opening-night feature for the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival. Photo: Courtesy SFTFF
Scene from "Happy Birthday, Marsha," the opening-night feature for the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival. Photo: Courtesy SFTFF  

"Happy Birthday, Marsha!," a film about a black transgender activist's largely unknown role in instigating the 1969 anti-policing riots at the Stonewall Inn, opens this year's San Francisco Transgender Film Festival at the Roxie on Friday night, Nov. 9. The festival runs through the weekend, and details about the program can be found at their website, www.sftff.org.

The opening-night feature, about performer Marsha "Pay it No Mind" Johnson's role in the watershed event for the gay liberation movement, interweaves imagined scenes with found archival footage, countering the erasure of trans women of color from stories about political resistance. The film stars Independent Spirit Award winner Mya Taylor as Johnson, with cinematography by Sundance winner Arthur Jafa, and an original score by Geo Wyeth.

Longtime festival artistic director Shawna Virago said the opening-night film reflects the festival's focus on providing "a powerful counternarrative to the increasingly assimilationist world of transgender reality stars and celebrities. Hollywood gets it wrong — very wrong. We showcase trans and gender-non-conforming people telling our own stories," Virago, a transgender woman, said in a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

The three-day event is the world's first and longest-running transgender film festival, and will screen "everything from political shorts to inspiring animation, from gender-busting music videos to hard-hitting documentaries, from a family program to a closed-captioned program" for hearing-impaired audiences, said Virago. Even more important than the "inspiring, gutsy, gorgeous films" being screened is the fact that the festival "creates a safe place for us to gather, to celebrate ourselves and our art. The reason I say more important," she explained, "is that the President of the United States has made repeated unprecedented attacks on the transgender community. The continued violence against our community" makes it more urgent than ever that "we have a place where we feel safe" to gather.

Other film festival highlights include:

"Brothers," a drama about transmen Trevor and Len "getting into their groove, but with Trevor on hormones for egg harvesting, things are not as easy as they seem."

"Dropping Penny," a "very queer comedy" about two trans dogwalkers' race to get a pup back to her alpha butch mom.

"Awake," set in a dystopian future, tells the story of an evil religious extremist government rising to power and hunting down LGBTQ people. Mya, a young transgender woman, helps to get as many refugees to safety as possible.

"Homosafe," a music video for the song "Homosafe" by local rock stars The Homobiles.

"War Call" is the debut music video of NYC-based trans hip hop artist Mizz June, the protege of luminary black transwomen Octavia St. Laurent and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who felt the need to address the current state of affairs for black and Latina transwomen.

"Daughter," a music video showcasing award-winning singer-songwriter Ryan Cassata performing his recent single, which premiered in Billboard magazine. He is currently editing his memoir and finishing up the recording process of a new album of original music.

"A Trans with a Movie Camera" is Frances Arpaia's film challenging "traditional trans filmic representations, narrative films and documentaries, and serves as proof that cinema can use experimental forms to depict and examine trans identities."


Scene from Pinky Gurung, part of the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival. Photo: Courtesy SFTFF  

"Saan Ka Galing" explores the ways in which one's performance of identity is shaped by Filipino-American immigration, societal expectations of success, and the growth of a family. This experimental dance-film journeys through locations in San Francisco, and is narrated by director Brooklyn Pages Torres' grandfather, Jaime Casido Torres.

"Soy Alex/I'm Alex" is a documentary portrait of Alex, a YouTuber from Barcelona with more than 30,000 subscribers, who wants to help other trans boys by sharing his experience in the social networks. His activity online discovers a relationship between building his body and developing an online profile.

"Pinky Gurung" follows a political candidate in her door-to-door campaign in Nepal, where the LGBT community was once openly derided as "social pollutants," but now enjoys political rights including legal recognition of a third gender that puts the country leagues ahead of much of the rest of the world.

SFTFF is "built upon social-justice-seeking, anti-assimilationist, anti-oppression principles," according to artistic director Virago. "We support, connect and network Bay Area and international transgender filmmakers and media artists, enable trans filmmakers to reach a wider audience, and provide an annual community gathering where we can share our stories, build our movement for trans and racial justice, and generate broader LGB community awareness of trans identity, history and culture."

Virago recommends purchasing tickets in advance because all screenings are expected to sell out. Tickets are $12-$15 (plus ticket fees), but nobody is turned away for lack of funds, she said.

Tickets can be purchased through www.brownpapertickets.com


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