SF Trans Film Festival's 25th

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday November 8, 2022
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Sailor Galaviz' film 'FrankenDivine'
Sailor Galaviz' film 'FrankenDivine'

It's been 25 years since the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival first came into being. Over the years the festival has grown to become one of the most respected and best-known events in the trans community. Nothing, not even the pandemic, would stop them, as the festival went virtual during the lockdown.

This year the festival returns to in person for two days worth of screenings at the Roxie Theatre. But the festival will continue beyond that, screening films online for another week.

For Artistic Director Shawna Virago this milestone year is something to celebrate.

"This is our silver anniversary, and I think that's a big deal," Virago told the Bay Area Reporter. "When we started it in 1997 by my friends Christopher Lee and Alex Austin, who knew we'd still be here 25 years later? Also, when I became Artistic Director in 2003, I didn't know if we'd last more than a couple of years because funding was a real challenge then."

This year's festival offers a delightful and diverse cross section of short films by transgender and gender non-conforming filmmakers. There are many highlights, but there are a few that stand out from the rest.

Terence Alan Smith in Whitney Skauge's 'The Beauty President'  

One of the more fascinating pieces is "The Beauty President" by San Francisco filmmaker Whitney Skauge. The film recalls the 1990s presidential candidacy of Joan Jett Blakk, the first drag queen to see her name on the ballot, made all the more historic because Blakk is Black. Throughout the film's running time Terence Alan Smith, Blakk's male alter ego, recalls the campaign with wit and good humor.

Smith also recalls friends who died of AIDS. Film clips show Blakk campaigning, speaking eloquently about education and health care. At the time the media treated Blakk's candidacy as a joke, but her wise and insightful words show that she is nothing to laugh at.

Another standout piece is "Ro & Shirelle," which comes from Los Angeles-based filmmaker Adelina Anthony. Two trans best friends navigate the often perilous journey many trans people are forced to endure for doing nothing more than trying to use a public restroom.

"I don't think anyone thought we'd last," Virago said. "There were almost no transgender arts organizations or events when we started. I didn't know if we'd last more than a couple of years because no one was funding us. It's certainly a labor of love."

San Francisco Transgender Film Festival organizers Christopher Lee, Shawna Virago and Alex Austin  

Virago added that she's delighted to be back at the Roxie.

"We love the Roxie," she said. "Like us, they're keeping up the good fight. It feels wonderful to gather in person again, provided everyone wears a mask."

One of the things that Virago is proud of is that the festival has continued its mission to embrace under-represented voices and films with super-queer quirkiness.

"I see our festival as a haven for trans and gender non-conforming filmmakers to assert their wisdom and artistic brilliance," she said.

Virago notes that more than 100 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in the United States this year alone. The trans and gender non-conforming communities are forced to deal with hate every day of their lives.

"I hope our audience can find respite from all this, and can enjoy our films," she said. "We have a range of genres from documentaries and politics to animation, dance, music, romance, coming of age tales and thrillers. Our message is that despite the ongoing attacks against us we are powerful, vibrant and make really amazing art. Plus, we're super-cute."

The San Francisco Transgender Film Festival will be at the Roxie Cinema on November 10 and 11, and will continue online until November 20. All films are close captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing. Ticket cost is sliding scale.

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