Transgender Film Festival returns: 26 years and going strong

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday October 31, 2023
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'The Hanky,' 'I Seek Your Help to Bury a Man,' and 'Last Call' at the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival
'The Hanky,' 'I Seek Your Help to Bury a Man,' and 'Last Call' at the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival

For the past quarter of a century, the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival has brought stories about the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people to the silver screen. Even during the pandemic the festival continued, making the films available online. Last year the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Now, with year 26 upon us, the festival offers five programs of 33 short films in a hybrid festival that will screen to a worldwide audience online as well as at the Roxie Theater. The festival will run at the Roxie from November 8-10, and online from November 11-19.

"I'm grateful we're still around," said Shawna Virago, Artistic Director of the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "We have a great team that makes it happen. It's a labor of love."

The first question we had was why a transgender film festival? Each year San Francisco hosts Frameline, a massive LGBT film festival that could easily give many of these films a home.

'House of Enigma' at the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival  

"We were started by trans people," explained Virago. "Christopher Lee and Alex Austin founded the festival in 1997.Unlike larger LGBTQ festivals, we are committed to the filmic expression of only trans and gender non-conforming artists for trans and gender non-conforming communities."

Virago added that mainstream cinema is void of content from trans directors. Mainstream cinema, she pointed out, is generally not interested in the struggles of many communities, in particular trans communities.

"As we have seen recently, there are hundreds of anti-trans bills being introduced in state legislatures throughout the country," Virago said. "We have anti-trans extremist Republicans vying to be president. In the UK, the director of a human rights organization, Liz Truss, has actively worked to undermine transgender human rights. These attacks are front and center for us."

Virago has grown quite fond of the Roxie, which has been home to the festival for many years.

"The Roxie feels like home," she said. "I respect the curatorial choices of their own programming and also the ways they support many smaller film festivals."

This year's festival will include appearances by two local celebrities. Program 3 will screen "Belonging: An Indian Trans Immigrant Story" by Amir Jaffer. The film will share the story of Anjali Rimi, a trans immigrant woman and her role in leading Parivar, the USA's first and only transgender led South Asian organization.

Beloved icon Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will also make an appearance in one of the films. Program 1 will include a showing of "Gender Euphoria: Trans People in the Bay Area" which will showcase the diversity of the Bay Area trans community. Sister Roma is one of the locals who was interviewed for this film.

Other festival highlights include "Do Digital Curanderas Use Eggs in Their Limpias?" directed by Roberto Fatal, which deals with the displacement of BiPOC communities in the Bay Area.

"It actually goes deeper than that, dealing with the struggles and generational trauma of Indigenous and Latinx communities since the beginning of white settler colonialism," said Virago. "It centers on a struggling Latinx healer who considers abandoning the physical world for promises of a digital utopia."

Non-binary folks are also represented. "Shipping Them," directed by Ryan Rox, is a comedy about a non-binary daydreamer and her fantasies of being the girl next door," Virago said.

Virago pointed to how accessible the film programs are. Ticket prices start at a few dollars each, and no one will be turned away due to lack of funds. All in-person programs will be ASL interpreted and all films are close captioned for deaf and hard of hearing audiences.

And, Virago added, The Roxie is fully wheelchair accessible. She also asks that people be aware of the fact that KN95 masks are required for those attending at the theater. Masks will be required for those who need them. And please note that Program 5 is for adults only.

"Our audiences are primarily trans, gender non-conforming and queer, but all genders are welcome," said Virago.

San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, Nov. 8-10 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th Street; online Nov. 11-19. Free-$50 at the Roxie and online.

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