Back to IndieWire

7 Trans Films From The Summer Film Festival Circuit That You Must See

7 Trans Films From The Summer Film Festival Circuit That You Must See

There’s no doubt that 2014 has been a big year for trans representation in film, and this summer’s film festival circuit made that all the more clear. So we asked trans artist, writer and filmmaker Ewan Duarte to run down his favourites from festivals like Outfest, Newfest and Frameline, and these were his big seven:

“My Prairie Home,” Written
and Directed by Chelsea McMullen

My Prairie Home is
a meditative, poetic, listless, and intimate journey of the inner landscape of
talented transgender singer/songwriter Rae Spoon as they traverse the expansive
landscapes of the Canadian prairie. Rae Spoon uses the gender-neutral pronouns
they/them. Spoon was born and raised in Canada. The landscapes of the Canadian
prairie reminded me of the Midwest in the U.S.–expansive land, conservatism, and
rural cultural norms. There was one part of the documentary where Spoon was
concerned for themself when they were traveling in the Midwest in the U.S. They
were stared and glared out for looking androgynous. Spoon was not that far
away, in physical distance from where Brandon Teena was murdered in Nebraska,
while riding the greyhound across the vast Midwestern U.S. landscape.

Spoon travelled all over Canada performing in diners, bars,
and a variety of under-lit venues. Spoon was drawn to the kinds of places and
landscapes where they grew up. They said that they were always drawn back. My
Prairie Home
revealed itself and Spoon shared themself at the pace of nature.
It was a slow, meditative unfolding. This documentary is sparsely beautiful.
It’s beautiful with its poetry, Spoon’s vocals that mirror the majesty of the snow
capped mountains and glaciers. The wind, ice, and snow I hear in their lyrics
and voice. The stories that Spoon weaves are beautiful and at times melancholic.
The inner and outer landscapes of Spoon’s inner world are revealed while they
are traveling from one part of Canada to another to perform their music. I
loved learning about Rae Spoon and getting to know this singer/songwriter; their
tortured evangelical upbringing, a mentally ill Father who was a tyrant, the
healing balm of Spoon’s grandmother, Spoon’s first love, their queer/trans
identity, their connection to their siblings, to music, to their career, to
travel, and to making a life for themself as a professional musician.

The image of what home looks like to Spoon is so beautiful.
I cannot recommend this documentary enough. I’ve been waiting to see it with
anticipation since it premiered at Sundance this year. Watch the documentary,
discover Rae Spoon, and let the pace of nature and the Canadian landscapes lull
you into a state of meditative beauty. This documentary is sublime.

“Drunktown’s Finest,” written and directed by Sydney Freeland

Brava to writer/director Sydney Freeland for her debut
feature film, Drunktown’s Finest. Drunktown’s Finest is one of my favorite
films — trans-related or otherwise — that I’ve seen in 2014. I had the honor of hearing
Freeland give a Q&A in person after the Frameline38 screening this past

Drunktown’s Finest
is one of only two contemporary films that I’ve seen that focus on
Two-Spirit/trans identities and themes. Two-Spirits
is a documentary, directed by Lydia Nibley that came out in 2009. Two-Spirits interweaves a tragic story of a Mother’s loss of her
son with a revealing look at some Native American beliefs and values of
integrated genders that honor Two-Spirit identities. 

Drunktown’s Finest
is a contemporary coming of age narrative about the lives of three young people
that intertwine on and off a Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Sick Boy, is a
Father-to-be that attempts to stay out of trouble for the next few days so that
he can join the U.S. Army and provide a better life for his wife and growing
family. Nizhoni is a Native American born, Anglo raised character who is drawn
to discover her roots and Native American birth family while doing volunteer
service work in New Mexico before going off to college. Felixia is a
Two-Spirit/Transwoman who is proud of her Navajo culture, heritage, and
identity. One of her dreams is to be included in the “Women of The Navajo”
calendar. Both of Felixia’s Grandparents support and love her for who she is as
a whole person. Felixia’s Grandpa is a Medicine Man and sees Felixia’s
Two-Spirit identity as a gift. He told Felixia that she always has a home with

The three lives of Sick Boy, Nizhoni, and Felixia intersect
on the Navajo reservation and themes of family, belonging, love, and honoring
one’s Native traditions and culture, all intersect in this powerful, authentic film. The story and all of the technical elements of the film
works its magic to transport the viewer to another world in New Mexico from the
perspective of three young people coming of age on Navajo land. I cannot recommend this compelling film enough.

“52 Tuesdays,” Screenplay by Matthew Cormack and Directed by Sophie Hyde

52 Tuesdays is a new Australian narrative feature that was experimental
in its approach to filmmaking. The film was only filmed on Tuesdays for an
entire year. The actors received their scripts weekly rather than receiving the
entire script during the pre-production process. The result is a fresh,
nuanced, charged, and emotional story that evolves chronologically with the

52 Tuesdays is a
story about Billie, a sixteen-year-old who is very close with her Mother, who
comes out as a trans man and begins his transition from female to male (FTM).
During that time, Billie moves in with her Father and agrees to visit with
James (her birth parent), every Tuesday. Tuesday is their consistent time
together for the duration of James’ first year coming out as an FTM. As James
transitions and becomes less emotionally available, Billie joins the company of
two older schoolmates and explores her identity and sexuality in secret.  She pushes against the boundaries that her
parents have set in place for her as a teenager. Themes of independence, love,
acceptance, family, power, and desire are explored in this emotionally dynamic

52 Tuesdays
explores the questions; what happens when someone you are extremely close with
and love, who happens to be your Mother, decides to transition from female to
male? What is the effect and impact on James’ teenage child, Billie?

52 Tuesdays is the
first trans film that I’ve seen that delves so richly into the complex
emotional landscape and depths of the perspective of the child of a trans
parent who is just coming out as trans.

With a dynamic unleashing of emotions, processes, and
discovery, 52 Tuesdays is a powerful film that is a must see! I was fascinated by its experimental approach of only being filmed on Tuesdays
and in chronological order, and appreciated that it focused on a perspective
that has rarely been explored in Trans Cinema; the perspective of the child of a
trans parent. When love is the foundation of a relationship anything is
possible despite the turbulence, uncertainly, and dynamism of emotional
realities elicited from major life changes.

“Something Must Break,” Written by Ester Martin Bergsmark and Eli Leven,
Directed by: Ester Martin Bergsmark

Something Must Break,
is a gritty and dark romantic drama about the complexities of two young people who
fall in love in Stockholm, Sweden during a Summer. Sebastian (Ellie) is a
genderqueer individual and Andreas is straight. They meet at a chance encounter
when Sebastian tries to pick up a man in the bathroom. Sebastian/Ellie is
tormented with their identity and consciously as well as unconsciously is
trying to find a way to break through and be the woman who they are
authentically meant to be. It seems like they wanted to break out of their skin
and become Ellie with the support of Andreas. Sebastian/Ellie engages in a lot
of self-destructive behaviors and actions in their quest to find and be their
true self. For example rough and anonymous sex with strangers that at times is
non-consensually abusive as well as theft, and vandalism. Sebastian/Ellie
doesn’t seem to be aware at all about cause and effect, (Karma) or take into
account how their actions impact other people. At times sad, at moments
beautiful or harrowing, what is undeniable is the connection and love between
Andreas and Sebastian/Ellie. This film is a major gem.

“Kate Bornstein Is A
Queer & Pleasant Danger,” 
Directed, Produced, and Edited by Sam Feder

Kate Bornstein Is A
Queer & Pleasant Danger
is an intimate portrait of activist, writer,
and gender outlaw icon, “Aunty” Kate Bornstein. Bornstein identifies as a
Jewish, non-binary transgender dyke, sadomasochist, and reluctant-polyamorist.
She is an inspiration and non-binary trans icon to so many people in the queer
and trans community.

Kate Bornstein’s gender and sexuality work, writing, and
activism paved the way for generations of queer/trans youth and adults to find
their way on their individual queer and/or trans paths. She is encouraging to
and inspired by the queer/trans youth whom she teaches, lectures, and meets
while she tours the U.S. giving lectures, book signings, book readings, and
performance art tours at universities, college campuses, sex toy shops, and
performance venues. One of the MC’s of an event where Bornstein was about to
perform introduced her as “our Queer Grandma that we wish we had growing up.”

The documentary is a non-linear portrait of Kate Bornstein
that interweaves some of her most important relationships with close friends,
her partner, and her contributions to her community and Twitter “twibe.” She is
a force with her wit, intellect, humor, and performance art of gender and
sexuality. She is a teacher that you want to listen to who is adorned with
tattoos, piercings, has a thirst for knowledge, and the wisdom of the
complexities of the lived reality of being a queer/trans elder.

Bornstein’s family history and relationships, stint in The
Church of Scientology, her writing, books, activism, relationships, themes of
gender and sexuality, a striking health diagnosis, and her search to answer
some of life’s deepest questions are explored in this interwoven, whimsical,
and inspired portrait documentary of the wonderful Kate Bornstein. It’s a must
see documentary and a treasure trove of preserved queer/trans history of Kate
Bornstein’s life and work.

“Boy Meets Girl,”
Written and Directed by Eric Schaeffer

Boy Meets Girl is
a surprisingly sweet (like Southern Iced tea), nuanced, sex-positive, and
groundbreaking contemporary romantic comedy about four young people in their
early twenties. The film explores themes of gender and sexuality and is about
finding the courage to be one’s true self in the midst of adversity and to go
after one’s dreams. The lead protagonist, Michelle Hendley does a wonderful job
in the lead role as Ricky. Her acting is nuanced, authentic, and moving. What
is even more powerful is that Hendley herself is a trans woman acting in the
role of a trans woman. It’s wonderful that Director Eric Schaeffer intentionally
sought out a trans woman to cast in the role of Ricky. Boy Meets Girl would be a different film, in my opinion without the
wonderful collaboration and acting of Michelle Hendley.  I can’t say enough about how important it is
for trans actors to be cast in trans roles. 

Boy Meets Girl is
a contemporary, romantic comedy set in a rural small town in Kentucky. The
characters are complex, multi-dimensional, and resonant. Ricky is a strong and
empowered character that is not afraid to speak up for herself and is openly
transgender in a small town. She is a young, talented designer, and
fashionista. The pace of the movie flows well and all of the storylines of
Ricky, Ricky’s best friend Robby, Francesca, a debutante who meets Ricky at the
coffee shop where she works, and Francesca’s fiancé, David who is serving as a
marine in Afghanistan, are interwoven together seamlessly and surprisingly in
this entertaining and touching movie.

Boy Meets Girl is
the first trans romantic comedy feature film that I’ve seen that cast a trans
actor as its lead protagonist. It’s entertaining, authentic, heart-warming,
empowering, and excellently written. Boy
Meets Girl
is my favorite romantic comedy that I’ve seen all year. The
themes are universal and it’s not only targeted for an LGBT audience. Boy Meets Girl is a film for everyone to
see. The only interest that one needs to have is in the genre of romantic

“Lady Valor: The
Kristin Beck Story,” 
Directed by: Mark Herzog and Sandrine Orabona

“Lady Valor” is a
feature length documentary about Kristin Beck, a transgender woman who had a
lengthy and prestigious military career while living as a man named Christopher
Beck. Kristin Beck served in the Navy SEALS (team 1 and team 6); the elite
special forces in the military for over 20 years. Kristin also worked in the
United States Special Warfare Development group. After retiring from the Navy
SEALS in 2011, Kristin worked in the Pentagon as well as high-level work for
the government.  It was only until a year
and a half after Kristin Beck retired in 2013 that she came out as her true
self; a transgender woman. She began living full-time as her most authentic
self. Kristin Beck was met with mixed surprise, hostility, support, neutrality,
as well as many more emotional reactions from the public, her colleagues,
friends, community, and family when she came out as a transgender woman on
Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN. 

In the documentary, Kristin’s trans process and her well of
feelings are present and potent. Her two sons won’t speak with her throughout
the documentary. Half of her nuclear family of origin refused to comment or be
a part of the documentary about her life. Her Father, Brother, and youngest
Sister are all supportive, loving, and accepting of Kristin (on and off
screen). It appears that Kristin receives the most support from her younger Sister
whom she seems to be closest with. Kristin’s Mom and two older Sisters refused
to be a part of the documentary. 

Kristin mentioned how the support that she received was
50/50 when she came out as transgender. Half of the people who Kristin knew
before she came out were and are supportive of her even if they do not
understand her gender identity and transition process. One aspect that Kristin
mentioned that arose several times in the documentary is the bigotry and lack
of acceptance of her former military friends and colleagues; particularly the
Navy SEALS. She was surprised how many colleagues and friends were unsupportive
of her and wrote bigoted comments on Facebook threads and on various social
media sites.

The documentary, Lady Valor interweaves archival footage of
Kristin’s career as a Navy SEAL, archival family footage of her ex-wife and two
young sons, contemporary interviews and footage with some of her supportive family
members, friends, and her reflections during 2013 of her gender dysphoria,
military career, past life living as Christopher, and courage to come out as
trans. Her unhappiness and willingness to accept near suicidal military missions
shows the depth of her sadness and despair living her life on the edge and as a
man before integrating her whole self and becoming the woman who she was meant
to be. At moments the documentary is difficult to watch and to sit with. With
her long and established military career, transitioning to be a woman is
Kristin Beck’s most difficult mission in her life 

Lady Valor is the
first feature length documentary that I’ve seen that focuses on a trans person
with a military career. The documentary is insightful, emotional, potent, and culturally
relevant to the zeitgeist of trans themes and stories that are documented and
are currently being told on screen. 

Ewan Duarte is an artist, writer, and
award-winning independent filmmaker who lives and works in the SF Bay Area. He
holds his MFA in Cinema from San Francisco State University.

This post
is running with permission from 

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Lists and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox