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The Vancouver Queer Film Festival

Thirteen trans-focused films to watch in honour of Trans-Awareness Week and TDoR

This week was Trans-Awareness Week and ended with Trans Day of Remembrance. Though trans representation and storytelling has yet to be equitably represented on screen, recent years have seen a welcome and much needed boost of trans folks both on-screen and behind the camera. Here are a few of my favourites from the past few years that are available to watch on various online platforms. Trans stories are for every day and week of the year, and I hope this list will help you start your own to watch and love!

In solidarity,

Anoushka Ratnarajah, Artistic Director

  1. Disclosure

This monumental documentary from Laverne Cox provides an eye-opening look at depictions of trans people in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender. With interviews from leading trans thinkers and creatives, including Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, Mj Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton, and Chaz Bono, Disclosure is an expansion to 1995’s “The Celluloid Closet”, a moving challenge to both storytellers and audiences. 

Where to watch: Netflix

Disclosure | Sam Feder | USA | 2020 | 108 min | English

2. Lingua Franca

Screened as VQFF 2020’s Centrepiece Gala, Lingua Franca is both a unique take on a love-story, and the American Dream narrative, demonstrating the similarities between a trans and immigrant experiences by telling an intersectional story of a woman whose body carries the weight of both of those experiences. This film is a feat for trans director, writer and star Isabel Sandoval.

Where to watch: Netflix

Lingua Franca | Isabel Sandoval | USA, Philippines | 2019 | 95 min | Tagalog and English

3. Alice Junior

This totally delightful teen rom-com follows teenage Alice as she navigates her new harsh Catholic highschool and aches for her first kiss. Played by Brazilian YouTube star Anne Celestino Mota, Alice is fierce and unabashed in her insistent right to be who she is. This is the trans girl coming of age rom-com we all need!

Where to watch: Netflix

Alice Junior | Gil Baroni | Brazil | 2019 | 87 min | Portuguese

4. XY Chelsea

This documentary is a look at the life and career of Chelsea Manning, a trans woman soldier in the United States Army, who was sentenced to serve 35 years at an all-male military prison for leaking information about the country’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Shot over two years and featuring exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes verité with Manning, the film picks up on the momentous day in May when she leaves prison and follows her through her journey of discovery, while also examining her place in the conversation on national security and the fight of the transgender community for rights and visibility.

Where to watch: Crave

XY Chelsea | Tim Travers Hawkins | United Kingdom | 2019 | 90 min | English

5. Transhood

Filmed in Kansas City, Missouri over the course of five years, “Transhood” focuses its lens on families and kids in America’s heartland. Intimate and heartfelt, this film gives space to complex and difficult conversations between parents and children, without ever losing focus on the strength and vulnerability of the young people to have to advocate for themselves beyond their years. During a time when trans rights have been consistently under attack, “Transhood” is a vital record of what it’s like to grow up trans in Trump-era America. This film is particularly a great watch for allied parents of trans children.

Where to watch: Crave

Transhood | Sharon Liese | USA | 2019 | 96 min | English

6. Man Made

This documentary takes audiences on a journey with four trans men (Rese, Dominic, Kennie and Mason) who are all striving to compete at Trans FitCon the only all-transgender bodybuilding competition in the world, held in Atlanta, Georgia. All four men are in different places in their journeys and lives, yet they face similar struggles as they create a masculinity that makes sense to each of them. This film is a honest and intimate look at body and gender politics, as well as a heartbreaking and uplifting story of relationships and self-love. All audiences will be able to connect to the stories shared here, as we see that these men are not really in the contest for the winning, but to be seen. 

Where to watch: Prime

Man Made | T Cooper | USA | 2018 | 93 min | English

7. Call Her Ganda

In 2014, Jennifer Laude, a Filipina trans woman was found dead in a motel room, killed by a US Marine stationed in the Philippines.  PJ Raval’s moving documentary follows three women intimately involved in Jennifer’s case; her mother Julita, who is relentless in her pursuit of justice for her daughter; American-Filipina trans journalist Meredith Talusan; and the family’s lawyer Virgie Suarez, who is faced with the daunting task of not only proving a murder case, but also taking on the Visiting Forces Agreement, which dictates that the U.S. government retain jurisdiction over military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines. This riveting film shows the ways in which American imperialism and the violence against women like Jennifer are inextricably linked, and raises complex questions about sovereignty, justice, and the right to self-determination.

Where to watch: Prime

Call Her Ganda | PJ Raval | Philippines | 2018 | 80 min | Tagalog and English

8. Gun Hill Road

This first feature film from Raashad Ernesto Green was a Sundance smash and successfully toured many film festivals throughout the world. Enrique is an ex-con who returns home to the Bronx after three years in prison to discover his wife estranged from him and his child exploring a gender transformation that will put the fragile bonds of their family to the test. Gun Hill Road is a story of transition, and how gender, sexuality, race, and culture intersect in one family, who struggle to be their true selves within the expectations of community and society. Starring Harmony Santana in her first role, this film is a tender testament to the love between parents and children.

Where to watch: Itunes

Gun Hill Road | Raashad Ernesto Green | USA | 2011 | 86 min | English

9. Drunktown’s Finest

Sydney Freeland’s 2015 premiere at Sundance with Drunktown’s Finest, garnered her numerous acclaim. The film follows three young Navajo peo ple as they strive to find connection,  validation and opportunity in an authentic and sensitive coming of age story. The late Carmen Moore shines in her first feature role as Felixia, and Freeland crafts her setting and characters from her own experiences as a trans indigneous woman, and creates a film that is as complex as it is empathetic. 

Where to watch: Itunes

Drunktown’s Finest | Sydney Freeland | USA | 2015 | 95 min | Navajo, English

10. Free CeCe

On June 5, 2011, Cece McDonald was brutally attacked. While defending her life, her attacker was killed. CeCe was incarcerated in a men’s prison in Minnesota. An international campaign to free CeCe garnered significant support from media and activists, including trans activists Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg and Laverne Cox. The documentary’s focus follows CeCe’s trail, but above all it shows the months after her release as she calls upon a circle of support from caring friends and family, and demonstrates her invaluable leadership as an activist and educator. Her leading voice resonates throughout the documentary and will surely remain in the minds of everyone who sees Free CeCe. This film was VQFF’s Centrepiece Gala in 2017.

Where to watch: Vimeo

Free CeCe | Jac Gares | 2016 | USA | 100 min | English

11. Beauty

Beauty explores the lives of five gender-creative kids, each uniquely engaged in shaping their own sense of what it means to be fully human. Whether it’s dealing with bullies, explaining themselves to their parents, or navigating the uncharted waters of relationships, Bex, Lili, Fox, Tru and Milo talk about their experiences and struggle to live in authenticity. This film screened at VQFF 2018 and won our Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film.

Where to watch: NFBBeauty | Christina Willing | Canada | 2018 | 24 min | English and French

12. Do I Have Boobs Now?

In 2015, Victoria-based trans activist Courtney Demone launched the viral online campaign #DoIHaveBoobsNow, in which she posted topless photos of her transition on social media while undergoing hormone replacement therapy. One year later, Courtney revisits the global conversation she catalyzed on social media censorship policies and the sexualization of feminine bodies, and reflects on the impacts of being thrust into the critical spotlight as a visible trans activist and queer feminist. This local short film screened at VQFF 2017.

Where to watch: NFB

Do I Have Boobs Now | Joella Cabalu & Milena Salazar | Canada | 2017 | 7 min | English

13. Niish Manidoowag (Two-Spirited Beings)

Four youth travel Bebamikawe Trail on Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation Territory. Two of the youths are Two Spirited and discuss the confrontations and acceptance that they have encountered within their community and how it has affected their ability to experience and learn their culture. Long before the settlers arrived to Turtle Island, Two Spirited people were revered and treated with respect and equality. Niish Manidoowag speaks to these histories, identities and cultural roles as they are being reclaimed by generations of queer indigneous people.

Mino Bimaadiziwin | Shane Mcsauby | Turtle Island | 2018 | 10 min | Anishinaabemowin & English