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 June.
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 them.
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.