San Francisco Transgender Film Festival continues to provide platform for trans storytellers

Isabella Schreiber/Staff

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In the past year alone, the administration of President Donald Trump has attempted to ban trans people from serving in the military, has rescinded protections for trans students, has attempted to legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of “religious freedom” and is considering legally defining gender as synonymous with biological sex. This last initiative would legislatively erase transgender, genderqueer and nonbinary identities. In 2017, at least 29 transgender people in the United States lost their lives as a result of fatal violence. Yet while many are trying to erase trans lives, trans filmmakers are fighting back.

Since 1997, the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, or SFTFF, has shined as a beacon of light from within the various theaters, centers and stores that have hosted it. Its more than two decades of history are not only a source of pride for its organizers, filmmakers and patrons — they are a sign of resilience and pride for an institution that amplifies the exact voices many are attempting to silence, an institution brought back to the Roxie Theater screen this weekend.

“When I think back to when we started, I could never have imagined the public scope transgender issues are receiving, including the constant attacks on our rights from the President of the United States,” Shawna Virago, the festival’s artistic director, said in an email interview with The Daily Californian.

SFTFF was founded to remedy the lack of authentic representations of trans people and the exclusion of trans creatives in the film industry, and it continues to prioritize films made by the most marginalized voices within the communities it represents.

“It’s important for all marginalized groups to be empowered to frame their stories, and we were founded to create space and opportunities for transgender and gender non-conforming people to screen their films,” Virago said in an email.

This year’s festival will begin with the debut of hip-hop artist Mizz June’s “War Call,” a music video and call to arms that aims to fight violence against trans women. In a phone interview with the Daily Cal, Mizz June spoke at length about how trans women — especially trans women of color — face disturbingly high rates of sexual assault, domestic violence, hate crimes and homicide.

“Hopefully the release of this single and the video helps to change things, to make things a lot better, to make (life) more … liveable for trans women, particularly trans women of color,” Mizz June said. “Hopefully my art can help create a climate where activism can be strengthened.”

The art and stories that will populate the six programs of the three-day festival vary drastically — short films that cover topics ranging from love to public restrooms, from science fiction to historical figures, from the gender binary to ecosexuality.

“What I love about this festival is it’s not trying to be super prestigious. It’s really there to be accessible to trans artists,” StormMiguel Florez  — whose film will screen in Saturday’s Program 2 — said in a phone interview with the Daily Cal. “There’s something really cool about a festival that celebrates trans film across the spectrum of production value.”

Florez’ film is a 58-second short entitled “A Murder of Porgs,” wherein he parodies a scene from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” with the help of a Chewbacca hat and a porg rice crispy treat.

“What I would like to see more of is trans people getting to make films that aren’t necessarily about being trans. And if the characters happen to be trans, then cool, but the films themselves aren’t about being trans, they’re just films by trans people,” Florez said. “I like that this film is in the Transgender Film Festival because it has nothing to do with being trans; it’s just a cute little comedy piece.”

Mizz June further affirmed the vital importance of transgender storytellers, though she also emphasized the importance of bringing the stories of and issues that most impact the trans community to the screen.

“I believe that there’s so much talent and so many different narratives, so much magic that I think that trans women, specifically trans women of color, can contribute to this world, and I think it’s been exploited for many, many years,” Mizz June said. “ ‘Trans’ is a really hot thing right now. … (But) the narratives, even though they’re stories that are based on us, they’re not being controlled and told by us.”

Mizz June chose to present her video — which she created, storyboarded and co-directed — at SFTFF because it would be received by an audience that would understand its message on an intimate, personal basis. She wishes to start conversations about violence, discrimination and survival within her communities so that more trans people, especially Black trans women, are inspired to create art, helping break these conversations into the general public’s discourse.

“I want to see more. I want to see more of our stories; I want to see more of this creative content put out there,” Mizz June said. “I am eager — I’m hopeful and eager that that’s going to happen.”

The San Francisco Transgender Film Festival will take place Nov. 9-11 at the Roxie Theater.

Caroline Smith covers queer media. Contact her at [email protected].