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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 7, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 19
Film fest 'the heart and soul' of Trans culture
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Film fest 'the heart and soul' of Trans culture

by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival 2010
May 13-16
Various Seattle Venues


Three Dollar Bill Cinema is currently holding Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival. Now in its fifth year, the festival brings an eclectic mix of short films, documentaries, comedy, and compelling drama to movie screens throughout Seattle. Local film expert and Seattle Gay News writer Sara Michelle Fetters spoke with us about her involvement in the festival and the importance of spreading the message of the Trans movement through cinema.

Nick Ardizzone: Tell me a little about Three Dollar Bill Cinema's Translations film festival.

Sara Michelle Fetters: The Translations film festival is a short, weekend-long festival celebrating Transgender filmmakers and films, as well as Trans-related images in film in general. It's a chance to spotlight a vital part of the LGBT community that, sadly, tends to get overlooked. By grabbing films from all over the world, viewers get an amazing spectrum of ideas and concepts related to the Transgender community. People tend to think the spectrum as it relates to Trans issues is rather small - that it's a relatively simple to describe the journey between genders, either male to female or vice-versa. But that's not the case at all, as the gender spectrum is broader than the rainbow itself.

Ardizzone: Why is a Trans film fest so important to the LGBT community? Aren't there enough Queer movie festivals already?

Fetters: As a film critic, I totally understand where that question comes from. There are so many different festivals spotlighting so many communities that it can quickly become a chore to deal with them all. Jewish Film Festivals. Scandinavian Film Festivals. Natural World Film Festivals. African American Film Festivals. Lesbian & Gay Film Festivals. A film festival about microbes dancing polka on Hollywood movie star toothbrushes. While I obviously made that last one up, I think you get what I'm going at.

But the thing we forget is that each of these communities offers up something vital and different that we don't normally get the opportunity to fully explore in your normal, all-encompassing film festival. Why do we need a Jewish Film Festival when so many Jewish films get screened during the Seattle International Film Festival? Why do we need a Transgender Film Festival when Trans-related films are certainly going to be screened during the Lesbian & Gay Film Festival?

I think the answers to these questions are relatively simple. In a festival like SIFF or SLGFF, you get only a taste of what films about those cultures and communities can offer. They are the appetizer to what these shorter, more focused festivals can deliver. In other words, a festival like Translations is the full meal. It is the heart and the soul. It is an exploration into a culture and a community you just don't get the chance to experience in a broader setting. So do I think a festival like Translations is important? You bet I do.

Ardizzone: This is the fifth annual festival. How has it changed over the last five years? Have you noticed that the movies in the festival are progressing or changing at all?

Fetters: Having been involved as programmer three of the five years of the festival, including the inaugural festival back in 2006, I definitely think things have changed over the years. Not only have submissions to Translations increased, personally I think the quality of the films - whether they be shorts, documentaries, or narrative features - has also risen as well. While I sadly did not have the time to program this year's festival, I have seen a handful of the films submitted for potential inclusions. I was struck by how the quality level has risen in so many of them, in how the subjects they chose to broach and the way they chose to explore them was more original and inspiring than in years past.

Ardizzone: The film festival will include a panel discussion about Trans imagery in film. What kinds of things will the panel discuss? Will it be particularly important for the LGBT community to hear?

Fetters: [Laughs.] Of course it will be important for the LGBT community to hear! How could it not be? Imagine all of the Trans images we have been bombarded with on reality television over the decades. From Donahue to Jerry Springer to America's Next Top Model to RuPaul's Drag Race to TRANSform Me, things have evolved in a way that is beyond extraordinary. Just think about how far Trans images on television have come. Can you imagine a world where a show like Friends would openly and honestly talk about what it is like to be the child of a Transsexual father? Can you imagine a time when a network station like ABC would allow a show like Ugly Betty to feature a major Transgender character and not present her as a comedic stereotype?

It is an evolving and changing world, and reality television has explored Transgender issues in ways many of us could never have imagined 10, maybe even five years ago. The Transgender community has been the butt of jokes, the fodder for talk-show shock and awe for so long that for it to be suddenly taken seriously in a way that is empowering and educational is something we should be looking at. While these images can be construed in a multitude of ways - good, bad, and in-between - there have been major strides made the likes of which kind of boggle my mind. I'm hoping that in this panel we really get the chance to talk about them, get to discuss the positives and the negatives and what all this exposure means for those contemplating the exploration of their own gender identity. So will it be important? I certainly hope so, these issues and themes are ones just about everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity, can - and should - be able to relate to.

Ardizzone: For you, personally, what has been the most fulfilling part of being involved in the Trans film fest?

Fetters: The best part has just been watching it mature and expand over these past five years. Having been involved one way or another since its birth, seeing Translations come into its own has really filled my heart with joy.

I tend not to talk about my own gender transition when I write. As a film critic, I tend to think it doesn't have any bearing as to whether I think something like Iron Man 2 or Letters to Juliet or Twilight is worth a viewer's time. But who I am does have influence, and to be able to see a festival explode in popularity and quality that is so close to my heart means far more to me than I would ever normally express. To even be able to play as small a part in the festival as I am this year is hugely important to me, and anytime Three Dollar Bill Cinema wants my assistance or support for Translations, I can pretty much guarantee they're going to get it, no matter how many mountains I have to move to give it to them.


Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival 2010 continues through May 16. Visit www.threedollarbillcinema.org for more information and festival passes.

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