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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 5, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 18
2017 Translations Film Festival Preview

Festival Director Sam Berliner on bringing Transgender stories to the masses
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2017 Translations Film Festival Preview

Festival Director Sam Berliner on bringing Transgender stories to the masses

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

The 12th annual Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival began last night with director Jacqueline Gares' rousing and insightful documentary Free CeCe, the screening signifying the start of 11 straight days of features, docs and shorts revolving around Transgender stories and themes. It's a festival that rests near and dear to my heart, especially when you consider that I helped program the darn thing back during its fresh-faced early days when it was tentatively poking its head out from behind the closet door. As such, the fact Translations has expanded so considerably these past few years has me grinning ear-to-ear.

A lot of thanks for this must go to Translations Festival Director and Three Dollar Bill Cinema Volunteer Coordinator Sam Berliner. He's been in charge of the festival for five years now, so the fact it's quickly blossomed into one of Seattle's must-see cinematic events is in large part due to his steady leadership. I sat down with Sam for a conversation to talk about the festival, its expansion and where he sees Translations going in the future. Here are some of the highlights from that brief back-and-forth:

Sara Michelle Fetters: First off, even if my input was minimal, thank you for reaching out and having me assist in this year's programming. It was a joy to return to Translations. With that in mind, what were you looking for this year as you began to program? What were you hoping you and your team were going to discover?

Sam Berliner: It is always exciting when the team starts our research process diving into the new films each year. I always hope for fresh stories, whether that be from other cultures and perspectives (this year we have three narrative films about Iranian Trans men; isn't that amazing?!), or films that highlight aspects of the Trans experience that need more global attention (like Free CeCe and its examination of the staggering rates of violence towards Trans women of color) or films that recognize the complexity of being Trans as just one aspect of a person and the intersectionality of identity (like our shorts program 'Intertwined'). I am always looking for films that will be meaningful to our Seattle community, both as a Trans audience member and for folks who are new to the community and want to learn.

Sara Michelle Fetters: What has that been like for you, then? Programming this Festival the past few years? Watching it grow and evolve to the point it's now the biggest Transgender Film Festival in the United States?

Sam Berliner: We're actually pretty sure that Translations is now the largest Transgender film festival in the world! Isn't that terrific? It has been a huge honor for me to direct Translations for the past five years. Seeing it grow is unbelievably gratifying. Knowing that we are able to create such special experiences for our community is what drives me to do this work and to keep it growing. It is an amazing time to be a filmmaker as well as a programmer with a huge explosion of trans-related media out there to choose from. Translations reflects this in our growth and in the breadth of film programs we are able to offer.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Why does the Translations Film Festival continue to matter? Why do Transgender films need their own exclusive showcase?

Sam Berliner: Translations is important because film is such a powerful medium. It is unbelievably affirming for a gender-nonconforming or Trans person to see their stories reflected on the big screen. And it is an incredibly useful tool for allies to develop empathy and understanding for and about Trans folks. Having the festival focus solely on Trans films creates a safe space for community building, resource sharing, and education. It also shows that Trans films, stories and people matter and are deserving of our very own specialized showcase. It is one thing to be included in a larger LGBTQ festival, which is of course important in its own way, especially in building connections across the wider queer community, but it is quite another thing to focus every single screening on Transgender stories, to emphasize gender rather than sexuality. Especially in the current political climate, we need these types of spaces and I am grateful to help create this one for our community.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Do you worry that the festival is making too bold a leap this year? That it's too big?

Sam Berliner: Not at all! Translations has been bursting at the seams for a number of years, and I am thrilled to be making the jump from one long weekend to now two, with a few screenings and events during the week as well. With a four-day festival it was extremely competitive, since we only had a handful of available slots. With more and more Trans films being made the decision process was getting harder and we had to turn down a lot of great movies. Now we have space to breathe and an opportunity to tell so many more stories! I am thrilled and excited to have expanded the festival this year.

Sara Michelle Fetters: How does the Translations Film Festival continue to fit into Three Dollar Bill Cinema's overall mission?

Sam Berliner: Three Dollar Bill Cinema's mission is to strengthen, connect and reflect diverse communities through queer film and media, and Translations absolutely has continued to do just that. With the expanded festival we're able to screen over 70 films, including six different shorts programs, from 20 countries! Through our community co-presenter program that also continues to expand we are able to reach audience members who otherwise may not have heard about the festival and who are in need of resources and support that can be found at Translations.

Sara Michelle Fetters: What are some of the highlights from this year's festival that just make you sit back and smile?

Sam Berliner: I'm personally thrilled to be screening Real Boy on Saturday, May 13 at the Northwest Film Forum with director Shaleece Haas and subjects Ben Wallace and Joe Stevens (of the Seattle-originating band Coyote Grace) in attendance. I associate produced this film with my good friend Shaleece and have been witness to its amazing growth from just the two of us working at her kitchen table, to the international attention and awards the film has now garnered. In fact, the film won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at TWIST just this past fall! I am so excited to share Real Boy with our Translations audience. Plus, after the film, Joe and Ben will play a concert at about 9:30pm at the Northwest Film Forum, which is going to be awesome!

We're also partnering with the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington to bring the film Criminal Queers to the festival. The screening will be held at the gallery on Thursday, May 11 in conjunction with the exhibition 'MOTHA and Chris E. Vargas present: Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects' which all audience members are encouraged to check out. Directors Chris Vargas and Eric Stanley will be in attendance, and together with Kioyomi Fujikawa they'll be having an extended post-screening conversation.

Sara Michelle Fetters: What else are you excited about audiences discovering at this year's festival?

Sam Berliner: We're doing something new at this year's festival with 'No Dumb Questions: How to be a Trans Ally,' a special free event at the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library on Monday, May 8. There will be two sessions, and we'll be screening the Sundance award winning short film No Dumb Questions. After that I'll be doing a Trans 101 training followed by questions from the audience. Folks can ask whatever they want and there will also be an anonymous question box. This is really an opportunity for community members who are new to Trans issues to have a safe space to learn and ask questions. I have been doing these types of trainings for the past seven years for various groups, schools and nonprofit organizations and am happy to offer this event through Translations. We're asking folks to reserve their seat on our ticketing website since it's proving to be quite popular.

I'm also very happy to be offering an increased number of free and discounted screenings this year to help make the festival more accessible. The first screening on each day is only $5 online and $6 at the box office, while every screening at the 12th Avenue Arts building is free.

In addition, we've got a bunch of special guests and filmmakers attending Translations which is one of the reasons film festivals are so much fun. Free CeCe and Real Boy I've already mentioned, but there's also So Long Suburbia where director Samuel Shanahoy and many of the cast members will be in attendance, and as always a number of shorts programs feature their filmmakers there in person to talk about their respective films.

Considering the current political climate, there is so much work to be done that it can be daunting. Translations is a great opportunity to connect with resources and groups in the community. In addition to our co-presenters, all listed on our website, we are partnering with LGBTQ Allyship again this year to table at a number of screenings to register people to vote, collect signatures around 'Decline to Sign' and to learn about Democracy Vouchers. Additionally, we're partnering with Black & Pink Letter Writing this year to raise awareness around the violence of the prison industrial complex against LGBTQ people, to write postcards to incarcerated folks and to sign people up to be pen pals. We're also partnering with Out of the Closet for a special clothing swap where, between May 4 and May 14, folks can swap out clean clothes for alternative garments free of charge. Just say you're part of Translations!

Sara Michelle Fetters: What's next for Sam? What do you want to do next?

Sam Berliner: Well, right after the festival I want to sleep! [laughs] After that I am excited to continue my work as a senior programmer for Three Dollar Bill Cinema, to help curate our Outdoor Cinema program in August and help program TWIST this fall. As always I am looking forward to continuing to grow Translations, am excited to attend Frameline: the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival in San Francisco in June and work the Gender Odyssey Conference here in Seattle in August which I've been so lucky to attend since 2009. My group Queer Scouts Seattle has also been growing and we have a camping trip planned for September. Additionally, I hope to get cracking on the next episode of my film Dating Sucks: A Genderqueer Misadventure, an animated webseries about my successes, failures and confusions trying to date as a genderqueer Trans person.

Sara Michelle Fetters: What else is going on with Three Dollar Bill Cinema? What does the future hold?

Sam Berliner: Three Dollar Bill Cinema has had some recent staffing updates since with Danny Tayara taking over as the Festival Director for TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival as well as assuming the mantle of year-round senior programmer. For myself, I have come onboard as a full time year-round employee, after moving up from San Francisco in August, to continue directing Translations as well as be a senior programmer for the organization.

We had a fantastic auction back in March and are thrilled to have expanded our Reel Queer Youth program to two weeks, one in Tacoma and one in Seattle. Folks can submit their applications to attend or mentor online. Also, Outdoor Cinema is just around the corner at Cal Anderson Park on the second, third and fourth Fridays in August. Keep an eye out for info on that event soon.

Sara Michelle Fetters: Where does Translations go next?

Sam Berliner: Just as the community, society at large and media representations continue to evolve, so will Translations. It's an exciting time. I hope to continue to bring meaningful and poignant content to our Seattle-area audiences for Trans folks and our allies. I hope to continue to reach audiences who are in need of these positive messages and community resources, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sara Michelle Fetters: At the end of the day, what do you hope audiences are talking about after Translations comes to an end?

Sam Berliner: I hope that audiences feel affirmed, educated and supported. That they find comfort and healing in resonant stories and a safe space to watch them in. I hope they feel reinvigorated in the continued fight for love and justice for our community. We've got work to do!

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2017 Translations Film Festival Preview

Festival Director Sam Berliner on bringing Transgender stories to the masses

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