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2024 TRANS|lations Film Festival preview: Seattle's groundbreaking Transgender cinematic spectacle returns for its 19th year

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Desire Lines — Marie Hinson
Desire Lines — Marie Hinson

I was there 19 years ago for the birth of Three Dollar Bill Cinema's TRANS|lations Film Festival. I helped program the first few, and even conducted an engaging Q&A after an archival screening of the 1986 comedy Something Special, aka Willy/Milly, at the Northwest Film Forum one year. Needless to say, this is one festival that's near and dear to my heart.

Never in a million years could I have predicted just how much TRANS|lations would evolve and mature over the years. With a virtual component running June 6 through 9 and with the in-person component taking over Columbia City for two full days (June 7 and 8), this year's fest brings an excellent international selection of narrative features, documentaries, and shorts to Seattle audiences. There's even a special event at the Seattle Art Museum.

Other highlights include the world premiere of Noah Arthur Woods's I Do This for a Living, a gala opening night screening of Jules Rosskam's Desire Lines, and even a groundbreaking collaboration with the Melbourne Trans Film Festival, TILDE. The whole lineup showcases just how much TRANS|lations has grown over the years while shining a spotlight on Trans creators from all across the globe.

I sat down to chat over the phone with Festival Director Anto(n) Astudillo about this year's TRANS|lations. Here are the edited transcripts of what they had to say:

Sara Michelle Fetters: We're back for the 19th annual TRANS|lations Film Festival. You're now officially the festival director. Congratulations! What's your excitement level right now?

Anto(n) Astudillo — TDB  

Anto(n) Astudillo: I am super excited. ...Last year I was the lead programmer, so I was only focusing on...viewing, rating, and picking films, and reaching out to distributors. Just purely programming work. This year, as the festival director, I got to experience the entire [process]: logistics, production, organization, administration, everything that a festival involves.

I had to bring my experience... [from] like 10 years ago, [when] I was an international producer for this theater festival in Chile, in Santiago. I produced there for seven years in a row, and I brought all of that [to being] TRANS|lations festival director.

That meant reaching out to not just filmmakers but also the artists involved, the screening committee, and making sure that the Three Dollar Bill Cinema board could help me in all the different areas that the festival involves, from marketing to event production, promotion, volunteers — you name it.
It was definitely a challenge. But I took the challenge very happily, because I really love this festival and I really love...our Trans and gender-diverse community in Seattle. I was really excited when I was offered this opportunity.

SMF: And one of those challenges this year is that the festival is a month later than its traditional spot, which I would assume is because of the Seattle International Film Festival taking TRANS|lations' normal early May place on the calendar. What kind of challenges did that present as far as scheduling and programming?

AA: Yeah, and we start running into Pride too...in June....Usually...you always want to try to have your festival at a time where nothing else is happening, because you want people to come and watch the films and come to your events, but that's never the case. ...

I think the challenge is to be able to reach out to folks and do some community outreach and make sure that we're helping each other to uplift all of our programming. I think that's the biggest challenge of moving the festival to a different month of the year.

SMF: You were very excited last year about having so much of the programming in the Columbia City neighborhood. At the time, you were like, "I kind of dream that maybe we can just take over Columbia City and have that be the home base for the festival." Lo and behold, one year later, it does feel like TRANS|lations is doing that for the entire weekend.

AA: It's exciting. I didn't know how the reception was going to be from the audience and from people in Columbia City [in 2023], but this year, again, we're in Columbia City, and we've expanded beyond what we did last year. This year I contacted local bars, like Lottie's Lounge, which is going to be the TRANS|lations spot to go to after screenings on Saturday...[to] have a conversation if they want to take a moment [and] get together and hang out....

We're again having our opening night party at the Royal Room. We're super thankful. We will have performances and a DJ playing that night, so it's going to be super fun.

We're back at Ark Lodge Cinema, and we're using the two [houses] on the bottom floor, so they're wheelchair accessible...

Then we're also using the Beacon. We really like the fact that we get a lot of independent films at TRANS|lations, and those have a really good reception at the Beacon, because their year-round programming fits really well with this program. But, also, we can show a more explicit program, a kinky program, at the Beacon as well. This was something that the screening committee really wanted once again this year.

SMF: But you are also expanding opening day by having an entire short film event at the Seattle Art Museum on Friday afternoon. Could you tell us more about that?

AA: Yes! I'm so excited that the Seattle Art Museum [is letting] us to have a screening event at [its]...huge auditorium — it's 296 people, so this is bigger than our opening night event.

For that, I thought a perfect way to begin this collaboration was to show the program "Queer Futures," which is coordinated with Multitude Films, a production company that has produced four wonderful Queer and Trans films. They're also focusing on our BIPOC community.

I was just really excited to share this lineup with them, this special program that we're having... Most of the directors are BIPOC. It really just highlights the excellence of our Trans community of creators. Our screening community was super excited to show some of those films. I was like, 'Let's just show them all! We can show them at the Seattle Art Museum.'

The museum is also really excited about this collaboration. We really hope we can continue to show work there or have events at the Seattle Art Museum in upcoming years.

SMF: Even though this is a relatively short festival, you still have managed to schedule a number of Pacific Northwest premieres, local premieres, and even a world premiere, I Do This for a Living. Why this film?

I Do This for a Living — IDTFAL  

AA: I feel like...a lot of our filmmakers...[from] our Trans community, our gender-diverse community, are looking for venues to show their work. Most of them are creating work that is honestly brilliant..., but they're not finding distributors and venues. ...And that speaks to [the fact] that we still have a lot to do for our Trans and gender-diverse community of creators. We're having a conversation about this on opening night with a panel of our Trans community of creators.

...I Do This for a Living...is beautiful. ...The director, Noah Arthur Woods, a Nonbinary artist, wanted to find a space. The screening committee loved the film; we all did. It's autofiction: [it] portrays their own life, their own relationship with their family, and their relationship with a Trans woman that plays the part of their partner.

I think it just makes sense to have this film at TRANS|lations. This is something that I keep trying to tell all of our creators that I reach out to when I want to show their films at TRANS|lations: 'We have the community, and we have an audience that is mostly Trans and gender diverse that are really going to appreciate your work.' I think people realize this and love it when we can make it happen. In a similar way, we made it happen with Desire Lines too.

SMF: This is its Pacific Northwest premiere, and that's your opening night presentation. And you are going to have the director Jules Rosskam here, who will be the 2024 Transcend Award winner. What went into that decision, and how excited are you to bring them here for opening night?

AA: First of all, I wanted to say that after talking with the committee and realizing becoming 19 years old as a festival also makes us a grown-up and wiser, we decided to, in an effort to decolonize traditional uses of language within our industry, [change] the name from Trailblazer Award to Transcend Award...

This is our second year giving an award to a notable artist in our industry. Last year we gave it to Isabel Sandoval, and this year I'm really excited to give it to Jules Rosskam. The reason why we picked Jules is because Desire Lines ...highlights the story of Queer revolutionary author and activist Lou Sullivan, who [dedicated] his entire life [to] fighting for the rights of our Trans community. It was super important for me to ...highlight the film [not only] by playing it on opening night but also by giving this award to Jules.

SMF: I'm really excited seeing this partnership that you're having with the Melbourne Trans Film Festival. Can you tell us more about how that came to be and what audiences can expect from this partnership?

AA: I started getting calls from different Trans, Nonbinary, and gender-diverse curators and programmers...because they wanted me to help them with their own festivals. ...And then I got a call from TILDE, the Transgender diverse film festival in Melbourne. 'What did you do last year? How did you do it? How do you put together a festival? How can we make things better for our community?' That's how we started talking. Then we realized maybe we should...exchange films?

So we're really excited that they commissioned two short films...by First Nations creators from Naarm, which is the Indigenous name for Melbourne. I'm super excited to show this work. This is going to be [their] North American premiere... We get to...bring awareness of these creators [to our community], and also next year, ...we'll send two films to TILDE, and hopefully this is something that we can do every year. This most certainly will provide our artists with so [many] more people from other countries interested in their work, so much international presence. It's exciting...

I went to Melbourne...to the TILDE Film Festival, because I wanted to see with my [own] eyes what they were doing. I wanted to learn, obviously, and I wanted also to create not just virtual connections but real physical connections with people. I met Maori Indigenous filmmaker Ramon Te Wake, who is from New Zealand/Aotearoa. I'm showing at TRANS|lations the three first episodes of her TV series The Boy, the Queen & Everything in Between, which is also a North American premiere. It is gorgeous. I really want people to see this work.

SMF: Finally, what do you hope audiences take away from this year's festival. Also, how do you see TRANS|lations continuing to grow in the future?

AA: I think that what we can do as a Trans community...is that we can connect with each other. ...Different Trans film festivals can connect with each other and work together and in the hopes that we can provide our Trans creators with a broader network of people and audiences, and help them grow as creators. So why do we have to be in our own corners in the world and not know about each other when we can actually work together and uplift the work of our creators?

I think, going [to Melbourne] provided a lot of hope. I feel like there is this...huge potential for our Trans community to have our own festivals, our own industry, to be able to do work that we're happy about and where we don't have to sacrifice what we want to say for the sake of people liking it or not. You know what I mean? I see a lot of growth in the upcoming years.

The TRANS|lations Film Festival runs June 6 thru 9 with both virtual and in-person components. A full calendar of events and ticketing information can be found at https://threedollarbillcinema.org/translations