‘ THE TRANS(A)GENDER’ – A Film Programme Curated by James Land
For this essay I have decided to explore a field in which I have a particular interest. Although I cannot say that this is my first choice career wise, selecting films and finding links between them is something that, if only recreationally, I find very pleasing. My own-curated programmes at home always achieve widespread acclaim – despite only ever having a grand audience of one, possibly two, and the links that thread the films together are, at best, tenuous. Once you have seen every one of the 400 plus Blu Ray’s and DVD’S on your shelves, the last remaining and most logical choice is to now re-watch them with a new and reinvigorated interest via the freshly discovered connections between them. In the latest example, to celebrate ‘Movember’, my partner and myself sat through my programme of ‘Great Movie Moustache’s’ (I did say tenuous). The pool of films to choose from was large and, to be honest, could have included any film made in the 1970’s or in which Tom Selleck starred. To make the connections more detailed, I chose films in which the lead characters represent the humble moustache from a different perspective. They were:
There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)
The Great Dictator (Chaplin, 1940)
Serpico (Lumet, 1973)
Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969)
There is more than just the moustache that links the films. In this programme, in descending order, the lead characters in each film are representative of their pecking order in the consumption of an ideology – American Capitalism. It’s obvious; Oil provider, enforcer of ideology that is facilitated by said oil, the keeper of peace for the ideology and lastly, a group of hippies at odds with the ideology (despite ironically riding everywhere on oil guzzling motorbikes!). Of course, this is not the programme which I will present in this document, it is just an indication of the level of detail that one would assume has to be considered before even attempting to curate one. For my dissertation I am directing a short documentary about a pre-confirmation transgender man. With that in mind, here I will present: The Trans(a)gender – A selection of films that celebrate Transgender cinema.
There are many examples of how institutions or cinema’s programme films around the oeuvre of a particular director or actor. As I write, to promote and celebrate the release of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’, the BFI are running a programme of his back catalogue, all projected in 35mm film – a sentiment in itself that alludes to the strong beliefs of Tarantino and something to which I’m sure he would insist upon. (). The BFI are, perhaps, the most notorious institution for topical programming in the UK. Further to their focus on a particular filmmaker, they also curate programmes that celebrate particular genres. Last autumn was the BFI ‘Love Season’. Films such as Doctor Zhivago (Lean, 1966), True Romance (Scott, 1993) and Casablanca (Curtiz, 1942) were screened in a celebration of love on screen and it’s many interpretations (). For my programme, I will be showing four films that represent the transgender community in a balanced but, hopefully, diverse way.
Despite the fact that there are relatively few films that focus on, or include transgender characters, those that are available provide ample opportunity for range – that is, distinctly different individually in either tone, style or nationality, yet uniformly identifiable within the transgender paradigm or genre.
The four films I have chosen are as follows:
Bound (US 1996, L. Wachowski, D. Wachowski)
Tomboy (FRA 2011, Sciamma)
Boys Don’t Cry (US 1999, Pierce)
Beautiful Boxer (THA 2004, Uekrongtham)
The thought process in selecting these films was to try and provide an equal distribution through the programme in terms of which gender it is the protagonists/actors/directors have transitioned to. Boys Don’t Cry revolves around a trans –man, Tomboy around a trans – boy. Beautiful Boxer tells the story through the eyes of a male to female transitioning character whilst, a little differently, although not featuring transgender characters, Bound was co –written and directed by Larry Wachowski – now Lana Wachowski and offers a more contemplative view. For example, the fascination of retrospectively watching a film, having the knowledge available to you now that was not at the time, of the writer-director’s gender. Does it permeate into the film? Are there any references in the performance/script/cinematography or elsewhere that point towards its creator dealing with their gender identification? Also, these films are intentionally selected to depict their subjects from as wider reaching areas and backgrounds as possible. This selection includes two films from starkly contrasting areas in the USA (California and Nebraska) as well as France and Thailand. In the case of Boy’s we have a shocking and pessimistic outcome, though in Tomboy and Boxer less so. For a community of people who are used to a lack of real cinematic range and content that depict the realities of the world that they inhabit, I feel it’s imperative to try and select films that will tell the stories of transgender people from backgrounds and environments to which they are unfamiliar, in turn, inviting a more global viewpoint on transgender life – for better or worse.
My choice of location, based on the assumption that the BFI be off limits, would be elsewhere in London. During my research for my own film, and whilst talking to its subject, it’s clear that London represents the beating heart of the transgender community. Attitudes towards gender and sexuality have always appeared to be more progressive in London than most regional cities bar, perhaps, Manchester (). The Soho district is synonymous with the LGBT scene and at one time was a specific area where bohemians and members of the LGBT community could safely experience the London nightlife. Therefore, the most obvious location for the programme too be unveiled would be the Curzon, Soho.
The BFI already has its own LGBT film festival ‘BFI Flare’, held in March (). There is also the London Transgender Film Festival, which is held in August. To avoid a clash with these already established events, this programme will run in January. This is widely regarded as the worst month to release films in the cinema, and slotting in during a ‘dump month’, as mentioned in The Guardian, would be a sound tactical choice. “the US, January is “dump month” at the movies. The films no studios believe in or care about – the stuff that doesn’t get screened for critics, the stuff that barely gets promoted beyond blurbs from obscure websites and suspicious raves from local TV chefs and weathermen – suddenly become the sole choice available to regular filmgoers hungry for fresh fare (). I already have a primary target audience in the transgender community but the aim is to reach out to all genders and sexes. By very definition this programme will appeal, primarily, to that specific group but my chances of attracting non-transgender cinema enthusiasts are dramatically increased if there are limited alternative options. During this quiet period this is also a beneficial for the cinema. Attempting this programme during the summer months or during the pre Christmas and Oscar season would be almost impossible.
There are many ways in which this programme can be marketed and publicised. Firstly, as this programme will run in the Curzon, they will have a vested interest in attracting customers. Short promo videos will be screened to cinemagoers during the trailers up to three months before the programme starts. Curzon has an app similar to that of the BFI player. On here we will also screen the promo video, directly into peoples homes before they watch any home rental. Online materials will include adverts or sponsored articles on websites such as transliving.co.uk. Print media can include advertisements in publications such as Total Film, Empire – although, this would most likely be less effective than in a more highbrow publication such as Sight and Sound. The former two focuses more of their column inches towards mainstream releases where as the latter concentrates on independent, avant-garde and European productions. There is potential for a conflict of interest as the Sight and Sound is a BFI publication and BFI Flare would be two months away from this programme, however, Flare covers cinema from the whole LGBT spectrum where as this programme is centred towards one aspect of it. Aside from that, this is a curated programme celebrating films that are already in existence. BFI Flare is a competition driven festival featuring new films and content. I feel that there is enough of a contrast to override any initial concern.
On social media there is the ability to tailor ads based on browsing history. Caitlyn Jenner is arguably the most high profile member of the transgender community at present. Any of her articles or posts that trend on social media should be targeted for pop up advertising. An idea I also had was to run a advertising campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which involves the systematic release of photo-shoots involving ordinary members of the transgender community. To add a cinematic feel, the shoots will be recreations of famous film characters from easily recognisable films – the title from each one beginning with a letter that forms the acronym ‘TRANS’. For example:
Romeo and Juliet
No Country for Old Men
Transgender men or women that have made the transition to the sex of which the said characters are would represent the lead characters from the film. Each would have a background colour scheme that featured one of the five stripes in the Transgender flag. These choices might need refining but, as an example of a strategy, I think they indicate the intention. Once all released over a course of days or weeks, they would be released once more alongside each other in one poster – completing both the acronym and the flag. The images would be converted into GIFs that showed a transition from pre confirmation to confirmation. This could include the hashtag #trans(a)gender. Further to this, we would invite people to use the flag for their profile picture in the same way that was implemented around Gay Pride.
I am delighted to be offered the opportunity by the city of Westminster and Curzon cinemas to present this programme of films to you. Apart from my love for the cinema and my desire to promote and show a wide range of films wherever possible, this programme carries a greater significance – to represent a community of people on film that rarely have this opportunity.
The Transgender community are living in exciting but crucial times. Widespread media attention and increasingly divisive debate is raising social consciousness. Despite this, there are many, many men and women, boys and girls living in fear of persecution from the outside community. This selection of films is designed not only as a sentiment of support and encouragement to those at the wrong end of prejudice, but also as a celebration and reminder of the marvellous diversity and vibrancy within the transgender community around the world. I hope non-trans people will enjoy these fantastic films that will warm their hearts, and will let them know more about their neighbours, colleagues and schoolmates.
As with any programme, condensing your initial choices into a selection that is diverse, comprehensive yet somehow still narratively linked is tough. So many brilliant films were considered but in this selection, we feel we are allowing a gentle blend of tonal and emotive experiences that tell the transgender story without compromising the melancholic realities. With selections originating from the USA, France and Asia, what’s fascinating, yet not surprising, is the uniform nature of the transgender oppression and how unprejudiced this oppression is, irrespective of race, geographical location or religion.
Because of the limitations in terms of dates and funding it is never possible to programme as many as films you would like but I hope you will find current selection as fascinating as I do. There are many more transgender films out there but sadly, nowhere near enough. This community of people is vibrant, warm and has so many heartbreaking and heartwarming stories to tell. Hopefully, someone may see one of these films and go out there and tell them through the sensual and visceral medium of cinema that we all love.
James Land – Curator
http://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/jan/08/awardsandprizes.features – 8/1/2007 – accessed 2/1/16
Beautiful Boxer (THA 2004, Uekrongtham. GMM Pictures)
Bound (US 1996, L. Wachowski, D. Wachowski. Gramercy Pictures)
Boys Don’t Cry (US 1999, Pierce. Fox Searchlight)
Casablanca (US 1942, Curtiz. Warner Bros.)
Doctor Zhivago (US 1966, Lean. MGM)
Easy Rider (US 1969, Hopper. Columbia Pictures)
Serpico (US 1973, Lumet. Paramount)
The Great Dictator (US 1940, Chaplin. United Artists)
The Hateful Eight (US 2015, Tarantino. The Weinstein Company)
There Will Be Blood (US 2007, Anderson. Miramax)
Tomboy (FRA 2011, Sciamma. Pyramide)
True Romance (US 1993, Scott. Warner Bros.)
http://www.educationuk.org/global/articles/lgbt-uk/ – accessed 12/1/16
http://www.bfi.org.uk/love – accessed 12/1/16
http://www.bfi.org.uk/flare – accessed 14/1/16
http://www.educationuk.org/global/articles/lgbt-uk/ – accessed 14/1/16