Translations Film Festival 2020: Short Films – Be Well

Fifteen years running, the Translations Film Festival is a jewel in the Seattle community. It was one of the first festivals to quickly adapt and showcase the range of diverse trans voices that are a cornerstone of the community. Given the current state of the world, amidst a devastating global pandemic, it has also been one of the first to adapt to the immediate needs of the situation. The entirety of the festival, run by non-profit Three Dollar Bill Cinema (who also put on the Seattle Queer Film Festival, entering its 25th year this October), has shifted all of their programs to an online context.

To replicate the communal feeling, each programming block was run through a virtual cinema, with Facebook watch parties tacked on. Times like these require radical inventions for the way we do things. Local film festivals are a vital aspect of any film community. It’s always the best way to connect directly with an audience, to find kindred spirits, the people you made the picture for are sure to show up. It’s a blessing that we’ve been enabled access to an online catalog.

Covering a festival in the time of Covid-19 becomes a whole different beast. The primary challenge is that showings were locked into start times, and needed to be watched within their assigned blocks. Perfectly fine in the comforts of a theater, stretched out on a comfy chair with a neat notebook, the perfect pen, and a soda pop. Less so, with a three-year-old climbing over you as you scramble notes on immensely personal films, drawing grotesque animals on your page notes, while you sacrifice the large screen to the blaring nightmare of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, reducing your festival screen to the sorry iPad. It does have the crucial benefit of accessibility. Anyone who could not make the theater, perhaps me, in this child-bound situation, does get to see the films under these different terms. And there is a good bonus that I’m really proud of — my kid’s growing up watching me support diverse voices and engage with voices that are not my own. They will grow up with these things around them and know them as significant to our culture.

The first of three blocks, Be Well (I’ve noticed every festival intro or outro wishes us to “be well” these days), contains but three diverse stories. They are fine portraits of faith, identity, and uniquely relatable circumstances. They set a tone of positive engagement within their communities, a few shorts with social benefits.

Faith Alone

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Faith Alone. Dir. Jess Kung.

Religion often hangs over such festivals like a dark cloud. Faith Alone addresses the challenges of growing as a trans individual head-on. What does it mean to exist within a system that serves as a constant question to your own values? Filmmaker Jess Kung explores the subject through the lens of their own personal challenges. She came of age in the church, choosing to shoot video, as a means not to have to choose sides in the many gendered activities. Smartly, she shares the storytelling duties with her progressive minister — her mother.

The Question

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The Question. Dir. Sarah Wheldon.

During last year’s Translations, I shared a review for The Garden Left Behind (2019). I’m happy to say the film has grown with me. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on it, and it has improved greatly in my memory, as one of the better trans films I have seen. I owe it another visit, as I’ve followed director Flavio Alves closely since (ready for what they do next) and consider him a great advocate, and one of the hardest workers to get an outside voice heard. In that review, I largely found issues with Carlie Guevara’s performances and line-readings that were naturalism-gone-wrong. In The Question, she does not have to provide any answers with lines but performs physically, and it goes a lot better for her. Of the first set, it’s the clear winner — breathless, speechless, genuine.

Trans Dudes with Lady Cancer

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Trans Dudes with Lady Cancer. Dir. Brooks Nelson.

The title of Trans Dudes with Lady Cancer ought to take care of what this short is about. Two transitioned individuals, living in the same environment, find out they have breast cancer and ovarian cancer in the same month. Over a protracted 34 minute runtime, we get to experience the treatment of trans individuals within a medical system still learning boundaries and how to talk about these issues. It’s informative, seeing the way things are, and the pressing concerns of two strong people in a difficult shared scenario. It’s hard to find the proper takeaways. It’s useful therapy for anyone who can relate.

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