In a vibrant medley of story and emotion that sold out across all six of its programs, the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival ran for the 22nd year this weekend at the Mission District’s Roxie Theater.
Founded in 1997 as the world’s first trans film festival, the SFTFF showcases short films from around the world that promote trans and gender non-conforming visibility. Through apocalyptic zombie comedy, heart-wrenching coming of age tales, strobe-lit documentary footage and many other uniquely queer motifs, this year’s films explored issues and circumstances that accompany a vast breadth of trans experiences.
“My heart was pounding pretty much the whole time,” said Dani Chaparro shortly after their film “Consonance” screened at the festival Saturday evening. Already, a line of people hoping to snag tickets for the ensuing 9 p.m. program formed down 16th Street.
“The films here are so dimensional,” Chaparro said. “We have so many intersections, and I think that’s really important to show people.”
“Consonance” according to Chaparro reflects on “the feelings of isolation and pain that come with being your authentic self” through a dreamlike succession of young LGBTQ+ people engaged in painful introspection. It is experimental, like many of the films shown at the festival.
“Our goal has never been to become a giant, glossy film festival,” said Shawna Virago, SFTFF’s Artistic Director. “We don’t aspire to join corporate Hollywood — in fact, it’s quite the opposite. We’re a bit like a punk music label: we reject corporate assimilation.”
SFTFF supports both emerging and established filmmakers, Virago said, especially those “with the least access to resources or cultural power.” This steers the focus to grassroots radical and experimental films that touch on issues like gender, race, and systemic oppression in ways that stretch beyond the limits of most mainstream films.
In a 2018 study of films produced by major studios, GLAAD found that only 18.2% had LGBTQ+ characters — none of whom were transgender or nonbinary. Of those LGBT+ characters , 42% were people of color, compared to 57% in 2017.
“We’re really spotlighting queer people of color,” Chaparro said. “It adds new dimensions to the trans experience. It’s recalling the important role that people of color play in forwarding transgender issues in film, and bringing those experiences to the forefront.”
Nineteen of this year’s 24 films screened at SFTFF featured people of color as main characters.
“We’re proud of the complex, intersectional trans and gender-nonconforming lives, histories and communities we showcase,” said Virago. “It is profoundly important that trans people tell our own stories, instead of cisgender people telling our stories for us and getting it wrong.”