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SXSW: Clean

Sandra Pankhurst was an incredible woman. She lived through so much trauma in her early years, more than anyone should bear. Sandra knew how trauma could effect people and was inspired to start her business: Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services in Melbourne, Australia. Her team specializes in all kinds of cleaning, in particular hoarding cases and trauma clean-ups after suicides, murders and other sudden deaths. Having to deal with the death of a loved one is already such a burden, Sandra felt that she could help people by taking on the responsibility of cleaning up the aftermath. When she began her business in the 1990s, trauma cleaning was not an available service and she saw a crucial need that she could fill. Sandra and her team never judge or meddle. They’re just there to provide a valuable service.

Directed by Lachlan McLeod, Clean takes a two-prong approach telling the story of Sandra Pankhurst’s difficult life journey as well as that of her business. The subject of trauma cleaners is a fascinating one and anyone intrigued by the subject will find the documentary very rewarding. Sandra herself was charismatic and endlessly interesting. So many aspects of her life are explored including her traumatic adoption story, the search for her birth mother, her journey as a transgender woman, her health struggles and her triumphs as a business owner and public speaker.

The documentary feels disjointed, depends a bit too much on reveals and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Sandra was fiercely private in regards to some aspects of her life so there are some things that the filmmakers just couldn’t show. With that said, the filmmakers show a lot of respect for their main subject Sandra as well as her cleaning team and their clients. While the film might leave viewers wanting more, it’s still well worth a watch.

Clean had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

See You Then (2021)

SXSW: See You Then

“The need to transition was like this awful noise, this endless ringing in my head.”

It’s been over 15 years since Kris (Pooya Mohseni) and Naomi (Lynn Chen) have seen each other. After their break-up, Kris transitioned to become the woman she always knew she was leaving Naomi hurt and confused. Kris now faces the challenges of being a woman in the tech world and seeing her dream of becoming a parent slip away from her. Naomi has abandoned her career as a performance artist and pursued the traditional route of getting married and children. She struggles to understand Kris’ transition. Years later the two reunite, confronting the past and who they are today. The two must heal their deep divide and reconcile with themselves about they truly want in their lives.

Through conversation, See You Then chronicles the story of two women as they unpack years of hurt feelings and confusion to better understand each other and themselves. It’s easy to become emotionally invested in these characters. We live in a time when society is questioning what it means to be a woman and a transgender women. See You Then offers perspective and understanding to add to that conversation while bringing all the relevant emotions to the surface. The film is directed and co-written by a transgender woman, Mari Walker, and stars a transgender woman, Pooya Mohseni. Lynn Chen and Mohseni offer first-class performances.

See You Then revels in its simplicity giving viewers an opportunity to do a deep dive into an important and relevant social dynamic.

See You Then had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 SXSW Film Festival.

Slamdance: In France Michelle is a Man’s Name

Michael (Ari Damasco) travels back home to visit his estranged parents in the rural countryside. His mother (Olga Sanchez) and father (Jerry Carlton) are still coming to terms with Michael being their transgender son who previously went by Michelle. Michael and his father travel into the city where his father tries to initiate Michael into what he considers the standard right of passage into manhood.

In France Michelle is a Man’s Name is a quiet yet powerful short film about identity and the cruelty of our gender binary culture. Directed by Em Weinstein, the film explores themes of acceptance, understanding and the pressure of societal norms. I was particularly struck by Damacso and Carlton’s performances. They play well off each other. The tension between the two is palpable but so is the unspoken love they have for each other, even if it leads to the father’s misguided actions. 

In France Michelle is a Man’s Name was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Marilyn

Writer/director Martin Rodríguez Redondo’s feature film debut Marilyn tells the story of a young man struggling with his sexual identity in a society that refuses to understand or accept. It’s based on the true story of Marcelo Bernasconi, now Marilyn Bernasconi, a transgender woman whose crime became a media sensation over a decade ago. To reveal that crime is to spoil the ending of the film so implore you, if you don’t know the story do not Google before you watch the film.

Set in rural Argentina, Marilyn stars Walter Rodriguez as Marcos, the son of a lower class family who runs a farm on land they rented from a wealthy landowner. When his father dies suddenly, Marcos, his mother and his brother are left in charge and struggle to keep the farm going. Marcos steals women’s clothes and jewelry and on the night of the carnival transforms himself into Marilyn. This is where he is truly free to be himself. He has the support of his best friend Laura (Josefina Paredes), but others, including the son of a landowner, Facundo (Rodolfo Garcia Werner), who rapes him after Carnival, and his mother tries to deny him his freedom of expression and his sexuality. Marcos is facing immense pressure to live life according to gender norms. What will it take for Marcos to be free to be Marilyn?

Marilyn is a raw, spare and harrowing film. It lingers, allowing the viewer to really appreciate Marcos/Marilyn’s struggle. Rodriguez brings a sensitivity to the role that makes it feel genuine. Redondo shows great promise as a feature film director. The film ends abruptly at the aforementioned crime and it was Redondo’s intention not to make this a true crime film and he says “there’s no rational way to understand a crime, it was necessary to respect that mystery…”

Ultimately the we understand what led Marcos/Marilyn to the point of no return. However, the film holds the viewer at arm’s length. We’re with Marcos/Marilyn the whole time but we don’t really get to know this character all too well. 

Overall the film felt unique in that it wasn’t a coming-of-age story, a coming out story or a story about transition. It focused solely on the struggle. We know after the movie fades to black that there lies a much bigger story to tell on the horizon.

Marilyn opens in L.A. at Laemmle Music Hall today. It will be available through Breaking Glass Pictures on DVD/VOD on April 30th.

DOC NYC: Family in Transition

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Transgender people do not exist in a vacuum. Not only does the transition mean a painful rebirth for the individual but its also a harbinger of big change for the people in their lives. And when there is a spouse and children to contend to, how will this major life shift affect them?

The Israeli documentary Family in Transition tells the story of the Tsuk family living in a conservative Jewish community in the coastal city of Nahariya. Amit and his wife Galit have been married 20 years and known each other for 27. They’re incredibly close bond deepens when Amit reveals to Galit that he is a woman and wants to transition. Galit and their four children are supportive of Amit as he transitions. We follow their journey from Amit’s birthday party, to daughter Agam’s Bat Mitzvah to Galit and Amit’s ceremony as they renew their vows and remarry as women. It’s a two year process from Amit’s revelation, to the hormone treatment, to the gender reassignment surgery in Thailand and to the wedding vows. This is a portrait of a beautiful marriage and a close knit family supporting their own through a difficult time.

But the Tsuk family’s story doesn’t end here. Something shifts for Galit when she feels taken for granted and can’t find the emotional balance in her marriage with Amit that she craves. You can only give so much of yourself before you’re going to need to take something back. This is where life for the Amit and Galit takes a sharp and unexpected turn. Their journey begs the question, who do you want to be?

Family in Transition was directed by Ofir Trainin and premiered at this year’s DOC NYC. This fascinating documentary is not afraid to tackle some harsh truths about gender dynamics within the family sphere. The sudden shift in the Tsuk’s journey was surprising and revelatory. Going into it in more detail would spoil the film for those unfamiliar with the story. Trainin had this to say about the film in the official director’s statement:

“The main goal of Family in Transition is to expose a unique family that can teach us all how to accept the difference in one another. The Tsuk family breaks social conventions and helps change what we though we knew about gender, partiy, parenthood and transgender issues… By embracing the different, I hope we can work towards creating a world where transgender people can live a normal life and be accepted by their community.”

Family in Transition will open in Los Angeles on November 16th and in New York on November 23rd.

I encourage you to read transgender film critic Danielle Solzman’s excellent review of this film.

 

 

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