aGLIFF: Like a Virgin on the Runway in Trinidad
Onward through aGLIFF, night 2!
By Andy Campbell,
5:55PM, Sat. Sep. 6, 2008
If there is one sure thing it's this: aGLIFF this year kicks ass. I've gone to one or two screenings in years past, but I'll be darned if I don't feel like a kid in a candy store this year. There are so many tremendous films – and very few of the typical gay cinema fare – boy/girl coming out of the closet, or even worse, the perfect bodied-gay/lesbian extended sex scenes. Now, don't get me wrong, I like sex scenes, sometimes I wish that the gay and lesbian community didn't feel like there was one appropriate body-type and ethnicity to have sex with (i.e. muscular and white).
Let's start with Thursday's program.
The documentary Eleven Minutes (Michael Selditch and Rob Tate, 2007) chronicles the ever-entertaining winner of Project Runway, Jay McCarroll, as he prepares for a show at fashion week and begins to manufacture clothing. The real boon of Eleven Minutes is that it gives viewers a glimpse into the trials of manufacturing clothing. Perhaps the most interesting scenes in the doc are the scenes where McCarroll and his support team are negotiating and waiting on items to be manufactured and sent from China. The clothes that come back are almost never right, and the frustrations that the designer feels are palpable. It's hard not to root for McCarroll; his ideas are playful and thoughtful at the same time. Anyone who doubts McCarroll's talent as a designer should see the film. His clothes are quirky, moddish, fun, and sleek. Everything in the film seems to build towards Fashion Week in New York – but this is not the arena in which McCarroll needs to succeed. He needs to attract buyers and merchants to sell his clothes. While his star power is a sure thing, the sale of his line is always in doubt, and it is this stunning paradox that makes Eleven Minutes worth your time.
After Eleven Minutes I had only 10 minutes to catch my breath and grab a bite to eat before the line started to form for Trinidad (PJ Raval and Jay Hodges, 2008). The film packed the house at the Alamo Ritz proving that you can be a prophet in your own land. The filmmakers were in attendance and the audience was captivated. It's an interesting moment for trans subjects on celluloid. After the mainstream success of a film like Boys Don't Cry, trans-identified subjects have been increasingly visible in the media in a variety of roles, flattering and unflattering. What a documentary like Trinidad contributes to the field is a heart-wrenchingly and exuberant portrait of what transfolks struggle with. The film follows four women who are (or are in the process of) making the transition from male to female in the small town of Trinidad, Colorado, colloquially known as "The Sex-Change Capital of the World." One of the women Raval and Hodges follow is Marci Bowers, the trans surgeon at Trinidad's hospital who performs a great number genital reassignment surgeries. The other two women, Sabrina and Laura, are in the process of renovating and opening a bed and breakfast for patients who have just had Bowers' surgery. Hodges and Raval have an intimacy with their subjects that is rarely seen in documentaries, and the women whose lives they follow are truly inspirational. There is no other way to put it.
Friday Night aGLIFF dedicated two theaters to the centerpiece film, Like a Virgin (Lee Hae-joon and Lee Hae-yeong, 2006). The film follows Oh Dong-gu, a Madonna obsessed sophomore, as he works to lead the life that he knows is his. Dong-gu needs genital reassignment surgery, the money to have it, and the courage to inform his parents of his plan. To get the money, Dong-gu joins his school's Ssireum team (a sport closest to Sumo) so that he can win the cash prize at a tournament. The film is about sex, gender, athletics, class, popular culture, and abuse. But perhaps the most striking element of Like a Virgin is the striking contrast between the uniformity of Korean culture and the engaging nature of Dong-gu's personality. Dong-gu's mother, for example, works at a Disney-esque theme park. Her work attire masks the very real pain she feels for her son and her own ambivalence about his decisions. While she has no money to give her son, Dong-gu's mother gives him a bubble machine instead. It is a joyous and moving film (with a dash of horrific violence) and certainly one of the best of the festival perhaps the best film I've seen all year.