Rare is the film that shows trans people existing on their own terms, doing what makes them happy without the weight of explaining themselves every minute. Out Loud, a documentary that follows Trans Chorus of Los Angeles through their public concert debut at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall in 2016, is beautiful in its narrative of trans triumph told through TCLA members' voices.
The process of finding the exact story for Out Loud involved getting as much content as possible to find good beginning and end points. Jill Shinefield (who produced the film with director Gail Willumsen under their Gemini Productions shingle) said they shot over six months' worth of footage, from early rehearsals to TCLA's first big performance, as well as home interviews with individual members. Shinefield said that the filming period and intensity was important in order to capture the improvement of the chorus members and to show how much more comfortable they became performing together. "They were getting better, slightly better with each week," she recalled. "They were getting to know each other. They were getting comfortable in their skins as performers. And it just became clear to us that we couldn't just drop in now and then to film. We had to film everything."
Although the documentary's overall narrative is simple – the chorus rehearses, gets better, then has their hard-earned and inspiring performance at the film's end – what makes it special are the intercut moments of personal time spent with several chorus members in their homes and workplaces. "When you go and you film someone, you can't film their whole life," Willumsen explained, and said the goal is often to sift through until finding something that "crystallizes who they are." Stories from members like Rex, who goes through their chest reconstruction surgery and recovery process during the hectic leadup to the chorus' performance, or Ann, who opened up about her experiences as a trans woman metalworker and coordinator of an all-trans comedy showcase, display dazzling snapshots of actual, lived-in trans experiences.
Part of this drive to present these stories in a nuanced, straightforward style came from Willumsen's experiences in screening the documentary for fellow creatives – most of whom were cisgender and not very knowledgeable about the trans community. Their feedback tended toward wanting more Gender 101 within the film, which Willumsen considered to be unnecessary. "At some point it's like, 'We're not doing a primer on transgender terms and terminology.'" Without taking pauses every minute to explain what nonbinary means, the chorus members receive a deeper, more interesting portrayal. If the documentary makes cis audiences hungry for more basic knowledge, there are plenty of resources to find afterward. "The information is out there," she said.
Since Out Loud began filming in 2016, the world has changed more and more – and not often in trans people's favor. Willumsen said they envisioned the documentary as a way to preserve a piece of LGBTQIA history. As such, Shinefield expressed that they were nervous, in the time before the film released, that the story might not be relevant anymore. "[Yet] here we are now, four years later," she said, "and we feel like it's just as important."
Out Loud will be available starting Aug. 8 on aGLIFF’s Virtual Festival platform. There’s a live Q&A with director Gail Willumsen and producer Jill Shinefield at 3pm Sunday, Aug. 9.
All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival presents aGLIFF 33: Prism streaming festival, Aug. 6-16. Passes $65, or $35 for a single weekend (Aug. 6-12 or 10-16). Tickets and info at www.agliff.org/agliff-33.
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