Recently, Full Frame released a statement against House Bill 2, the discriminatory legislation barring transgender people from using the public restroom that matches their gender identity. "We are proud to be a part of the documentary community, providing a safe space for myriad perspectives in an effort to cultivate empathy," the statement read in part. The claim has substance: Documentaries, as intimate portraits of specific lives, are uniquely powerful tools against bigotry, which thrives on ignorance and generalization. Four of the most interesting films at this year's festival take up LGBTQ issues. Though each has a different cultural perspective, each finds the same heteronormative pressures around the world.
CALL ME MARIANNA (April 7, 4:10 p.m.)—"Please talk to me like a son," says the mother of a Polish transgender woman seeking gender-affirmation surgery. It's one of many heartbreaking, maddening moments in director Karolina Bielawska's moving documentary about Marianna's struggle for self-actualization, as she batters herself against bureaucracy and prejudice. "It's absolute bliss," Marianna enthuses after her surgery, running on the beach in a swimsuit. It's a hard-won, joyous moment with more adversity in store. Intercutting Marianna's journey with scenes of her rehearsing her story with a community theater group, the film aptly uses music by Antony and the Johnsons to soundtrack the difficult, courageous transformation into oneself.
OUT RUN (April 8, 7:10 p.m.)—The world premiere of S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons's documentary on Bemz Benedito, who wants to be the first transgender woman in the Congress of the Philippines, illuminates the complex cultural status of LGBTQ people in a Catholic nation where paternalistic prejudice jostles with a rich "bakla" culture and Ladlad, the world's only LGBTQ political party. Grassroots activism and unusual alliances lead up to Election Day in Benedito's race against a homophobic preacher.
KIKI (April 8, 10:10 p.m.)—In the New York City subculture called Kiki—a crucible of art and activism, and a descendent of the Ballroom scene—different "houses" of young LGBTQ people of color compete in Kiki balls filled with voguing and fashion. Sara Jordenö and Twiggy Pucci Garçon, a Kiki insider, followed seven community members for three years, tracking the struggles with poverty and prejudice—and the beautiful self-expression—that make Kiki, which serves as a family for those who have been shunned in their own, so vibrant and vital.
THE BALLAD OF FRED HERSCH (April 9, 4:10 p.m.)—Fred Hersch is widely regarded as one of the finest jazz pianists and composers alive today. That's remarkable enough for a white man from the Midwest, before you factor in that Hersch is openly gay and HIV positive. Still relatively rare in jazz today, it was positively seismic when Hersch came out in the early nineties. Directors Charlotte Lagarde and Carrie Lozano have crafted an intimate portrait of a remarkable life that shows how even acceptance can be seamed with prejudice. Hersch's mother tells the requisite story of him picking out songs on the piano at a preternatural age; she also recalls her shame at his coming out, which she blithely refers to as "dirty laundry." The film also deals with Hersch's medically induced coma and recovery in the late 2000s, but it's not all hardship. It's also a touching love story featuring Hersch's longtime partner, Scott Morgan. "The first time I met him, the adjective I would use would be radiant," Hersch says. Top it off with plenty of Hersch's radiant musicianship, and this is one not to miss.
This article appeared in print with the headline "LGBTQ Rights Reel."