Divergenti - Trans Film Festival 2020

Dr. Sunil Deepak, 5 January 2021

One of the advantages of the on-going Covid-19 pandemic is that film-festivals have been forced to go online. When we lived in Bologna, I had participated a few times in Divergenti, the film festival on the Trans-themes organised annually by Movimento Identità Trans-Sessuale (MIT). However, that was no longer possible ever since we had shifted to Schio some years ago. The last Divergenti festival held in November 2020 was held online and this gave me an opportunity to watch some of the panel discussions and films.

Alice Junior film still

As I have already participated in a few LGBT-themed film festivals, often I find the films repetitive without many new ideas. The challenge is to find something new and different. This post is about those films from the festival which had something new for me.

Alice Junior

Credits: Director - Gil Baroni, Writers: Luiz Bertazzo and Adriel Nizer, Actors: Anna Celestino Mota (Alice), Surya Amitrano (Taisa), Emmanuel Rosset (Jean Genet, Father), Matheus Moura (Bruno), Gustavo Piaskoski (Guilherme), Production Year 2019, Duration: 90 min.

Among the full-length feature films in the festival, my favourite was Alice Junior. It is a coming-of-age story of a Brazilian trans-teen girl called Alice Celestino, her dreams of her first kiss and her discovery of her sexuality. Overall it is a positive film with some very nice music and some nicely done scenes. It received the best film award at this festival.

Story: Alice is a teen Trans Youtuber from Recife, with a large number of followers and a supportive and understanding father. Her father is transferred to a small town (Araucárias do Sul) in Paraná in the south-east of Brazil. Alice has to leave her friends and well-integrated life in Recife and join a Catholic school, which refuses her Trans identity. Teachers call her Celestino (her birth name), force her to dress as a boy and ask her to use the male toilet. A boy (Guilherme) bullies her and so Alice gets into fights. Slowly she reclaims her Trans identity and makes friends, especially with Taisa and her boyfriend Bruno.

Alice Junior film poster

Comments: I enjoyed watching this film because it was a human story rich with emotions. There are countless musical films of this genre where a girl comes to live in a new town and after some difficulties makes new friends in her new school and at the end also finds love. Seeing that same story through the lens of a young trans girl adds a novel touch to the genre.

This film has different sequences about problems faced by young trans persons, which made me reflect. For example, the issue about the use of toilets. The school does not allow Alice to use female toilets and she is unsafe in the male toilets. The only option for her is to go to the toilet during the class hours but her teacher does not allow her, in one sequence forcing her to pee in her pants, while some boys of her class share the video of this episode on the Youtube to bully her. I thought that this sequence was very effective in showing the constant threat of different kinds of violence which trans-persons can face. The sequence at the swimming pool party where Guilherme physically force-opens Alice's bikini to show that she has external breast prosthesis was another such scene. Yet, in spite of different such sequences, the film does not abandon its positive vibes and looks at inclusion of a young trans person in a school in a light-hearted manner accompanied by beautiful music.

The film also touches on different shades of sexuality. Many films about trans persons also focus on a binary view of sexuality and thus trans-women are almost always shown in love with cis-men. In this film, Alice while dreaming of her first kiss from Bruno, instead gets it from a girl who has a crush on her. It is a very well shot scene and I liked the way Alice reacts to this kiss, which underlines that her sexuality also has many shades. It is scenes like this which add deeper meanings to the rom-com feel of the film.

Divieto di Transito - Access Prohibited

Credits: Directed by Roberto Cannavò, Duration: 15 min.

Summary: This short film is an interview of Porpora Marcasciano, the president of MIT. I had met Porpora a few times when I lived in Bologna and thus I was curious to hear her story. She talks about her early experiences in the south of Italy where she had grown up and her decision to leave her home town to shift to the north, where there was more openness and acceptance towards trans persons.

In her interview Porpora also talks about her adolescence, her first sexual experiences, the psychological and verbal aggressions, her exclusion by male classmates, some of whom  reach out to her furtively for sex. She also shares her experiences about her initial life as a prostitute in Rome including her days in prison and how that led to meeting other trans persons and the beginning of their collective to fight for their rights (below Porpora in the MIT office in Bologna a few years ago).

Porpora Marcasciano, President MIT Bologna, Italy - Image by S. Deepak

The last part of her interview is about her arrival in Bologna and finding support from the city to open the first trans centre and how it led to setting up of MIT. She mentions the key role played by Marcella di Folco, a well known trans personality and activist of Bologna, who had acted in many films and had died in 2010.

I liked this film for the way in which Porpora shares her journey of life.

I Am Who I Say I Am

Credits: Directors: Jayne Rowlands e Flavio Ferrari, Duration 5 minutes

This short film is about a trans youngman Mazen Masoud, who used to be an anaesthetist in Lebanon and was forced to leave his country due to threats from radical Islamists. You can watch this film here.

If you have difficulties in watching it here, you can also watch it on YouTube. The film briefly touches on the challenges he faced in his country and about his decision to flee and to ask for asylum in Europe. It also touches on the difficulties of being a trans-refugee because his documents did not match the person he was. Masoud is today active in MIT.

Compared to the trans-women, the challenges faced by trans-men are much less known. This film remains on the surface and does not really make much effort to give a glimpse of Mazen's personal world, but then it is just 5 minutes long!

Tanti Triangoli Rosa - Many Pink Traingles

Credits: Directed by Luca Gaetano Pira, Duration: 28 min.

This documentary film is about not forgetting the past struggles of LGBTQI persons under dictatorships from 4 Spanish speaking countries - Spain, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Pink triangles were the signs to identify male homosexuals in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. The film shows that under dictatorships, often persons with alternate sexualities are marked out and persecuted because they threaten the ideals of masculinity employed by those regimes.

The film has testimonies from gays, lesbians, trans persons and persons with other shades of sexuality, talking about their lives during the years of dictatorships, mainly during the 1970s. They talk about their lives on the margins of the societies, their criminalisation, the verbal, physical and sexual violence they faced especially from the police and the military and the stories of their friends who were killed. The campaigns against GLBTQI groups were part of wider campaigns against different groups of "anti-nationals" including prostitutes, femminists and union leaders. People describe how public proclamations about morality and sanctity of family were accompanied by forced oral sex, and gang rapes by those same persons in the private.

In the film, a trans-man explains, "There were not many trans-men so we were especially targeted." As men with vaginas, policemen had to rape them to "cure" them of their "disease". He says that he was raped 70 times.

A trans woman recounts her experiences as a 12 year old trans-girl. People talk of torture they endured, including electric shocks on their genitals. "Police was our first enemy and the Church was the second enemy", another person explains.

Many of the testimonies are harrowing. It may be easy to dismiss these stories by saying that they happened 40-50 years ago. However, the discriminating laws that continue to exist across a number of countries, some of which include death for the "crime" of being different, underline the importance of fighting for sexuality rights.

Amaranto

Credits: Director Noemi Marilungo, Duration: 19 min.

This short film explores the lives of sex workers in the city of Bologna and the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on their lives. It is an interesting film in many ways. For example, it explains how different groups of sex workers occupy specific areas of the city so that clients of each group know where to find them. It also talks about a MIT project of reaching out to sex workers on the streets to provide information, prophylactics, medical care and legal support for those who wish to leave this work.

The impact of Covid-19 and how it has shifted the workplace from roads and hotels to homes, and how it has reduced work options so that many sex workers do not have enough money for their basic necessities are touched upon along with a crowd-funding initiative to provide economic help to them. Many ex-sex workers contribute to this fund.

A specific area of sex work touched upon in the film, which remains on the margins is that of male sex workers.

I felt that this film was a superficial overview of sex work in Bologna. It raised many questions but answered only a few of them. To be more effective it needs to go deeper into specific groups and their lives.

Allah Loves Equality

I had already seen this film and done a specific blog post on this film by Wajahat Abbas Kazmi. It deals with the LGBTQI issues in Pakistan.

Allah Loves Equality - film still

Sydney and Friends

Credits: Director Tristan Aitchison, Duration 75 min.

This film is about the lives of a group of trans persons - many of them trans-men and a few trans-women, in Kenya. Sydney Etmesi, the hero of the film, is an intersexual person. He was treated as a girl Elisa by his family, and when he had refused to obey, they had tried to kill him. Sydney runs away to Nairobi and finds that he is not alone and there are many others like him who are not accepted by the society because they are men and women in wrong bodies.

They all share their stories - the attempts to heal them by the church-prayer groups and traditional doctors, the harsh words said to them by their families, the ostracism and exclusion in the communities, their difficulties with their present bodies and their non-matching identities in the official documents, their problems with neighbours and landlords, and their difficulties in first understanding their own sexual identities and then explaining it to others.

Sydney and Friends - film still

A trans-man says, "I pray that I can become a normal boy. I don't want to be seen as a lesbian, because I am not."

It is a film rich in details of the numerous questions they face and the lack of answers and solutions they find. In that chaos, the only certainty they have is the support of others who face similar difficulties. The film ends on a positive note with two trans-men getting married. One of them has a baby with another cis-man, but now he lives together with Sydney, as a family of 2 men with a child. This ending underlines the complexities of answers persons with diverse sexuality need to negotiate.

Conclusions

It was wonderful to be able to watch the films of this festival from home. I hope that even after the Covid-19 pandemic will be over and we will go back to our usual festivals, such online participation will continue to be possible.

My final take-away from this years festival is to think of sexuality in terms of infinite shades of human nature that do not always fit into neat little boxes of labels. Labels such as Trans-Sexual, Gay or Lesbian, can be seen as starting points for persons uneasy with a binary conception of sexuality and for allowing them to question, explore and come out. However, for some persons at least, once they are able to come out even these labels can become limiting because they do not fit neatly under any of them.

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Dr Sunil Deepak
Schio (VI), Italy

Email: sunil.deepak(at)gmail.com