Karen Bernstein’s I’m Gonna Make You Love Me received its world premiere at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival, in New York tonight. The deeply personal, artfully executed film weaves archive footage, photographs, classic movie clips and talking head interviews to paint an intimate portrait of Brian Belovitch. Assigned male at birth, Belovtich transitioned in the 1970s and lived as a woman known as Natalia, or Tish, for over a decade. He later re-transitioned, as he describes it in the film, back to being Brian. Now in his sixties, and having had his autobiography published last year (Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man), Belovitch reflects on his life and his journey to becoming comfortable in his own skin.
Miserable as a young gay man, Brian says that he thought that life might be more bearable as woman, and talks about his decision to transition as a form of performance art in some respects, “back then I looked at it as like being an artist, like I was sculpting my body the way that I perceived other people wanted it to be.” Though he admits “it was never easy to be a trans woman, never” and that the misogyny he experienced as a trans woman was “off the charts”.
Going back to the 1970s we see Natalia, aka Tish, marry her boyfriend Denny who went on to join the US Army. This led to Tish leaving their home in Providence, Rhode Island to live as a housewife on an Army base in Germany, where she sold Tupperware to her fellow Army wives. With ambitions of becoming a performer Tish moved back to the US, to New York City in the 1980s, soon becoming a notable part of the vibrant downtown nightlife scene. She was regularly being photographed and singing in clubs with her friend and fellow Manhattan scenester Michael Musto. There’s some great footage in the film that will satisfy those nostalgic for New York of the 1980s.
Looking back, Brian talks insightfully about his life as Tish, including the sexual harassment endured while attempting to get a foothold in the world of entertainment, his involvement in sex work, struggles with drugs and why he decided to re-transition. One of the reasons he gives is that HIV+ trans women were not being treated at the time when he found out that he was positive in the 80s, and he envisioned himself as growing old as grandfather, rather than grandmother figure. We also get an idea of what the reactions of his friends and those around him were when he decided to become Brian again.
Bernstein doesn’t follow Belovitch’s story in strict chronological order. Instead she relays his life in a way that reflects the workings of our own memories, with glimpses of different parts of the past rising to the surface and falling away again, and classic film clips serving to suggest the subject’s self image. David Hamburger’s score, Nevie Owens’s editing and the film’s various credited cinematographers (Deborah Eve Lewis, Mike Nicholson and Scott Sinkler) all deserve special mention in helping to enhance that overall feeling of being enveloped by Belovitch’s memories. The narrative structure also fits in well with the idea of the non-binary, fluidity of gender illustrated by Brian’s experiences. The film is nonetheless immediately accessible to audiences whether LGBTQ+ identifying or otherwise, and makes for a rich, truly fascinating and entertaining documentary.
By James Kleinmann
Read our exclusive interview with filmmaker Karen Bernstein and subject Brian Belovitch here.
I’m Gonna Make You Love Me will have its world premiere at America’s largest documentary festival DOC NYC in New York this Thursday 7th November at 7.20pm at Cinepolis Chelsea, with further screenings on Monday 11th November at 9.40pm at Cinepolis Chelsea and Thursday 14th November at 3pm at IFC Center. For more information and tickets head to the official DOC NYC website. Brian Belovitch’s autobiography, Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man, was published in 2018 by Skyhorse, ISBN 978-1-5107-2964-3.