Spotlighting trans men, butch lesbians, and gender-nonconforming heroes on film, Masc—curated by writer-archivist-filmmaker Jenni Olson and critic Caden Mark Gardner for the Criterion Channel—comes to Brooklyn’s BAM November 17th – 21st. The film series journeys through nearly four decades of cinema history in search of authentic, complex representations of masculine identity as it exists outside the realm of cisgender men. From nuanced explorations of gender-nonconforming youth to powerfully moving documentary portraits to innovative narratives that deconstruct both gender and genre, these films celebrate the courageous queer visionaries who have blazed these trails and who continue to show the way forward and inspire us all.
“We wanted to bring together this combination of butch, transmasc and AFAB gender non-conforming films to convey both the sense of shared understandings across our communities as well as to give us all an opportunity to come together”, co-curator Jenni Olson shares with The Queer Review. “We are especially excited for this in-person rendition of the series at BAM, which is also still on the Criterion Channel for folks not in New York. We’re so excited for new audiences to see these films, especially Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc’s Adventures in Plastic and Vera. Both fantastic films that have been virtually unavailable for decades.”
“Our philosophical instinct behind the series, and this is true for all historically marginalized people”, continues Olson, “is that seeing ourselves represented on screen helps us know we’re not alone and gives us new ways of understanding who we are. We learn our cultural history, and discover a sense of community. And in this era of unprecedented attacks on the basic rights of LGBTQ people, and especially trans and gender non-conforming people, we all really need—and deserve—to experience the simple joy of cinema and being together.”
Masc film series lineup at Brooklyn’s BAM November 17th – 21st, 2023:
November 17th, 7pm: Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc’s Adventures in Plastic (2001) Dir. Lisa Udelson. With Phranc.
Virtually unseen for the past 20 years, this heartwarming documentary about legendary Jewish butch lesbian folk singer Phranc is an irresistible portrait of a gender non-conforming hero navigating a world of Southern California straight lady homemakers while working her way to the top as a Tupperware salesperson. The film earned acclaim and awards on the film festival circuit, including Audience Awards at Outfest and SXSW and a rave review in Variety describing Phranc as a “1950s sitcom-dad-styled androgyne hawking kitchenware to housewives.” Includes Q&A with Jenni Olson, Lisa Udelson and Phranc.
November 18th, 2pm: Vera (1986) Dir. Sergio Toledo. With Ana Beatriz Nogueira, Raul Cortez, Aida Leiner.
Based on the life of Brazilian poet Anderson Bigode Herzer, who committed suicide at the age of 20, this intense drama tells the story of Bauer (the film’s title is his deadname), a transman who navigates a difficult life in an orphanage before finding love with a young librarian. A sympathetic professor sees his talent as a poet, but Bauer is mostly alone and misunderstood, proclaiming: “I’m not what everyone thinks I am. You hear me? I’m different. I’m something else.” One of the earliest portrayals in cinema of a transmasculine character.
November 18th, 4:30pm: Leslie, Max & Storme
Max (1992) Dir. Monika Treut.
Pioneering transman Max Wolf Valerio talks about his life and the experience of transitioning in this groundbreaking short, one of the first portraits of a trans man on film.
Storme: Lady of the Jewel Box (1987) Dir. Michelle Parkerson.
Dubbed “the only girl at the Jewel Box” butch drag king Stormé DeLarverie broke barriers at the integrated Jewel Box Revue in New York City performing there singing baritone in a suit and tie. But her legacy would later become synonymous with the Stonewall uprising and, up until her death in 2014, she was one of the most respected queer elders in New York. Michelle Parkerson’s rich documentary short covers Stormé in the late 80s in Chelsea, showing her still serving as a protector in queer spaces but also as a consummate performer people are immediately drawn to watch.
Outlaw (1994) Dir. Alisa Lebow.
Alice Lebow’s 1994 short documentary offers a rare glimpse into trans activist Leslie Feinberg, who emerged in the 90s as a class conscious-based trans activist and made major waves with the publishing of her novel Stone Butch Blues in 1993. Feinberg became an instant staple on the talk show circuit, offering extremely impassioned, radical ideas through extremely accessible rhetoric about trans identity, history, and activism that remains as prescient and vital now as they were in the 90s. Q&A with Jenni Olson, Caden Mark Gardner and writer Tiq Milan.
November 18th, 7pm: No Ordinary Man (2020) Dirs. Aisling Chin-Yee & Chase Joynt.
Trans jazz musician Billy Tipton lived stealth for much of his life. After his 1989 death from health complications, his trans identity was revealed and a tabloid media circus against him and his family followed. Filmmakers Chase Joynt, Aisling Chin-Yee, and Amos Mac return to Tipton’s story, enlisting trans masculine performers as well as trans historians to rehabilitate and reconsider Tipton’s life story and critique how the mainstream media often misunderstands trans masculinity. Read our review from the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival and our exclusive interview with fillmmakers Chase Joynt and Amos Mac.
November 18th, 9:30pm: Southern Comfort (2001) Dir. Kate Davis.
This acclaimed documentary follows the story of Robert Eads, a trans man dying of ovarian cancer. While indisputably a victim of systemic transphobia and medical malfeasance from the American healthcare system, Eads’ status as a trans elder among his chosen family shows him as the beating heart of an incredibly warm and life-affirming community. Southern Comfort, named for the then Atlanta-based national trans conference, presents the common struggles and common understandings among trans men in the 90s with clear-eyed empathy by filmmaker Kate Davis. Q&A with Caden Mark Gardner and writer/actor David Harrison.
November 19th, 2pm: Maggots and Men (2009) Dir. Cary Cronenwett.
A work that conjures the old Soviet film technique and similar pastiche works by Guy Maddin, Cary Cronenwett’s spirited revisionist period film places trans masculine bodies at the radical heart of the 1921 Kronstadt Rebellion. Creatively reimagining the uprising, the story contrasts a performative theater troupe that narrates moments of the story with scenes of the rebellion against the autocracy of the Bolshevik Party. Featuring the largest cast of trans actors in a film, Maggots and Men plays with cinema and history to tell a gender defiant story that is both playful and subversive.
November 19th, 4:30pm: The Aggressives (2005) Dir. Daniel Peddle.
Shot over the course of 1997 to 2004, this documentary is an incredible snapshot of a vibrant array of butches, studs, and masc folks of color from the New York City ballroom and nightlife scene who are claiming their own space and identity. The film offers profiles of six “Aggressives” or “AGs,” including trans actor and activist Marquise Vilson, who pass as male through a wide range of masculine identities. By turning the camera on them and hearing them speak about their lives, it becomes clear where language fails to fully capture each individual’s lived experience and nuanced gender identity.
November 19th, 7pm: Masc shorts program
Featuring such highlights as the uplifting Pixar-esque children’s film Pete, the star-studded heart-wrenching drama Vamonos, and the quirky comedy Monsieur le Butch, this celebration of gender non-conforming heroes also showcases a powerful batch of cinematic rarities starring the butch dykes and transmasc pioneers of the early 90s who blazed the trail for us today (plus a rare 60s butch home movie treat!). Q&A with filmmakers.
Monsieur le Butch (2022) Dir. Jude Dry.
When Jude ends up unexpectedly living at home in their 30s, they must deal with a lovingly opinionated Jewish mother who doesn’t quite get the whole “trans thing.”
Stafford’s Story (1992) Dir. Susan Muska.
Stafford tells about an encounter at a sex club. New digital scan by UCLA Film & Television Archive as part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project.
Trans (1994) Dir. Sophie E. Constantinou.
A playful portrait of trans man Henry. New digital scan by UCLA Film & Television Archive as part of the Outfest UCLA Legacy Project.
Vamonos (2015) Dir. Marvin Lemus.
Vico Ortiz (Our Flag Means Death) and Jessica Camacho (All Rise, The Flash, Watchmen) co-star in this beautiful story about what it looks like to show up as an ally for our gender non-conforming loved ones.
Pete (2022) Dir. Bret ‘Brook’ Parker.
A heartwarming animated short about gender identity, Little League baseball, the people who inspire change by being themselves, and the superheroes who allow that change to happen.
Adventures with Tony (1960s) Dir. Jenni Olson.
A remarkable fragment of home movie footage featuring a young butch on vacation with her father in New Jersey. A rarity from the Jenni Olson Queer Film Collection at the Harvard Film Archive.
Sometimes (1994) Dir. Jenni Olson.
A concise poetic summary of butch identity—an early short by acclaimed essay filmmaker and Masc series co-curator Jenni Olson.
Ifé (1993) Dir. H. Len Keller.
Ifé follows a day in the life of a Black French butch lesbian in San Francisco.
Storme: Lady of the Jewel Box (1987) Dir. Michelle Parkerson.
A short but rich documentary that presents legendary Stonewall veteran and butch lesbian icon Stormé DeLarverie in her own words.
November 20th, 7pm: Chavela (2017) Dir. Catherine Gund & Daresha Kyi. With Chavela Vargas, Pedro Almodóvar, Elena Benarroch, & Miguel Bosé.
A tremendous portrait of legendary Mexican lesbian singer Chavela Vargas. The world famous performer was a gun-toting, tequila-loving, macho butch rumored to have had dalliances with Frida Kahlo and Ava Gardner. From being the toast of Mexico City in the 60s and 70s to falling into obscurity in the 80s, the film follows her return to the world stage as muse to Pedro Almodóvar—culminating in her Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 2007. Friends, colleagues, and ex-lovers discuss her legacy and the film is packed with amazing archival material, making this a joy to watch from the first frame to the last. In English & Spanish with English subtitles. Q&A with Jenni Olson and Cat Gund.
November 21, 7pm: Shinjuku Boys (1995) Dirs. Kim Longinotto & Jano Williams. With Gaish, Tatsu, & Kazuki.
An amazing mid-1990s snapshot of AFAB (assigned female at birth) gender identity in Japan. Tatsu, Gaish, and Kazuki pass as men and work as hosts at Tokyo’s New Marilyn Club, a nightspot where straight women spend time with the charming onabe (an expansive term that can encompass both butch lesbians and trans men). Tatsu is a trans man who lives with his girlfriend, Tomoe. Gaish is a tough-talking “in-between” heartbreaker with a string of girlfriends. And Kazuki lives with Kumi, a trans woman nightclub dancer. The suave trio speak frankly to the camera about sex, queerness, trans identity, and masculinity.