TransFormations - Trans* Film Festival Berlin 2016 Leeds Queer Film Festival reports back

Last weekend saw the first edition of TransFormations – Trans* Film Festival Berlin which I was able to attend with the support of Film Hub North. Having heard about the festival a few months ago and knowing it was organised by a group of black and PoC (people of colour) trans and non-binary people, I’d been wanting to go to their first festival and to support them due to my own background and personal aims in my work with Leeds Queer Film Festival. Their aim was to create “a space for intersectional films from (but not limited to) the perspectives of Black, Indigenous, PoC folks speaking about or from trans* and/ or gender-variant experiences”, which are perspectives that are majorly lacking in mainstream media or often presented in negative or uninformed ways. It was incredible to see such a strong and diverse programme showcasing the voices and stories of people often ignored in society but in this space and our community could be heard and celebrated.

The festival was volunteer-run with little money and was financed with a crowdfunding campaign, which is still ongoing in order to support their next festival too. Being involved in a volunteer-run non-profit film festival too, it was great to see another film festival running similarly and doing so well and having a successful first festival. It could be felt in the space that attendees were incredibly appreciative of the hard work and unpaid labour that the festival team had put into making it happen and it made it such a positive atmosphere to be in and share with others. It can be difficult to run film festivals with no funds, especially in your spare time alongside work that pays, but being an attendee of another film festival was motivating and reminded me why I’ve been doing this work for the last few years and why community events are so important. I also appreciated seeing importance placed on accessibility of the festival, and even though there can be limitations with little money, I could see that efforts were made such as a sliding scale for ticket prices, wheelchair accessibility, a quiet room, as well as subtitles and translation when possible, and they announced that hopefully with more funding they can continue to improve on this at the next festival. 

The film programme itself was brilliant and I was lucky enough to see a large number of different films and hope to be able to bring a few of them to Leeds! There was an eclectic mix of features and shorts, fiction and documentary, various forms of narrative and non-narrative filmmaking, as well as showcasing films from all around the world. One of my favourites of the festival was the opening film Major!, on the life and activism of Miss Major, a transgender woman of colour. It was an incredibly inspiring film that celebrated the impact she’s made working for the rights of trans women of colour, and although it touched on many heavy yet important topics such as prison abuse, it was also such a positive film based around community care and support as well as chosen family and resilience. Another favourite was Cinema Fouad, a 1993 Lebanese documentary portrait of a Syrian trans woman and her life and experiences. Although the filmmaker’s presence in the film was uncomfortable due to his inappropriate questions (especially to do with her body), as an agender Arab I appreciated hearing her thoughts and opinions and hope for more Arab and Muslim voices in queer and trans media and vice versa, and I especially enjoyed the references she was making to Arab pop culture throughout! 

There were also Q&As for a few films, such as for How Was Your Day?, a short stop-motion animation consisting of plasticine characters to portray living as a genderqueer person and the discriminatory interactions that can happen from others in a transphobic society. It was great to hear the filmmakers experience of making the film and the hard work that went in to it, as well as their aims of using an animation without dialogue as a resource for people of all ages and languages.The festival was a brilliant three days and a great connection for us to make and I look forward to the next festival in 2018!

- Z.


I attended the TransFormations Film Festival 2016 in Berlin on behalf of Leeds Queer Film Festival 2017. It was a three-day festival including performances, an art and media exhibition and a wonderful selection of films. The first evening was inspiring and an ace start to the festival. There was a screening of one of my top films from this festival, Major!, followed by a series of short films. Throughout the festival a system of pay-what-you-can existed to allow a sliding scale of prices for the films and events.

The volunteers and staff were awesome and all the events ran seamlessly and the crew worked around the clock to make sure each film was introduced, and often by the person who picked it, giving them a chance to explain what their personal connection to the film was. I appreciated the space, which consisted of two film/performances spaces, a lobby, the exhibitions and outside area. The building was accessible, had gender-neutral toilets and lots of attention to detail in terms of decoration. I really liked the building and it was pretty much ideal for the festival.

On the second day, the screenings doubled up and allowed for choice so I saw two sets of shorts and a feature. This evening was followed by a party event with musicians, comedians, dancers, performance artist, rappers, DJs and so much love! Many of the organisers attended and the space became filled with all the people who had been shyly milling around the festival to let their hair down and feel the thunder of a room of people just like you. The films incited deep conversations, thoughts and feelings on queer people, especially trans women and BME people and all of the loss and fight and protest that we'd heard in the films and art all got expressed in the event that evening.

The final day had the same structure as the Saturday so a choice of films were offered and this day Z and I chose to see some different films and we fed back to each other about the selections we'd made. I watched a film that showed the struggles, questions and life changes of older trans people in their 50s, 60s and 70's. Their concerns of healthcare, nursing homes, respect in those institutions, family and death all rang true as valid passages of experience for the first generation of openly transgender people. This was followed by a documentary following transgender parents having, raising and had raised children.

For the final evening performances were held in the large studio and once again the room was alight with the emotions of the day but this evening we felt a more sombre approach. This evening we mourned the trans day of remembrance and created space for the losses our community face as a result of a world that hasn't fully embraced trans and gender variant people. The performances that followed were vibrant and colourful and depicted the best of our queer family that were still with us. After the celebrations people said goodbyes and I was able to reflect on the variety of people I'd been exposed to at this festival. It was a brilliant first festival that has similar themes to our festival. We got to see what worked well, how issues were handled and how a PoC organising group handled a DIY volunteer-run queer/trans film festival and I can say I was thoroughly impressed!

- I.H.

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