The Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival flyer, designed by Corianton Hale
The Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival flyer, designed by Corianton Hale
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Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival runs this year from Thursday, May 12, through Sunday, May 15.

Events and film screenings will be held in four different Capitol Hill venues: the SIFF Cinema Egyptian, 12th Ave Arts Building, Northwest Film Forum and Gay City Health Project.

Seattle's Central Library will also host a free screening of the film, "Deconstructing Zoe," on May 8, as a special kick-off event for the fest.

Translations was created and is curated by Three Dollar Bill Cinema, a Seattle-based organization that highlights queer film and media through workshops, forums and screenings. The goal of the event is to emphasize visibility and positive representations of people within diverse LGBT+ communities.

Now in his fourth year as festival director, Sam Berliner is excited with the diversity of the work being showcased.

"We have a screening committee that we reach out to every year to see who wants to be involved," Berliner said. "We try to make it as diverse as absolutely possible, in every way. We want younger folx, we want older folx, we want people of color.

Berliner originally became involved with the event when Three Dollar Bill Cinema expressed interest in screening his film, "GENDERBUSTERS." Berliner later joined the festival's selection committee, and jumped at the chance to take on the directorship role when it opened up.

"As gender variant people, seeing ourselves reflected on the screen is super powerful," he said. "It doesn"t happen very often. On top of that, we try as much as we can to highlight local content. If there's anything that's made in Seattle that fits into our program, we always really try to make that happen, too."

The festival includes film screenings, live events and a number of free programs to make it as accessible as possible.

This year's live events include "Being Transparent: A Conversation," which focuses on the hit television show, Transparent. Actress Alexandra Billings, multi-episode director Silas Howard and producer Rhys Ernst will be present for the forum. Ernst will also participate in a screening and discussion of two web series he's recently released, This Is Me and We"ve Been Around.

"This is the 11th year of the festival, and I think given the current climate of trans representations in more mainstream media " whether they're positive or negative representations " there's a lot of visibility happening right now, and I think that offers a really great opportunity and platform for us to step up our game, too," Berliner said. "We offer alternative things to what might be sensationalized in mainstream media, so we can be like, "Look, we're here, and we"ve actually been here for a while."

Exploring the histories of transgender communities is a main aim of this year's event. Berliner emphasized the importance of the opening night's documentary, "MAJOR!," which celebrates the life and activism of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a 74-year-old black trans woman. Major, who was present at the Stonewall Rebellion, has fought for civil rights for transgender people " especially incarcerated trans women " for more than four decades.

"This film is a fantastic opportunity to really broaden people's ideas about what it means to be trans and different trans experiences," Berliner said, describing Major as a 'revered elder."

The festival's flyer, which depicts a glistening night sky with interconnected stars, is an homage to Miss Major and others trans pioneers.

"The idea is to look at those who came before us as trailblazers," Berliner said. "Like Miss Major " she's lighting the way, like stars do, and constellations connect a lot of different stars and make one whole picture. We're all coming from different places, but coming together in this really diverse community."

Co-produced by Annalise Ophelian and StormMiguel Florez, "MAJOR!" features personal interviews with Miss Major, her daughters and fellow activists.

"It was a very collaborative project from the start," said Ophelian, a clinical psychologist and documentary filmmaker based in San Francisco. "The best part of making it was that Miss Major and our community advisory board " and everyone who appeared on screen " were all consulted regularly throughout the making of the film. People thought they were being represented authentically, which is such a challenge in marginalized communities. We were able to really shift that narrative and that control over to the folx who were putting themselves on film."

As trans women's stories were shared during the project, Ophelian kept the focus personalized rather than sensationalized.

"Throughout the making of the film, there were many times when things happened that were extremely difficult. So we would put our cameras down, and were there as support folx, not as filmmakers. Reality TV influences so much of documentary filmmaking, so a different kind of crew would have made a different film " they would have brought a camera instead of a shoulder to cry on."

In just under three years, Ophelian, Florez and their team captured as much of Miss Major's history as possible, while also giving other transgender people empowering opportunities.

"We worked with an overwhelmingly queer and trans crew through all stages of production and post-production," Ophelian said. "The folx who worked on this film brought some really amazing personal artistry to it."

Miss Major herself found the documentary-making process both natural and emotional.

"I don"t know if there was anything that was really hard about it, because you're so unintrusive," Major told Ophelian during a three-way phone call. "Having you there was like being around family. It was comfortable and close, very endearing.

"For me, personally, the hard part was remembering stuff that happened, and reliving it in my mind again. Every time I see it, I cry all over again. That's the only hard part. Making it was wonderful."

When asked how she has continued to remain strong through the conflicts and health issues she's faced over the years, Miss Major laughed.

"It's kind of like car batteries. Every now and then, they need to be charged," she said. 'so I just call RentABoy.com, charge my batteries, and then go on about my business,"

Major spoke seriously about her drive to continue inspiring future generations.

"We got into this for the younger trans folx who are going to be coming up behind me," she said. "You have to realize that you do have a history and a culture. In having that, you can pull strength from it.

"For me, however many years after I"ve left this place and gone somewhere else, they have something they can look at and go, "I can identify with that. I don"t have to take this s\*\*\* from all these motherf\*\*\*\*\*\*\* here. I can do what I need to do for me." "

Major also didn"t mince words about ways others can get involved and help transgender people. While increased media attention elevates visibility, she is concerned about those the camera may not capture.

"Even though right now we're the flavor of the month," Major said, "that doesn"t help the girls that are in the street that have to run out and turn tricks in order to survive the next day.

"If people want to do something, they should get involved with that, and be consistent with it, and work with the community. Don"t come in with, "This is what I feel you need." No, ask them what they need, and then give it to them."

Major's life shows how one caring person can affect entire communities, and those who may not have found their voice yet.

"Get involved through your heart, not just through your brain," Major advises other activists. "You're not gonna get rich caring about people. But you're going to feel loved and supported, and better than you"ve ever felt before. That's all we have, is one another."

"MAJOR!" will be screened 7 p.m. Thursday, May 12, at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. Miss Major, Ophelian and Florez will be in attendance.

For more information about "MAJOR!," visit missmajorfilm.com.

For tickets and more information on Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival, visit translations.strangertickets.com/home.