Previewing the Sacramento International Film and Music Festival
A polite, bearded young man from the folk duo Coyote Grace says he was “really worried about what the T would do to [his] voice.” By “T,” he means testosterone; he’s one of a number of musicians, transgender men and women, who are pressing the boundaries of gender expression in music. Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance is one of the films screening at the 11th annual Sacramento International Film and Music Festival, which begins at the Crest Theatre this week.
Riot Acts, directed by Madsen Minax, is a revelation, if only because it deals with the transgender experience in such an affirming way. Minax eschews the typical, Oprah-esque “But whyyy?” question and obsessions with what happens to a transgender person’s genitals to instead focus on the significance in the lives of, specifically, musicians who happen to be transgender.
Not only is it respectful, it’s also incredibly informative. Given how much of a singer’s identity is wrapped up in the voice, the question of exactly how to transition—hormones will alter the voice, especially for trans men—becomes paramount. Some of the trans men have opted not to take testosterone because of the deepening effect it has on the voice.
“I lost a fifth of my range,” says Joe Stevens, one half of Coyote Grace. He also adapted; other trans men choose to retain their ability to sing in a higher register.
“I’m a chick with a deep voice,” says Sarafina Maraschino. She’s a singer and guitarist with Lipstick Conspiracy, an all-trans women band from San Francisco. And she’s quick to point out, “It’s rock ’n’ roll.”
Riot Acts is less a film about transgender people than about music—and that’s fundamentally what makes it work. The primary identity these musicians are concerned with is that of artist. Their gender identity is not a gimmick, it’s another facet of who they are—and by extension, another facet of their art.
Riot Acts plays on Monday, July 26, with a film about aging GLBT people and the struggles faced when seeking elder care, Gen Silent.
The “international” part of the festival gets a workout on Sunday, July 25, with an afternoon program of shorts from around the world. The shorts are followed by Poligamy, a Hungarian comedy by Dénes Orosz, in which an unsuccessful writer wakes up one morning to find his paramour has been replaced by another woman, who then acts as if this is perfectly normal.
But by far the biggest night will undoubtedly be the premiere screening on Thursday, July 29, of Walking Dreams, a film by Chad Ross about David Garibaldi.
Garibaldi, who grew up in Sacramento and made his start here as a graffiti artist, makes paintings to music, a form of performance art that leaves a permanent visual piece as a result; he’ll be at the screening. His work, which he calls Rhythm and Hue, is a melding of dance and painting in a simply fascinating way. Imagine if the late Bob Ross was doing hip-hop and modern dance instead of his low-key narration from the old PBS show The Joy of Painting, and you’ve got an idea of the energy involved in Garibaldi’s work. Both the film and his performance will be on the must-see list.
Another film of particular local interest is among the offerings in a night of student films with a theme of “immigration.” Stanford student Tanya Sleiman’s Iraq in the U.S. is about Iraqi refugees who have resettled in Sacramento, and documents their transition from Iraq to California. It will show on Tuesday, July 27, with a program that includes two other student films on immigration.
Later that evening, the festival will show a feature-length film Reel Injun, by Neil Diamond and Catherine Bainbridge. Reel Injun is about how Americans Indians have been portrayed in the movies, but don’t expect a diatribe. It’s sly, funny and insightful, with some great clips and interviews.
The animated-shorts program (screening Saturday, July 31, at 4 p.m.) is a nice mix of animation styles. The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger (directed by Bill Plympton) makes a wonderful use of music, including as a substitute for voices, and features bright, extremely bold colors. Remember Me (Alyssa Barber, director) uses stop-action animation and has a delightful weasel, Timothy, who sounds a great deal like Jimmy Stewart. Then there’s the cool, frenetic animated music video for “My Hiroshima,” from Where’s Jerome’s self-titled first album, which has a scene which looks like So You Think You Can Dance held auditions in an Office Depot. With Golem, things get really freaky—this Twins Are Weird production (Joy and Noelle Vaccese) is set in an asylum and uses deceptively cartoonish animation for a fans-are-zombies plot.
The SIFMF will open with a bit of self-deprecating humor, too, when it opens on Friday with Official Rejection, Paul Osborne’s documentary about what usually happens when an independent film tries to get into a film festival. Yeah, it’s not pretty, and apparently, sometimes sex acts are involved. Osborne will also be participating in a Q-and-A after the screening.
The only way to end a festival like this is with a minifestival. On Sunday, August 1, 10 filmmakers will show the eight-minute films that they put together in the 10 days of the festival. Good, bad, uneven, puzzling or fascinating, these 10 films will represent the best work that the filmmakers can pull off on a short deadline with a mondo load of stress.
And we get to buy popcorn and watch.