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    San Francisco Transgender Film Festival Offers Beauty, Rage and Resistance

    Before you even finish reading this article, you may want to go online and purchase your tickets to the 2018 San Francisco Transgender Film Festival (SFTFF). This year’s edition of SFTFF runs November 9–11 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco’s Mission District. ASL interpretation and closed-captioning are provided at the November 9th 9 pm program, and a family-friendly program runs Sunday, November 11, at 2 pm.

    “It’s true,” SFTFF Artistic Director Shawna Virago told the San Francisco Bay Times. “Tickets are selling that fast! And not only because we’re celebrated for being the world’s first and longest-running transgender film festival.”

    Virago added, “People are so outraged by the transphobia and racism of the Trump administration—we’re so hungry for beauty and inspiration and community right now.”

    The 2018 SFTFF offers audiences all of this and more, with five world-class programs that feature everything from science fiction to rom-coms to animation to music videos to hard-hitting documentaries.

    Festival highlights include the highly-anticipated San Francisco premiere of Happy Birthday Marsha, which commemorates Black trans activist and performer Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson and her role in instigating the 1969 anti-policing riots at the Stonewall Inn, a watershed event for the gay liberation movement. The film interweaves imagined scenes with found archival footage to counter the endemic erasure of trans women of color from narratives of political resistance. Directed by Tourmaline (fka Reina Gossett) and Sasha Wortzel, the film stars Independent Spirit Award Winner Mya Taylor as Johnson with cinematography by Sundance winner Arthur Jafa and an original score by Geo Wyeth.

    SFTFF filmmaker StormMiguel Florez said, “This year, SFTFF couldn’t come soon enough. We need these films as a balm for the wounds caused by the Republican administration. We need these films as fuel for our movement. We need to see ourselves reflected on screen—our bodies, our love, our power, our beauty.”

    Recently, a leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services revealed that the Republican administration wants to narrowly define gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, in a violent effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law. This new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition—and therefore access to rights, protections and services—for transgender Americans.

    SFTFF Production Coordinator Eric Garcia said, “At the same moment that the Trump administration is targeting, attacking and trying to erase the very existence of trans communities, SFTFF is fighting back to defend the value of trans bodies, lives and artistic expression.”

    There is a light-hearted side to the Festival at times, too. Humorous films include Dropping Penny, in which two dogwalkers race to get a pup back to her alpha butch mom in what SFTFF calls “a very queer comedy.”

    We sat down with SFTFF Artistic Director Shawna Virago to chat about this year’s Festival.

    San Francisco Bay Times: The San Francisco Transgender Film Festival was founded in 1997. How has the festival changed over the last 21 years?

    Shawna Virago: We were founded in 1997 and we are the world’s first and longest running transgender film festival, not to brag. We organized our initial Festival for the same reason so many other marginalized communities have organized film festivals: the absence of authentic representations of our lives in the commercial media. When I think back to when we started, I could never have imagined the public scope transgender issues are receiving, including the constant attacks on our rights from the President of the United States and his cronies.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Why do you feel it’s so important to share transgender stories and art?

    Shawna Virago: It’s important for all marginalized groups to be empowered to frame their stories, and we were founded to create space and opportunities for transgender and gender non-conforming people to screen their films. Authentic transgender stories are still vastly under-represented or absent entirely from mainstream cinema. Also, we were started with DIY principles and we continue to prioritize films made by the most marginalized people in our communities.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What makes SFTFF different than other LGBTQ festivals?

    Shawna Virago: SFTFF is based upon anti-oppression principles and is a grassroots organization led by transpeople rooted in diverse communities. SFTFF supports both emerging and established artists, and centers grassroots, radical, experimental or DIY films. We are more interested with Social Justice movements than what Hollywood has to say.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Will SFTFF address the Trump administration’s ongoing attacks against Transgender communities?

    Shawna Virago: We will address this primarily by gathering safely in community, sharing in the power of our art. In less than a year, the Trump administration has attempted to eliminate trans people from U.N. human rights documents, had the Department of Health and Human Services attempt to erase the existence of trans people and formally attempted to ban trans people from the military. These people have some serious hate towards trans and gender nonconforming people. SFTFF has survived for over twenty years, proving that trans people won’t be silenced and trans people won’t be erased.

    San Francisco Transgender Film Festival
    Friday through Sunday, November 9–11
    Roxie Theatre
    3117 16th Street
    San Francisco
    More info: