Gendernauts explores transgenderism. San Francisco at the beginning of the new millennium: gender benders and sexual cyborgs make use of new technologies to change their bodies. Identification as male or female is brought into question.
Hey Monika, how does it feel to have Gendernauts: A Journey Through Shifting Identities selected for both the 30th Anniversaries of the Teddy Awards and BFI Flare?
It’s just wonderful – a sign that GENDERNAUTS is not dated but still of interest for audiences after all those years.
What is it like for you to take a second look at this film with festival audiences?
At the Teddy Awards screening in Berlin, I was delighted to see so many young faces in the audience and perceive their burning interest in the various aspects of gender identity.
Looking at it now is there anything you would have done differently?
I never ask myself this question. When I finish a film that’s it. I try to give it my best at the time.
Did you ever expect Gendernauts to have gotten this type of reaction?
Of course, I was hoping that it’d trigger strong reactions from the community itself. I was pleasantly surprised though that people who had little knowledge of transgenderism were reacting in a positive way. They said they were challenged and educated by the film.
Tell me a little bit about Gendernauts what was the inspiration behind the film?
For more than a decade I was in touch with female to male transsexuals in New York and San Francisco – introduced by Annie Sprinkle in the late 1980ies.
Annie had a support group for female-to-males in her Sprinkle-saloon then. Ever since I became part of the group I was fascinated with the different colours of gender identity and curious to learn more. Also, I was confronted with my own gender dysphoria.
"...you have to be open and frank as the filmmaker and show your protagonists that you deal with them with a lot of respect and sympathy. "
How much did you know about the transgender community on San Fransisco before you made the film?
I was introduced to the trans community in SF by Max Wolf Valerio. I had made a short film about Max’ transition in the early 1990ies, aptly titled MAX, and had stayed in touch with Max who lived in SF. Since I spent some time in SF in the 90ies I’ve met the protagonists Texas, Stafford and Jordy through mutual friends and had the chance to experience the diversity of the SF trans community.
Had you always intended to have Sandy Stone narrate the film?
It was a lucky coincidence: during a visit to Austin University I got introduced to Sandy and immediately fell for her. I was preparing to shoot Gendernauts then and took the opportunity to persuade Sandy to be the narrator for the film.
As a filmmaker what was it like for you to work with such a diverse community?
They were all wonderful to work with. The only problem occurred in the editing: since we had a number of protagonists it was difficult to cut from one to the other and give the different aspects of their identity enough space in a feature-length film which is confined to a length of 90 minutes. Plus of course to find a balance between entertaining "human" aspects and an overall educational approach without being boring or repetitive while trying to be true to the characters and the overall situation in San Francisco at the time.
Was it easy to get people to be open and frank with you?
It’s like always with any group when you work on documentary portraits: you have to be open and frank as the filmmaker and show your protagonists that you deal with them with a lot of respect and sympathy. If that is the case you gain their trust which is the number one condition for documentary filmmaking.
What would you say was the most challenging part of making this film was for you?
Like always it was the hardest to get the funding. The project was turned down many times by German funders and I had to be very stubborn to keep trying again and again.
On a personal level: I made peace with my own form of gender dysphoria in the process of the making of the film.
Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker?
As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian. Filmmaking came much later as an organic process – from videotaping and super-8 movies slowly moving into more professional filmmaking.
As a veteran queer filmmaker for over 30 years what have been some of the biggest changes, you've noticed within queer cinema?
When I started more than 30 years ago there were much fewer films available, especially by lesbian filmmakers. Films with the lesbian or gay context or characters were still regarded as taboo subjects by mainstream society. Their "cross-over" potential was very limited so a "queer" film was mostly just circulating in the then beginning context of lesbian and gay film festivals. Nowadays in Western societies, LGBT subjects and characters are widely accepted and have successfully penetrated the canon of cinema.
Are boundaries still being broken?
It becomes more difficult to break boundaries since we have an overflow of the visual product of all kinds in all media and for all kinds of niche audiences.
What would you say are some of the issues that queer filmmakers are still facing today?
Especially in Western Europe and North America, the subject has been widely accepted though it is still difficult to raise the funds for production. In regards to other parts of the world where queer identities are suppressed and endangered it is extremely difficult for filmmakers to work.
What advice would you offer an up and coming filmmaker?
It depends where they are coming from. But one is true for all: stick to your original idea and don’t let people talk you out of it.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your film?
My hope is that people become more open to their own definition of gender identity and feel encouraged to broaden their understanding of the possibilities of gender expression.