We’re nearing the end of the festival, and as sad as that is, we still have many great films left to show off. There are more documentaries, romance and a spotlight on Latinx filmmakers on display today, with so many special projects getting a spotlight on the biggest stage in short films. The films below are a few highlights from today’s screenings, as well as an interview with one of the highlighted filmmakers. All the films from today can be see on BitPix, and tickets for the rest of the show can be purchased through HollyShorts for anyone who would like to attend in person.
Bus Girl – Written and directed by Jessica Henwick, this film follows a young woman with a dream to be a renown chef. This high-pressure environment is tough to navigate, with everyone out to make a name for themselves, her included. But despite the fast pace of a kitchen, this film is handled with patience and care, moving at a pace that feels more leisurely at times, giving it an entirely new perspective. Henwick, Evanna Lynch, Daniel Portman, Philippe Spall, Chipo Chung, Andrew Leung and Myles Devonte are all stellar in this film.
Life and Debt – Yvan Iturriaga brings us the too close to home story of a yoga teacher whose trauma from not only catching COVID, but from the mountain of hospital bills she received from her stay battling it, have caused her to struggle, both internally and in the outside world. Written by Josh Healey and Reyna Amaya, the film stars Tristan Cunningham and Rosario Dawson, and brings the chaos of the pandemic into full view, capturing not only the fear of getting sick, but what comes after the fortunate act of recovery.
Valentine – From Beck Kitsis & Chris McNabb comes a touching story of Corey and Mia (Jacob Tobia and Sadie Scott), a couple on a romantic trip to a cabin. Everything seems to be ready for a wonderful time together, but the trepidation and journey into the unknown of Corey’s gender identity forces them to evaluate their relationship. As Corey continues to explore who they are, the changes become a struggle as both of them have to figure out what they want, who they are and what their relationship will become afterwards.
The Act Of Coming Out – Hailey Armentrout, Ryan Flores, Alejandra Jaime, Mai Khuu, Jocelyn Laracuente, Erin Manker, Terrence Mackey, Alexandra Stergiou and Yatta Zoker are all queer and trans actors living in Los Angeles. In this New Yorker documentary, all of them are auditioning for the same role: a person who is coming out. The actors live something they’ve already done, but try to show the world in this piece who they are while still playing a sort of character, mixing their stories with that of director Alexandra Stergiou to make an innovative and gorgeous film.
Written By – Callie + Chris (Callie Bloem and Christopher J. Ewing) have created something very interesting here. In a world where race, gender, politics and so much more put everyone into smaller and smaller boxes, they introduce a new label; that of authorship. Not all people are real, some are fictional, living out in the world like everyone else, but created by another. When Kenzie (Jaz Sinclair) realizes that she’s fictional, her entire world collapses, forcing her to question everything she is. It’s a beautiful story about accepting your own flaws, your own path, and not letting the way others think about you or who you are stand in the way.
Our interview for today is with Chris McNabb, who helped to bring us the wonderful film, Valentine. It was so great to hear Chris’ story and get to know more about their film!
Q: Tell us more about your film. How did it come to be?
I didn’t come out as trans until I was in my mid-20s. At that point, Beck and I had already been in a committed relationship for two years. As I was navigating the path of rediscovering myself and my nonbinary identity, Beck (a ciswoman who identified as straight at the time) was wondering what our relationship meant for her sexual orientation, an important part of her own identity. We’ve been together for nearly eight years now, but that early period of transition was full of uncertainty. Based on our own experiences, VALENTINE explores how shifting identities can affect a romantic relationship and test the strengths of love between two people.
Too often do I see this type of story end in total rejection of the trans character. In our film, we hope to show a more nuanced relationship, one that doesn’t shy away from the complexities of transitioning within a romantic partnership, but that is handled compassionately to reflect our own authentic experience. Ultimately, we want VALENTINE to give a feeling of hope to those who are navigating similar challenges.
Q: What was the biggest takeaway from making the film?
When Beck and I first began developing VALENTINE, we always hoped that queer audiences might see themselves and their stories reflected back to them onscreen. However, until we wrote the script and started sharing it with friends, we hadn’t realized that people outside of the queer community might also relate to VALENTINE. While our film has a very specific focus on gender and identity, at the end of the day, it also asks universal questions that we think all couples can relate to like – “What do you do when you love someone, but feel like you’re growing in different directions?” We never stop growing, but how do we grow together – as partners?
Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?
Throughout the process of making VALENTINE, Beck and I often encountered external pressure to make what felt to us like a sanitized and dishonest version of our own story – a film in which no one made mistakes and both parties behaved perfectly. While we definitely wanted to avoid creating any kind of story that might be regressive or harmful to other trans people — we already have plenty of those in media! — we also didn’t want to lose the truth of the very real and complex challenges we faced.
Ultimately, I think we need more institutions financially empowering queer filmmakers to share their own unique POVs and stories. That way, not every film has to carry the burden of representing an entire community. There is not one experience of being trans that fits all trans people, and, more specifically, not one experience of being nonbinary that fits all nonbinary people. How could there be? By definition, we challenge the idea of a binary understanding of gender. So, to think that our experiences should all look and feel the same is preposterous. Treating us as a monolith limits our freedom as storytellers, which ultimately limits how an audience can see themselves.
Q: What is next for you?
Together, Beck and I are currently developing a feature horror film called DEER IN THE WOOD, a feature comedy called JULIE’S WEDDING, and an episodic horror series called HOUSE OF THORNS. Separately, I’m editing a feature documentary called INVISIBLE BEAUTY directed by Bethann Hardison and Frédéric Tcheng, and Beck is co-writing and producing a horror feature called STRAWBERRY SUMMER.
That will wrap things up for today! Be sure to check back in tomorrow for another day of the HollyShorts Film Festival! Thanks to everyone who attended in person and who checked out the films online! See everyone tomorrow!