Rating: (4 out of 5) Saturday, 10/18/2008, 3:00 PM Feature presentation, $10 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes
VANCOUVER-BASED FILMMAKER Gwen Haworth probably didn’t know the footage she shot of friends and family doing random things more than 10 years ago would end up in a documentary about her transitioning from a male to a female.
The clips work remarkably well in She’s a Boy I Knew, introducing the viewer to Steve, a handsome, blond, young newlywed, who has been carrying a secret for most of his life. Steve shares his secret with his wife, Malgosia, shortly following a fight, and she reacts by throwing up.
While Malgosia would turn out to be extremely supportive, and grateful to learn that Steve identifies as a transgender lesbian who is still in love with her, she slowly starts to see pieces of her husband fade away. Her attempt to stay with Steve, who becomes Gwen, becomes difficult.
She’s a Boy I Knew offers a unique account of a transgender person transitioning, because the film uses footage from old family videos of Haworth’s early childhood, as well as her early adulthood as Steve. This approach works when showing candid moments, such as the first time Haworth started wearing women’s clothing. Watching the actual footage creates an authenticity that could not have been replicated in a dramatization.
Viewers should be prepared for a very graphic account of gender re-assignment surgery. Haworth takes the camera into the bathroom as she takes a bath, where viewers see her nude, blood-bruised thighs surrounding her private area. Weeks later, she sits on a bed naked and shares her womanhood with the world in a short glimpse.
Haworth primarily uses interviews from her parents, two sisters, ex-wife and friends to share her story, painting a clear picture of the sense of loss, grieving and sadness that family and friends go through when a loved one transitions. The film falls short with Haworth’s voice-over narrations. She reads every line in an emotionless robotic tone. An effort to read the narration in a more natural, conversational tone might have dramatically improved the flow.
Haworth hits a right chord, however, in using cartoons to emphasize some of the things said. Take, for example, Haworth’s funny cartoon guide to being a girl, which instructs that ”Family gatherings are not optional,” and that a girl should not unzip her pants until after in a toilet stall. It’s Haworth’s multifaceted approach to presenting her story that offers something of value to anyone who sees it.
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