Tampa Bay Trans Film Festival returns with in-person events

The Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival launched its Tampa Bay Transgender Film Festival in 2020 to elevate the transgender experience on screen. Organizers sought to “support those in film who support our community and to share these films with our allies.”

Virtual screenings surrounded Transgender Day of Remembrance, honoring the memory of lives lost in acts of anti-transgender violence each November. It returned in 2021 to do the same.

“TIGLFF is truly putting in the work to be an organization that is inclusive,” Tampa Bay Trans Film Fest Co-Founder Kayden Rodriguez told Watermark at the time. “That’s why this festival is happening, to show that we see the transgender community.”

Rodriguez now serves as TIGLFF’s vice president, a role in which he helps guide their mission to entertain and empower audiences. The organization made the decision to postpone its third Trans Film Fest in 2022 to align it with Transgender Day of Visibility in 2023.

TDoV is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of transgender people worldwide. It also raises awareness of the work needed to save their lives, a message the third Trans Film Festival will amplify March 31-April 2.

“Trans Day of Remembrance is very, very important and certainly needs to be highlighted, but with everything going on politically, I wanted to move the Trans Fest into a space of celebration,” Rodriguez explains. Already this year, state legislatures like Florida’s have advanced a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills, many of which specifically target the trans community.

Moving the festival “lets us center it around visibility, positive representation and positive community,” he continues. It also allows organizers to pair this year’s screenings — available statewide virtually and in a first, in-person at St. Petersburg’s Green Light Cinema — with other events like a community picnic.

The festival will begin March 31 with a reception at Thrive DTSP at 5:30 p.m. “You’re Loved,” the opening night film by Carys Mullins, follows at 7:30 p.m.

Mullins is a local student and activist who also served on this year’s screening committee. Their documentary introduces three trans youth, their mental health professionals and their allies as they “tell their stories of resilience in an era of increasing injustice.”

“This festival is a statement to everyone in our community that we will not allow trans+ voices to get silenced by hate, discrimination and oppression,” Mullins says. “Our state government is sending a clear message that they do not want the LGBTQ+ community to exist. This festival signifies to everyone that we are here to stay, our voices will get heard, and our community will continue to be vibrant and full of love, no matter what.”

The festival’s expansion is surreal, Rodriguez says. This year’s festival includes one shorts program and four full length features.

“I don’t think it hit me how historic and big this is until this year,” he reflects. “I think it feels more real and intense because of everything going on politically. It just feels really nice to know that people are excited about it.”

The TransFest Community Picnic will follow April 1 near Downtown St. Pete. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own blankets, chairs and food to enjoy music, art vendors, field games and community.

For safety purposes, the exact time and location are only shared with those who RSVP. Rodriguez says the response has been positive so far and that interested parties should email TransFest@TIGLFF.com for a ticketing link.

This year’s short films program will also be held April 1 at 5 p.m., ranging in genre and length. The feature length documentary “The Empress of Vancouver” will follow at 7:30 p.m. It’s described as “a cinematic and intimate collision of drag, queer history and performance art.” The musical documentary “follows trans icon Oliv Howe as she prepares for the 40th anniversary of her coronation.”

More features follow April 2, beginning with “Who Owns the Sky” at 3 p.m. It “uses an intersectional approach, connecting the questions of the interrelationship between gender concepts and cis-hetero norms with colonialism, capitalism and racism.” The film features interviews with activists and more.

This year’s final film will follow at 5 p.m., “With Me They Can’t.” It “seeks to research the lives of LGBTQ characters who were active in Teresina between the 1980s and the 2000s,” addressing advances and setbacks in trans rights.

Each of the films supports the festival’s mission, Rodriguez says.

“I believe very strongly that there are a lot of false narratives, misunderstandings or misconstructions of what it means to be trans, or just to exist and live as a trans person,” he says. “All of these films highlight both very humanistic parts of who we are in our transition, as well as how important community and safety is to us and how much we are willing to do this — not only for ourselves, but for other people.

“These films are documenting work that has happened historically, but the Film Fest is documenting what’s happening right now,” he adds.

This year’s screenings are $2 to view online or $5 in person. For those who aren’t able to afford the fees, they can contact TIGLFF for a scholarship. “We don’t want finances to be a barrier,” Rodriguez says.

Above all, organizers hope the community will support the festival however they see fit.

“Engaging with this a form of activism,” Rodriguez notes. “Activism is loving a trans person. It’s showing us that we should have these events by supporting these events. Please come celebrate with us, tell us that you love us and want us here, too.”

TIGLFF’s third Tampa Bay Transgender Film Festival will be held March 31-April 2. All in-person screenings will be held at Green Light Cinema, located at 221 2nd Ave. in St. Petersburg. Films will also screen nationwide via TIGLFF Online. For more information, visit TIGLFF.com.

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