The Block brings transgender stories to campus

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Source: Michael Metzger

A still from “A Family Matter.” The short, along with “LYNDALE,” will film at the Block this Thursday.

Aaron Wang, Reporter

In 2003, Chicago-based artist Oli Rodriguez began documenting his gender transition with a handheld camera, along with his brother’s struggle with depression and anxiety. The filming took place over six years and accumulated more than four hundred hours of footage.

“Capturing it with a camera was a way to sort through and reckon (with) all the transformations that came in,” said Rodriguez, who began to compile the footage with his friend and mental health social worker Victoria Stob after leaving the tape untouched for five years. “It was almost like a therapeutic way of sheltering myself from an explosion.”

The final result, a 30-minute long documentary titled “LYNDALE,” will screen alongside filmmaker André Pérez’s “A Family Matter,” this Thursday at the Block Museum as part of a film series that presents a portrait of families across generational and cultural lines. Both directors will be present to discuss their films and their experiences as trans filmmakers in Chicago.

The screening event is co-presented by Block Cinema with the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, the Northwestern University Queer Pride Graduate Student Association, the Sexualities Project at Northwestern and the Northwestern University Women’s Center. This event is also part of the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Dialogue 2019-2020: Memorializing, which promotes expansive, interdisciplinary discussion and debate.

“LYNDALE” explores the combative relationship between Rodriguez’s brother and his mom, and gradually delves into topics such as childhood adversity, queer identities and mental illness within his household. Rodriguez said he often forgot about the presence of the camera, which resulted in the film’s “disarmingly frank and forthcoming” quality.

Michael Metzger, the Block’s Pick-Laudati curator of media arts, echoed the sentiment. He said the presence of the camera fostered the love and connection of the family members that played out through the film.

“The camera can be a way of seeing yourself from the outside or of getting some distance, either with yourself or between yourself and the people around you,” Metzger said. “It’s another way of creating intimacy or changing the terms of a relationship. How the members of the family are speaking to one another is pretty remarkable.”

He added that because “LYNDALE” was filmed on handheld cameras in varying formats, it also tells the story of shifting media dynamics and records the digital revolution of the early 2000s.

“They really illustrate the power of the digital camera at a particular moment in time,” Metzger said, “and how the ability to document and preserve the experiences of the people around you and to interact with your family through the camera is really remarkably well-represented in the film.”

The other documentary short that will be featured, “A Family Matter,” is an episode from Pérez’s web series “America in Transition,” which profiles the experiences of trans people of color. The episode gravitates toward the mother-son dynamics during one subject’s transition, Metzger said. “America in Transition” has produced a four-episode first season, tackling subjects such as religion, military service and immigration in the context of transgender people’s experiences.

Sarah Brown, the program manager at the Women’s Center at Northwestern, said she was excited to bring these stories to the screen, because trans stories are often underrepresented and ignored. She added that it is important to tell the stories of trans people with complexity and nuance, especially when portraying their experiences in relation to family and community.

“We can forget that students have whole lives going on outside campus, whatever their identities might be,” Brown said. “It’s important for us to be reminded that a lot of people are navigating things beyond exams and daily tasks.”

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