Seattle’s Translations Transgender Film Fest Grew Up Fast

It’s the largest transgender film festival in the world, and it happens in Seattle. The 12th annual Translations Transgender Film Festival runs May 4th to May 14th.

Seventy films representing 20 countries play out over two weekends at screenings primarily in the Capital Hill area of Seattle. Participating countries include the Philippines, Armenia, Slovenia, Brazil, India, Iran, Slovenia, Brazil, India, Iran, Uruguay, Austria, and Argentina.

The Festival opens with the documentary, “Free CeCe,” produced by actress/activist Laverne Cox (Sophia Burset on “Orange Is the New Black”) . The documentary tells the story of activist CeCe McDonald, an African American transwoman who survived an attack and served time in a men’s prison. She was sentenced to 41 months for manslaughter after a racial and transphobic attack on her turned deadly.

Free CeCe Translations Transgender Film Fest

“Free CeCe”

Empowered by her supporters, CeCe has emerged as a celebrated advocate for issues of race and gender identity. Cox explores the roles that race, class, and gender played in CeCe’s case, which incited a nationwide “Free CeCe” protest movement. Don’t tell anyone: CeCe and director Jacqueline Gares will be in attendance on opening night.

Cox also produced the TV movie, “The T Word,” an hour-long documentary that follows seven transgender youths from New York, New Orleans and Baltimore. They range in age from 12-24 years old, and share their common obstacles and joys–what it means to grow up and come into one’s own as a trans person.

The films presented don’t skirt around the issues. Many deal with violence, rape, isolation, guilt, fear, and identity abuse. A series of short films explores the many forms of family, both given and chosen. They ask, just what makes a family?

The films also profiles school children who are dealing with gender identity. Some are supported by their parents, who bravely pursue civil rights on behalf of their loved ones. Others are ridiculed, shunned, abandoned and forced to hide their “dark secret.”

Real Boy Translations Transgender Film Festival

“Real Boy”

By placing their experiences and struggles in the public arena, activists provide support and acceptance. They shine a light on the challenges faced by those born as trans persons. And they use the film festival platform to stand up, reach out, and educate their communities—locally, nationally and internationally.

Translations Festival is not just about films: Singer-songwriter Joe Stevens will perform live in concert after a screening of “Real Boy,” a documentary about a trans teen who finds a mentor in Stevens.

Also on the schedule are films with local connections. Seattle director Aaron Bear’s 2016 documentary, “Finding Kim,” tells the story of 50-year-old Kim’s search and journey for self-acceptance through his transition from female to male, after a lifetime of drug addiction and isolation. Other films with a local connection are the coming-of-age comedy, “So Long Suburbia,” the 1998 Golden Globe winner, “Ma Vie en Rose,” and the festival’s closing night features, “Die Beautiful.”

Directed by Jun Robles Lana, the 2016 Filipino film, “Die Beautiful” stars Paolo Ballesteros. The dramedy unfolds in a series of flashbacks. Trisha (born Patrick) always said that when she died, she wanted to be dressed as a different celebrity every night of her wake. Just as her long-awaited beauty pageant crowning takes place, she collapses on stage. Since her family, especially her father, couldn’t accept having a trans daughter, Trisha’s wake is kept a secret by her BFF, Barbs.

Die Beautiful - Translations Transgender Film FestThe film takes a deeper look into unspoken regrets, touching on each relationship Trisha fostered during her life, including a caring connection with her adopted daughter. Looming transphobia won’t stop her chosen family from laughing and loving, even after Trisha’s last breath. Ballesteros won his first international Best Actor award for “Die Beautiful” at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival.

Festival director Sam Berliner sees “Translations” as an opportunity for people to learn. It helps society to better understand the trans community. It affirms to that community that “You’re on the right road, baby.” Shout out to our new Attorney General Jeff Sessions: The bathrooms at the Translation Film Festival are unisex.

Seattle’s 12 annual Translations Transgender Film Fest runs May 4-14th. venues include the Egyptian Theatre, 12th Ave Arts, Northwest Film Forum and more; Festival pass $150, individual tickets range from free to $11; for the full schedule and details of films and events, go to


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Starla Smith

Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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