Sam Berliner is Making a Difference as Director of Seattle Transgender Film Festival “Translations”

July 25, 2014

“When you strip it all down, we are all simply people who want to love and be loved. I really believe that film helps audiences remember that.”

Transgender filmmaker and Translations festival director, Sam Berliner, is an inspiring leader in the LGBTQ community.  His film festival is helping create visibility, empathy and understanding around the transgender community.  Translations is a powerful and unique festival that is strengthening alliances between all genders, and building bridges between communities.

translations, translations: transgender film festival, sam berliner

Image courtesy of Three Dollar Bill Cinema.

Q: When did your involvement with Translations begin?

A: I have only been involved in Translations as Festival Director for the past two years. This was the 9th festival!  The first two festivals were held as part of the Gender Odyssey Conference. Since the third year, Translations has been a stand-alone event run by Three Dollar Bill Cinema.

Q: What are some of your favorites films from this year’s film festival?

A: Three feature highlights for me this past festival were: My Prairie Home, directed by Chelsea McMullan; Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger, directed by Sam Feder; and Boy Meets Girl, directed by Eric Schaeffer. My Prarie Home is a musical documentary exploration of the transgender singer-songwriter Rae Spoon as they travel by bus across the majestic Canadian prairie. Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger is an unflinching documentary about the author, performer and transgender icon Kate Bornstein on her latest performance tour.  It challenges audiences to examine their own assumptions about gender, society, power, sexuality and life. Boy Meets Girl is a ground-breaking, sex-positive romantic comedy about Ricky, a beautiful 21-year-old transgender girl living in Virginia with aspirations of becoming a fashion designer in New York (played by MTF [male to female transgender] actress Michelle Hendley), and what happens between herself, her best friend Robby, and wealthy socialite Francesca that changes them all.

Q: What is the most exciting aspect of Translations?

A: There are only a handful of transgender film festivals in the entire world and Translations is one of the oldest! It is a very unique experience for transgender and gender-variant folks to be able to come together and celebrate our community through the power of cinema. Film is such a powerful medium. As gender-variant people, recognizing ourselves on-screen and being able to relate to the characters is unbelievably affirming. Translations offers a space to celebrate, honor, morn, learn, grow, relate, cry, empathize, accept, laugh… It is a space that we can excitedly return to each year to keep tabs on this ever shifting and beautifully evolving community. It offers visibility, community building, and education, and it’s an opportunity to strengthen alliances among people of all genders. What’s more, it’s a very exciting time for transgender film as more and more films are being made, more stories are being told, and transgender stories are reaching even larger audiences.Photo courtesy of Sam Berliner.

Q: What films and festivals served as inspiration to become a film festival director?

A: As a transgender filmmaker, my goal is to: provide a positive voice for the trans, gender-queer and gender-variant folks not yet represented on screen. I want to document our history, serve as a call to action to be recognized and respected by society at large, and force our culture to evolve. Having the privilege of serving as Festival Director for Translations has given me the platform and opportunity to further those goals and to curate programs that create meaningful moments for trans and gender-variant folks, as well as for our allies.

In terms of films, I am a huge fan of Jamie Babbit’s, But I’m A Cheerleader; Harry Dodge and Silas Howard’s, By Hook or By Crook; Sabine Bernardi’s Romeos; Chris Vargas and Greg Youman’s web-series Falling In Love With Chris and Greg; Rhys Ernst’s, The Drive North; and Luke Woodward’s Enough Man. I am super into Trans New Wave filmmakers, as this is my goal with my own work. Basically, Trans New Wave films assume that the audience has a basic Trans 101 in their back pockets already so that characters are free to embody their sexual orientations and gender identities without calling attention to it— therefore giving the film the freedom to focus on the story. It is revolutionary! In terms of festivals, I had the special opportunity to work with Frameline: the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival for a couple of years and learned the ins and outs of how film festivals run.

Q: What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work at Translations?

A: The number one most fulfilling part of my job at Translations is, as I mentioned, the opportunity to create special moments for trans and gender-variant audiences and our allies, whether it is recognizing oneself on-screen or better understanding our community.  Hearing moving comments from our audiences after a screening is certainly the most fulfilling part of the job.

Q: How has this festival helped create awareness surrounding important issues within the LGBT community?

A: Film is a powerful medium. Being immersed in trans stories strongly promotes empathy and film can act as a bridge of understanding between communities. When you strip it all down, we are all simply people who want to love and be loved. I really believe that film helps audiences remember that.

Take a look at the Translations website to explore festival highlights and featured films from 2014.


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