The San Francisco Transgender Film Festival returns in November

Founded in 1997, the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival (SFTFF) continues its legacy of featuring programming that transforms culture, supports trans filmmakers, builds community, and educates audiences about transgender identities, histories, cultures, and experiences.

The festival kicks off for its 15th year anniversary on Thursday, November 10 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and runs through Sunday, November 13 with a lineup that includes award-winning features, short films, and special Q&As with transgender filmmakers.

The full festival lineup and schedule can be found at SFTFF.org.

With a special opening night feature film screening of FREE CeCe!--the acclaimed documentary executive produced by Laverne Cox and directed by Jac Gares about CeCe McDonald, a trans woman who was brutally attacked while defending her life and incarcerated in a men's prison--the film that explores the role race, class, and gender payed in CeCe's case sees her emerge not just as a survivor but as a leader, and sets the tone for the exceptional programming to follow. 

GLAAD interviewed Shawna Virago, the Artistic Director, of SFTFF to find out about the significance of film festivals centering trans voices, how the festival has changed over the years, and what the future holds for film festivals like it. 

GLAAD: How did the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival come about?

Shawna Virago: We organized our initial festival for the same reason so many other marginalized communities have organized film festivals: the absence of authentic representations of our lives in the commercial media.  

G: Why are film festivals like this so important?

SV: I think festivals like ours have significant community impact because they bring together diverse transgender communities and allow transgender and gender non-conforming media artists to screen their films in front of supportive audiences.

G: More generally, why are films centered around trans stories and centering trans voices so important?

SV: Like many within the LGBTQ community, we are rarely in the driver's seat of completely getting to produce content that authentically reflects the diversity of who we are. The San Francisco Transgender Film Festival provides a powerful counter-narrative to the increasingly assimilationist world of transgender reality stars and celebrities. Hollywood still gets it wrong – very wrong. The festival provides people with an opportunity to come see trans people telling our OWN stories, with trans characters played by TRANS actors. 

G: How has the festival changed over the years?

SV: When I think back to when we started, I could never have imagined the public scope transgender issues are receiving. There seem to be two parallel tracks: one track seems to be transgender and non-binary filmmakers who are telling authentic and sometimes experimental stories, while the other track, which is mainstream media, is still being narrow when it shows transgender experience — there is no place or presence of experimental transgender stories. That's what makes the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival such a sacred and special place. 

G: Being Artistic Director since 2003, do you personally have a most memorable moment from the festival?

SV: I have so many favorites. Every year is a glorious, affirming and chaotic adventure. But one of the most was screening the world premiere of MAJOR! – a feature-length documentary profiling the life and remarkable activism of Stonewall veteran, trans woman Miss Major Griffen-Gracy, who has been advocating for the rights of transgender women of color for over 40 years. It was inspiring to honor this champion of transgender rights. This film was made by Annalise Ophelian and StormMiguel Florez.

G: What can people look forward to this year about the event?

SV: This year we have two feature films I’m very proud to be screening: the groundbreaking documentary FREE CeCe! – directed by Jac Gares. The film is about CeCe McDonald who was viciously attacked, defended herself, and found herself incarcerated in a Minnesota men’s prison. The film was produced by Laverne Cox and looks at the intersections of race and gender.

We’re also proud to present Nakom – an intimate narrative feature from northern Ghana. Nakom premiered at the 2016 Berlinale, marking two historic firsts - the first fiction feature from Ghana ever to play that festival, and the first feature directed by a transgender woman ever to play the festival. Nakom is directed by TW Pittman, a trans woman of color and San Francisco-native, and co-directed with her longtime collaborator Kelly Daniela Norris.

G: What do you think the next fifteen years will look like for SFTFF?

SV: More love, more wrinkles, and keeping the flame alive for alternative filmmaking.

Purchase your tickets here and celebrate a milestone year with the SFTFF family.