SXSW 2019: The Garden Left Behind

Carlie Guevara as Tina Carrera during filming of The Garden Left Behind. Photo Credit: Koshi Kiyokawa

With a spotlight on one woman’s struggle to live an authentic life, The Garden Left Behind is a beautiful film that covers quite a bit of ground.

The film focuses on Tina (Carlie Guevara) and her grandmother Eliana (Miriam Cruz).  The two of them are undocumented Mexican immigrants living in New York City.  Tina is a transgender woman and works to bring in money to pay their bills.  Meanwhile, Eliana stays home.  Obviously, there are some risks that come with living as undocumented immigrants.  This goes without saying, of course.  While she’s already presenting as female, Tina undergoing the process of starting her medical transition.  This requires multiple visits with Dr. Cleary (Ed Asner) in order to secure a letter to begin hormone replacement therapy.

Like any grandmother, Eliana has worries about her granddaughter.  Of course, she’s still struggling with the transition process–what with all the deadnaming and all.  She probably shouldn’t have to worry because Tina has no problem making friends within the trans community.  This includes a close friend in Carol (Tamara Williams).

This is a film that doesn’t make light of how expensive it is to transition.  It’s not cheap at all!  The camera beautifully captures the shock in Tina’s eyes following the first bill.  If not for being an undocumented immigrant, it’s quite possible that Tina could afford decent medical insurance.  She goes as far as thinking of selling her car if it means having the money to afford living.  Again, for my cisgender readers, this is the reality for all of us who are transgender.  Our lives are not cheap.  Buying a new wardrobe is the least of it as we are on medication for the rest of our lives.  Sorry to get personal but this film is very personal in that regard.

Even more importantly, the film doesn’t ignore the threats trans women–especially trans woman of color–deal with on a daily basis.  One of the core plot points in the film has to deal with two cops violently beating Rosie, a trans woman from Queens.  This leads to rallies and other protests.  Tina isn’t without her own worries.  For some reason or another, Chris (Anthony Abdo) is semi-stalking her from afar.

This is how an authentic film about the transgender community should be made.  The Garden Left Behind goes through the care of making sure that trans actors are cast in transgender roles.  Casting trans roles with trans actors is not that hard.  Thankfully, this cast is one that is heavy with trans actors!  In her feature debut, trans actress Carlie Guevara delivers a remarkable performance.  This is a performance that allows audiences to emotionally invest in her character.  It’s a stunning performance for the newcomer but it reflects the reality for many transgender women.  Most importantly, this film reflects what life is like for minorities within the transgender community.  I’m not going to lie in that the third act gives us ALL the feels.

There are some beautiful shots in this film.  One of which includes the moment that changes Tina’s life.  It’s a shot that works so well because Robert Pycior’s score amplifies the emotional content of the scene.  Again, this is an absolutely beautiful shot.  It’s far from the only one that hit close to home.  I went the informed consent route but learning that you’re going to start HRT is always an important moment.

I cannot stress this enough.  It’s important to have transgender talent both in front and behind the camera.  This is one of the best things to like about this film.  We have the transgender community proudly represented both on screen and behind the scenes.

With a stunning performance from newcomer Carlie Guevara, The Garden Left Behind is transgender authenticity at its finest.

DIRECTOR:  Flavio Alves
SCREENWRITERS:  John Rotondo, Flavio Alves
CAST:  Carlie Guevara, Michael Madsen, Ed Asner, Danny Flaherty, Alex Kruz, Anthony Abdo, Tamara Williams, Bernadette Quigley, Dawn Young, Brock Yurich, Tym Moss, and Miriam Cruz

The Garden Left Behind holds its world premiere during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival in the Visions program. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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