Tribeca 2019: Framing Agnes

Framing Agnes. Photo by Aubree Bernier-Clarke.

Framing Agnes packs a lot of punch into 19 minutes but this important transgender documentary could very well be a feature-length film.

The short film serves as both a documentary and a reenactment after co-directors Chase Joynt and Kristen Schilt were able to access sociologist Harold Garfinkel’s (Chase Joynt) archives.  While they knew the story of Agnes (Zachary Drucker), they didn’t know Garfinkel saw other clients.  These case files would be locked up for some 60 years.   It took a while to find Agnes’ case file but these other files came as a pleasant surprise.  Who knew just how important Harold Garfinkel would be for transgender history?!?

Here’s what we know about Agnes: she would enter study for a sex disorders at UCLA in 1958.  While she was assigned male at birth, Agnes would eventually start living as a woman.  She also knew that she needed gender-confirmation surgery.  Such a surgery would allow Agnes to be more comfortable in her body.  Anyway, most of the conversations with Garfinkel would end up being recorded.  Without the case study, it would be unlikely that Agnes would be approved for surgery.  We learn later on that Agnes was on estrogen since adolescence.

Through her interviews, we learn that Agnes does not know other transgender people.  This makes sense when one factors in the time period.  We also learn that she has  husband who knows nothing of her history.  Another patient, Georgia (Angelica Ross), grew up in a very religious setting.  She had trouble finding the right person because dating while transgender is very tough.  Other patients include Denny (Silas Howard) and Henry (Max Wolf Valerio).  Most importantly, everyone has a story to share.

While we get the re-enactments, we also get the transgender talent talking about their own experiences.  Angelica Ross brings up Caitlyn Jenner as someone who transitions late in life because of not wanting to lose her privilege.  Max Wolf Valerio and Silas Howard share stories about being transgender men.  There’s no right way to transition.  It is true that there are those who do put things off for fear of what they might lose.  There are those of us who know when we’re young and those who know later.  This doesn’t make anybody any less transgender.

I applaud the filmmakers for getting this story out into the open for more people to see.  They bring transgender stories to light through different framing.  More often than not, when trans stories are shared on screen, it’s typically one person.  We don’t see such stories presented in a collective way.  As an increasing number of people come out, this will likely change.  A 19 minute film means having to divide up time shorter than would be preferred.  It works in this case but again, I’d like to see what the film looks like with a longer running time.  After all, there are SO MANY STORIES in existence!  All of which are important in their own way–this goes without saying!

Even though this documentary is short, there’s surely enough material to expand Framing Agnes into a feature film.

DIRECTORS:  Chase Joynt, Kristen Schilt
FEATURING:  Angelica Ross, Chase Joynt, Max Wolf Valerio, Silas Howard, and Zackary Drucker

Framing Agnes held its North American premiere during the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in the Shorts: Forces of Nature and Pride: Front and Center programs.

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.