By: Sierra Juvonen – KCOU News Staff Blogger, The Pulse Anchor
The True/False Film Festival is a fusion of festivity and creativity that citizens of Columbia enjoy for one weekend out of the year. The 2016 season brought 45 nonfiction films to venues around the city, and I was able to attend the last screening of “The Pearl” that was held at the Blue Note. “The Pearl” features four middle-aged transgender women that are living in the Pacific Northwest. Nina is a part-time pizza deliverer who rarely dresses as herself in public, Jodie and Krystal are two sisters that live together, and Amy is the eldest who operates a safe house for trans women. Film-makers Jessica Dimmock and Christopher LeMarca film the four women as they go through their daily routines discussing their personal journeys.
The fact that the film was centered on a highly marginalized group was refreshing in itself. The overall lack of coverage of the transgender community throughout the U.S. is very apparent, and the conversation about this group has only just started in the last few years on the mass media scale. This symbolic annihilation of this particular community has left a large portion of the country without any real understanding of transgender culture. Even shows such as “Transparent” and the movie the “Danish Girl” feature cisgender male actors playing the role of transgender women. Although the actors do so with grace, the story they are telling is not theirs to tell. The Pearl gives a much needed, authentic look into the experiences of these four women that will hopefully generate conversation about trans visibility and rights.
The Pearl is abundant in genuine moments that allow viewers to empathize with the four subjects. Dimmock and LaMarca do well in filming seemingly mundane events that capture the depth of human emotion these women feel throughout their transitions. For instance, when Jodie and her sister Krystal visit Hawaii on vacation, Jodie states the trip was the first time she had been herself in public and didn’t feel ashamed. She gestures at the lack of curtains on the windows while saying she feels free. A similar heartrending moment occurs after Amy undergoes sexual reassignment surgery and states that she finally feels whole and complete. These statements evoke sympathy from viewers who get a brief look at the painful realities of living a secret life.
However, despite the authenticity the filming style lends to the documentary, it had its drawbacks as well. The entire film was, for the most part, seemingly unstructured. The length of time the subjects were followed is not revealed, and fluid transitions were lacking between scenes. For example, viewers would be watching Amy as she made breakfast for the members of the safe house, and then suddenly would be taken to Hawaii where Krystal and Jodie were vacationing. No previous mention of the trip had occurred. Most switches between subjects were similarly jarring.
In addition, the lives of the women are all portrayed through a mostly one-sided perspective. There is the one scene where Nina’s mother accepts her as her daughter, but for the most part we do not see the subjects interacting with others. The lack of interviews performed with third parties left the viewer wanting more. Each woman gave ample amounts of dialogue about the personal difficulties they face, but the conflict itself was never seen. Of course, Nina’s wife was not ready to see her fully express herself and the privacy of family members was respected. However, the film would have benefitted from more scenes like the one with Nina and her mother.
“The Pearl” gave a unique perspective on the lives of four women that was expressed through the lens of everyday life. Audience members were able to connect with the subjects by witnessing their everyday lives. Yet, despite the emotional connections, the film didn’t have a distinct direction which left viewers scrambling to keep up with rapid scene transitions, and uncoordinated events. Dimmock and LeMarca’s work was overall insightful yet disorienting.