From This Day Forward and Five More Transformative Transgender Documentaries

Kimberly Reed's Prodigal Sons is a captivating documentary about the transgender movement in America.
Kimberly Reed's Prodigal Sons is a captivating documentary about the transgender movement in America.
First Run Features

With Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner introducing themselves not just to America but the world, the stories of transgender people are beginning to find vocal and visual platforms. From This Day Forward, a documentary screening Tuesday at the Sie FilmCenter, adds a fascinating new chapter. It’s the story of filmmaker Sharon Shattuck, who, while planning her wedding, decided to turn the camera on her own family. When Shattuck and her sister were very young, their father transitioned into Trisha, testing both the kids’ understanding of their father as well as the fabric of his marriage to their straight-identified mother, Marcia. Now that she’s about to be married herself, Sharon recalls a long-ago request from Trisha to be able walk her down the aisle in a dress. With the nuptials fast approaching, the Shattucks come together to celebrate their family’s unique shape.

In a post-I Am Caitlyn world, the documentary will soon become the go-to format to continue to tell the captivating stories of transgendered people — but the camera has actually been focused on them for years. After you watch From This Day Forward, you'll want to catch these five great films that also covered the trans community.

5) Mr. Angel
The story of how one transgender man, Buck Angel, created a sexy persona of hypermasculinity with his perfect male form — and also used his vagina to empower thousands of people, trans and otherwise, to embrace themselves and their sexuality.  In the process, he single-handedly changed the porn industry, as shown in this 2013 documentary. The runaway success of Buck Angel Entertainment, which created its own unique niche in the adult film world, has allowed Angel to not only be an icon in porn, complete with a statue erected in his form, but to become a trans leader in the movement as a public speaker, writer and mentor. Buck Angel is every inch the film’s tagline, which states: “He’s a man like no other."

4) Southern Comfort
This award-winning 2001 doc introduces us to Robert Eads, a transgender man who is living out the last year of his life suffering from ovarian cancer, which was left untreated by dozens of doctors who refused to help him. That's a fascinating story on its own, but Comfort also focuses on Eads’ relationship with girlfriend Lola, also transgender, and the build-up to his last appearance at Southern Comfort, a yearly trans gathering in the tough social terrain of Atlanta. Director Kate Davis filmed a winning balance of-tear jerking final moments — including a final visit from Eads’ parents, who still consider him their “daughter” — but with a rounded edge, making sure to celebrate his life, newfound family and the hard-fought freedom to be the man that Eads always strove to be.

3) Paris Is Burning
Jennie Livingston’s landmark 1990 film is an up-close-and-personal look at the underground vogueing/ball scene in New York City and the world of drag performance. Key players in the scene  — like would-be model Octavia Saint Laurent and baby Venus Xtravaganza —  are transgendered, and the film does a pioneering job of letting them tell their stories with a focused eye and zero judgment. That introduction leaves us beaming when Octavia makes strides to a real career and breaks our heart when we learn the hard reality of what can become of an unprotected soul like Venus.

2) Trinidad
For decades, the Colorado town of Trinidad was known as the “sex change capital of the world.” After Dr. Stanley Biber earned the town that reputation with decades of ground-breaking work; he passed his practice on to transgender surgeon Dr. Marci Bowers. This 2008 film focuses on the battles and challenges that Bowers faces on the cutting edge of a then-still controversial procedure, trying to create a healthy and positive post-op community in our state, so patients can heal in peace and then find a proper runway for their new lives to take flight.

1) Prodigal Sons
Director Kimberly Reed’s complicated and emotional 2008 film turns the camera on her own life as she returns to her hometown of Helena, Montana, to attend a reunion at her high school — from which she graduated as Paul, a popular football hero — and also reconnect with her estranged and adopted brother, Marc, who suffers mental issues after a car accident years before. But when it is suddenly revealed that Marc is actually the secret grandson of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, the concept of identity becomes even more tangled and the family ties quickly, and tightly, begin to bind.

From This Day Forward screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 22, at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue, as part of the theater's ongoing Women + Film and Cinema Q programs. The film will be preceded by a free reception at 6:30 p.m. and will close with a Skype Q&A with Sharon Shattuck. Tickets are $15, or $12 for Denver Film Society members; get yours at denverfilm.org.

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