Thursday, July 19, 2007

the believers

Documentary feature The Believers made its Los Angeles debut at Outfest this Wednesday night, opening audience member’s eyes to the participants in Transcendence, the world’s first transgender gospel choir. Directed by Todd Holland and co-produced by Beth Burkhart, The Believers follows the journey of the choir and its members from its inception until winning an Outmusic Award in 2004.

The film opens with the voices of the choir each proclaiming, “I am made in the image of God.” This statement sets the stage for the balancing act that the members of Transcendence must perform, being caught between two seemingly opposing forces – the transgender community and the Christian ministry. Many from both sides of this spectrum could at first be shocked or offended to find that members of their community are in some way ‘fraternizing with the enemy.’ The main mission of Transcendence is to show that there is no ground for there to be hostility between Christians and transgender individuals.

Holland decided to make the documentary after his coworker, Ash, shared news of his impending transition. After witnessing the transformation, Holland said that he learned so much about the issues present in the transgender community that he had been unaware of. Now called Ashley, Holland’s coworker felt a void in her life where faith and worship were needed to help soothe the pain caused by ignorant accusations that transgender people are “abominations” in the eyes of God. As Ashley began taking steps to create the Bay Area choir, Holland started filming.

Ashley and fellow choir members Prado and Bobbie Jean are the main focus of the film, giving personality to the struggles of the choir at large. They each tell a different story about what their transition was like, but they share the experiences of trying to succeed as a musical group whose member’s vocal ranges are tempered by inexperience and hormones. As the film progresses, the characters grow more comfortable with their performances, their status as notable figures in the transgender community, and their message that Jesus made them the way that they are and will return their love completely.

After Wednesday night’s screening, Holland and Burkhart expressed their relief that as they documented the growth of the choir, a story emerged about their journey to the United Church of Christ international synod in 2003 where they performed and shared their anecdotes in order to promote acceptance of LGBT people in the UCC’s official policies. The film makes it evident that Transcendence has had the ability to open up a lot of people’s minds to the overlapping communities portrayed in it.

The Believers premiered last summer at Frameline in San Francisco, where it won the audience award for Best Documentary. It will be screening again this Sunday, July 22, at 2:15 pm at the Directors Guild of America. Tickets are $12 at the door.


Philip said...

Nice review, well written... You should send the review on to the writer/producer!

Kat said...

Thanks! My review should be posted at sometime next week. I did do a short email interview with the producer, which I will be posting later if I get her permission. The film will be shown on the Logo channel this fall, so you'll get a chance to see it!

Beth said...

Thanks for the review Kat. I enjoyed meeting you. Just catching up on email, etc, now after a long and fun trip to LA!