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  • Cyrus Cohen

The Biggest Trend of Sundance 2022? Unintentionally Trans Narratives

After certain film festivals, Sundance in particular, it's common for press and industry guests to try to condense all of the extremely unique stories being showcased into succinct themes that supposedly indicate the direction cinema is headed. This year's offerings have made cannibalism, abortion, and surrealism clear through-lines that are being (and will be) discussed as trends of independent cinema in 2022. But I'd argue that not only is this effort counter-productive to nuanced discussions of filmmaking or analyses of the industry, but also that there's another subject that has been woefully unexamined at this year's Sundance: how ridiculously trans these movies are.

Three genre features that premiered there in particular exude extraordinary creativity and gender-expansiveness: Resurrection by Andrew Semans, Hatching by Hanna Bergholm, and You Won't Be Alone by Goran Stolevski. None of them use the words "trans" or "transgender" once in their screenplays and all are (seemingly, people can come out at any moment) written and directed by cisgender storytellers, but collectively they explore gender, puberty, processes of becoming, and male pregnancy in utterly fascinating ways. To elaborate on the specifics in each film would be spoiling their deliciously unhinged and wonderfully surprising narratives, but I can say that each approaches these topics from an unexpectedly caring and nuanced perspective. Some of the characters who most embody trans-ness are villains in their diegetic worlds, but each is treated as a fully three-dimensional being. Their interior lives are all complex and are made even more so by their respective explorations of or engagements with gendered concepts & experiences.

What this tells me about cinema today, however, is not that trans people are any more accepted than we used to be, not that androgyny is cool or trendy right now, and certainly not that this was some kind of intentional effort by one or all of these filmmakers. What this tells me is that there's always going to be coincidentally repetitive themes, motifs, and plots in cinema (just look at how 2011 turned Black Swan co-stars Natalie Portman & Mila Kunis into dueling stars with their eerily similar rom-coms No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits). It is also a reminder that we look for what we want to see. As a trans person, I am filtering what I see through my experiences and filling in what I know between the lines of what is (and isn't) actually on paper. Whatever identities you occupy, you're doing that too whether you're aware of it at all times.

Ultimately, if we're talking about trends, we shouldn't read into them as any kind of meaningful metric for what's on the minds of artists today. Films can take years to write, years to finance, and years in post-production. What we are seeing today is what was on the minds of artists years ago, what the festival programmers are thinking about now, and what audiences are able to glean (intentionally or not) from films in conversation with one another. Themes can be fun; I had a blast writing this ridiculously titled little essay. But trying to harvest more meaning from them is going to prove fruitless.

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