At the 6th annual Outfest Los Angeles Trans, Nonbinary & Intersex Summit in West Hollywood, California, on July 23, 2022, attendees shared an afternoon of storytelling, dialogue and laughter. This year’s summit was a time-capsule titled Manifesting Our Future – a call to action to imagine ourselves 50 to 100 years into the future and to leave behind a record of our stories.
Filmmaker Perspectives showcased short films from emerging trans, nonbinary & intersex filmmakers, using film to explore the multitude of trans, nonbinary and intersex experience. Each short was followed by a moderated conversation with the filmmakers or talent, and offered a glimpse into a particular theme or issue. Filmmaker Perspective #1 | The Trans Anti-Hero featured Fraud by Zen Pace and Dana Aliya Levinson (14 mins). A trans rocker girl, getting by on petty credit card theft, is forced to question who she wants to be when her latest target surprises her with an unforeseen proposition.
TransLash was in attendance at this event and recorded an IG live, but Meta/Instagram unfortunately shadow-banned our video in the USA and worldwide. To make this conversation accessible, we ripped the IG Live video for YouTube along with a transcript, below.
TRANSCRIPT: Q&A with Zen Pace and Dana Aliya Levinson, moderated by Zackary Drucker
Zackary Drucker: Hello. That’s a world class film. Thank you all so much for doing that. What a gift. Also, can anybody who is involved in this film stand up? And maybe you can shout out?
Dana Aliya Levinson: [indistinct] Our lovely cast and crew.
Levinson: So it was inspired by an actual day in my life. So it started out as a pilot script. So I was working at a bar saving up money for the last of my transition related stuff that I wanted to do, and I come from a very, I’ll say financially unstable home, and basically there was a major, without getting into too many details, there was a major financial issue in my family and the money that I had been saving was taken to solve that issue.
And so someone came into the bar that day that I was working at, and I’ve always had a really good memory for numbers and her credit card wouldn’t swipe so I did manual entry, and I just had the fleeting thought of like I could just steal her credit card number and pay my surgery deposit, which I didn’t. Officially. But, the thought after that was who’s that character?
So she kind of became this like altered ego in my mind, and, you know, I wrote a pilot and it was on the GLAAD list this year, and it was also finalist for the Sundance episodic program. And, you know, just this story is in me and I just wanted to make something with it, and I, you know, took the 63 page pilot and Zen was super instrumental in helping me get it down to 11 pages, and we shot it.
Drucker: Thank you so much for the gift of that work. This is incredible. How did you find your way to this story, Dana?
Drucker: Zen, this is slick as hell. How did you pull this off? It was tricky.
Zen Pace: Yeah, I mean, this took almost three three years because of course COVID happened and then we, you know, we planned to share it and then that didn’t happen and then COVID, and then finally we shot it. It took a lot of prep. This was it’s my first narrative short, and I really love this story deeply because I love Shira deeply. I’ve always been fascinated and feel more closer to anti-hero characters than I do any other characters.
Like, I really could give a shit about Superman or any of those people. Like, I’m more interested in morally flawed people because that is what is real. Not anyone that lives on this binary of like this is what truth is. Like, no. Can I curse? So yeah, a lot of just absolutely a lot of shot listing, and we had incredible, incredible producing team. We had incredible, incredible team of people that helped make it.
Drucker: And anti heroism is something that everybody should be able to claim. It’s incredible that when you get one millimeter into trans history, and we are just a community that has survived in some proximity to petty crime, organized crime. You know, the girls are grifters. Not just the girls, trans folks in general have always existed on the margins, and found ingenious ways to survive, to navigate the world in which, you know, they cannot have official papers.
I mean, it’s just one example after another. Throughout history I think about the many legends who my grandmother Falla Sabrina, for example, coming up in 1950s in the ’60s as an out queer person. She was a legitimate grifter. A lot of people don’t know, but she was counterfeiting paintings. She learned how to do all of this stuff as a way to support herself in a world that would never have her. So how did you come to your anti heroism, Dana?
Levinson: That’s a good question. You know, it’s funny, there was actually a line that got cut from the film that is sort of relevant to the answer, which is that at one point, Shira talks about like being from a Jewish family and she says it’s funny there’s that stereotype about Jews and money. In actuality, it’s hard to gain generational wealth when you’re being genocided once a century. And that’s like, that’s my family. It’s like my great uncle who was a Holocaust survivor hid money in the mattress and like, you know, all of that sort of stuff.
And because of that inherited trauma, you know, around like money and you need to flee at a moment’s notice and all of that, it’s like my family they never did anything illegal or anything like that, but they were always like, you know, like paying a check on a Sunday so they knew it wouldn’t come out of the account and then purposely over drawing the account. You know, shit like that. Little things to like get by, especially in moments where there was a lot of financial instability. So I always kind of grew up in that sort of like mindset which I do think is like borderline grifting, you know? Then there’s the reality that, like you were saying, like the girls get their needs met however they are gonna get them met, you know?
And there is a reality to that. Also like, Zen, I’ve always found anti heroes interesting, and also for me more the reason why I thought it was so important to create this character and to write this story is because I’m a big believer in these like didactic educational kind of trans narratives, which I think there was a place where at a time they actually have a tendency to other us even further because they sort of turn us into this like object to learn about, right? Rather than like an actual, fully realized human being. And I think that the antihero space allows us to present trans people in full humanity, full dimension, and that I think is actually more relatable to cis people than like trying to educate them in more of our ways. So I also was very interested in it from that perspective as well.
Drucker: Absolutely, it’s the cracks and the flaws and those are the things that create access or open us up, and it’s also where our intuition comes from apparently. Zen, what are your thoughts on anti heroism?
Pace: My thoughts are I remember when I was a kid and everyone wanted to play Power Rangers outside and then they looked at me and they were like, “But you’re the witch.” And I was like, fabulous. Because the anti heroes or the quote-unquote villains sometimes they’re the ones that are actually absolutely the most interesting.
Like, I could give… I’m not gonna curse anymore. I don’t care about so many of the Disney shows, but I care about Maleficent, I care about like Ursula, I care about what tho those stories are and I think, you know, there’s something to be said that why we’re attracted to them is because I think it’s more relatable that like life isn’t perfect, and I need to find a way to fucking survive and do it with a little bit of flare.
Which I think that’s also like what I tried to do in this film is the beginning montage that we have. I want Shira to feel absolutely sexy, incredible because we need to see more of these types of characters on the screen so that we can get the, you know, there’s the Walter White who is a great, great show, “Breaking Bad,” but we have so many of these anti heroes that are out there and they’re white cisgender men, and they’re getting five seasons. But we don’t have any of that within the trans community, and like that’s we need to see this. Basically, people should just give you money right now, Dana, so that we can make this.
Drucker: Thank you for being my Jewish witchy sister. We love planting that in there. I mean, in this film we have a multidimensional trans woman who gets to speak French and intercept a beautiful ring. There’s so many textures and layers to this character that we receive so succinctly. What is your hope for this time in trans representation for the future?
Levinson: I mean, I really hope that we see more and more work that is actually made by trans artists because I think that like I’ve seen, you know, I’ve seen so many trans films made by cisgender people that they just the lived experience isn’t in the character. You know what I mean?
Where it’s like it feels like a cis person’s imagination of what a trans experience is, and not that there’s a singular trans experience, but the more trans people there are whose stories are being told and told authentically, the more sort of taste people will get for what authentic trans experiences are.
And the thing that I think the most important message is those stories are out there. Like, I know so many incredible trans writers, directors, filmmakers, who are doing incredible, incredible work, and the support needs to be there. It’s like Hollywood needs to kind of wake up and start realizing that like that’s where the good stuff is, is to support people of particular communities to tell stories of those communities.
Drucker: Zen, I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the journey of the film and how, you know, you created a community of support around it. I understand it was, I supported the crowd funding, right?
Levinson: You also gave notes on an early draft. [indistinct]
Drucker: Yeah. Could you tell us how you guys pulled it off? [indistinct] In terms of the support around it all, I mean, how? Well, how do you get to this level of…
Pace: Well, one, it was I would say props to Dana who became as the big producer on this project and like had an email list like I’ve never seen to make sure that this project got funded. So props to you, love. And that was obviously a big part of it, which was honestly really inspiring to see someone who wants their art out there, and is gonna do anything to put it out there. Yeah, I love you. I think outside of that, it became about finding the right people, and big props to our DP, Orin, who is a queer DP. Like, everything from the types of lenses that we put on this film, which were Hawk Anamorphics.
We did that because one, it’s stunning and it serves the story. But two, also like, we don’t get to see our stories shot in this type of way often. Anamorphics are usually preserved for more the big budget types of movies. So they were never really given to any queer people, and that’s why like making even those types of decisions can be revolutionary. And then we also had an amazing, amazing team.
Most of our crew, basically the whole prod was queer. There was a lot of tears at the end of the set because it should feel like family, it should feel safe.
People came up to me telling me how safe they felt on this set, and while I love that, I also think that just that has to be the norm because it’s not the norm, which is baffling to me. We’re working, you know, many, many, many hours, and we have to stand up for each other in those parts. And every single person was okay with wearing another hat. You know, I know it’s like in this industry, there’s this idea that like, well, I just do this role and that’s my role and that’s it. No one touches what I do, and I can respect that.
But I think that that’s a very narrow way of doing it. Like, I think we have to allow space to give our other other sides of artistry, and bring people up, you know? For example, Orin the DP was helping the other people on set with different things like set design, for example. Like, that’s not his job, but he’s commenting on that and he wants to change those things, and that doesn’t normally happen on a lot of other sets. So that type of support creating that family vibe is really crucial and safe in that safe vibe.
Drucker: Thank you both so much for your art, for your story. Thank you all for convening and for being here. What a gift. We’re gonna keep it moving.
Outfest, established in 1982, is a queer arts, media, and entertainment organization that empowers LGBTQIA+ storytellers and clears pathways to visibility of their work by all members of the public.
The 6th annual Outfest Los Angeles Trans, Nonbinary & Intersex Summit showcased a multitude of trans, nonbinary & intersex experiences as a vision for the future. This year’s summit was a time-capsule titled Manifesting Our Future – a call to action to imagine ourselves 50 to 100 years into the future and to leave behind a record of our stories. While trans, nonbinary and intersex people have garnered varying levels of visibility, the goal of this year’s summit was to unpack how visibility can shape our collective future. Storytelling is a manifestation of our imagination and the futures we dream of as trans, nonbinary and intersex people. The future is ours, the future is here, and right now more than ever, we have the power to manifest it. https://www.outfest.org/
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