Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Behind the Screen: Transgression

Daniel Rotman describes the making of Transgression, which relates the plight of Norma, a transgender individual who fled Mexico for the United States and encountered issues that involved both her immigration status and her gender. Transgression was featured in the CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival.

Team Transgression (left to right):
Toni Marzal, T. J. Barber, Morgan Hargrave, Daniel Rotman 
The story of how Transgression came together began in summer 2011. Film co-director Daniel Rotman had a fellowship (funded by the Traub-Dicker Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy) with Immigration Equality, an organization that provides legal assistance and advocacy for LGBT individuals. At the culmination of the fellowship, he needed to write a long thesis about a policy issue he encountered at Immigration Equality. While working with the organization, Daniel came across the stories of numerous transgender clients who were battling for asylum in the United States.  When Daniel returned to Harvard at the end of the fellowship, he came up with an idea: create a documentary to showcase the plight of transgender detainees as a more effective and powerful educational piece. With the permission of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, he proceeded with planning for the documentary. 

He entered a competition at Harvard Law School's Documentary Studio Lab, which funds amateur documentary projects. Harvard Law had just launched the campus-wide competition to encourage amateur documentary filmmakers to film a short documentary on a policy issue. Transgression was chosen as one of the finalists and received support both in funding and the use of film equipment to create the documentary. Daniel approached his close friend and colleague, Morgan Hargrave, to join the team as a writer/co-director. Harvard Law Studio matched Daniel and Morgan with T. J. Barber, an experienced editor completing his freshman year at Harvard, and Toni Marzal, a writer completing a master’s program at Harvard Law School. The team received the support of Immigration Equality to focus the documentary on one of its clients, Norma, and the crew went to New York to film over the course of the week. Post-production took 2 months as the crew managed full-time school schedules.

Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, it was difficult to maintain a balance of getting the full scope and depth of the story while respecting the pain felt by Norma as she recalled her experience. It was surprising to see the openness and fearlessness of Norma in telling her story, despite her difficult memories.  Despite her courage, Team Transgression tried to exercise caution with regard to revealing anything that would jeopardize Norma's immigration status. Fortunately, there was little that the team needed to avoid including in the film.

Update, 12/16/14: New, free film study guide for Transgression from CSWE. To order the film, contact Daniel Rotman.

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