Framing Agnes attempts to uncover years of transgender history in an academic space that has actively excluded that same group.
This Sundance Documentary blends research with a fictionalised talk show to study the narrow lens through which Trans people are viewed in the media.
It begins with Agnes Torres, a young trans woman in the 1950s that fooled UCLA ‘experts’ into letting her access Gender Affirmation Surgery.
From there, the documentary will take you on a journey using case studies found in a 1950s gender clinic and actors to tell these forgotten stories.
Director Chase Joynt does not attempt to fit into a genre that has become oversaturated with true-crime stories and WWII documentaries.
By blending storytelling methods, he creates a language for Trans people to learn about their history outside the traditionally white, cis-gendered academic space.
The inclusion of a talk-show format brings in an interesting discussion about how Trans people have been treated in the media and how visibility often leads to vulnerability for this community.
Screened as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival’s, Framing Agnes does not waste time in explaining the ins and outs of Agnes’ story.
We are placed right in the centre of the action. It is almost assumed that we will be aware of this case before watching it.
It feels as if the filmmakers are choosing not to dilute this history for people not in the know. This is a story about Trans people, for Trans people.
That shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept. However, it does feel like the Transgender community are finally getting ownership over their own experiences.
That’s not to say Cis-gendered audiences can’t enjoy and learn from Framing Agnes. But go into it with the knowledge that this documentary is only the start of your education. There is so much more to learn.
However, at times, the narrative structure can get lost amongst the detailed research within the project.
In this way, it feels less like a documentary film and more like a thesis statement. However, this doesn’t take away from the truly innovative nature of Joynt’s work.
If it is ever in danger of becoming too intellectual, the liveliness of the performances instantly rescues it. That is what sets Framing Agnes apart.
Angelica Ross (Georgia), Jen Richards (Barbara) and Zackary Drucker (Agnes) portray participants interviewed at UCLA in the 50s.
They manage to breathe life into the dusty old transcripts once forgotten in a file cabinet.
These actresses take what they have learned from the past and apply it to their experiences as trans artists and academics.
Framing Agnes is a powerful study of Trans people in the limelight, made with care and expertise.
Edinburgh International Film Festival runs till 20th August. Book tickets now here.
Featured Image Credit: Level Ground