The Cleveland International Film Festival promotes artistically and culturally significant film arts through education and exhibition to enrich the life of the community.
March 29, 2019 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
Director Flavio Alves returns to Cleveland for his third CIFF appearance, this year marking his first visit as a feature film director.
“Cleveland saw me maturing from a student filmmaker to a professional one,” says Alves, who will unveil his latest project, “The Garden Left Behind,” about a Mexican transgender woman navigating life in New York City as an undocumented immigrant.
Although Alves originally studied political science, including a position working for then-New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, he later discovered filmmaking was a more effective platform to make a difference and impact people’s lives. In the case of his latest film, Alves focuses on bringing the rights and visibility of the transgender community front and center.
“I believe it’s my responsibility as a Latinx queer filmmaker,” Alves says, “to bring to the forefront stories of people who have historically been underrepresented, misunderstood, and marginalized for being who they are.”
As these topics gain more traction in mainstream conversations, films like this provide a valuable outlet to portray the unique challenges and experiences of transgender men and women. Of course, no two stories are the same, and Alves made the effort to interview several trans men and women from all different backgrounds to write a genuine, true-to-life script.
“In order to do the story justice, we met with more than 30 trans-led organizations, with hopes of including their concerns about the fictional story we were building,” Alves recalls. “Shortly after starting our research, we understood that it would require us to do a lot more homework in order to develop authentic characters.”
Both cisgender men, Alves and screenwriting partner John Rotondo, recognized the limits of their own personal experiences, and worked hard to fairly represent transgender individuals for which they care so deeply.
“It was important that we do our due diligence by listening to and incorporating the narratives that the trans community themselves provided to us.”
Tackling timely issues like transgender rights layered with citizenship challenges is no easy task, especially when you are bound by the inherent limitations of a small, independent film production company. Nevertheless, with the finished product ready for eager audiences, Alves looks forward to the responses of Cleveland viewers.
“I hope that after watching our film, the next time my audience meets a trans person, they see them as people,” says Alves. “As a director, my hope is that my audience will find something relatable in my characters.”
PHOTO: Filmmaker Flavio Alves’ recommendation for CIFF audiences: “Make sure to bring a pack of Kleenex with you. You’re going to need it.”
Popcorn, soda, and tissues. Check.
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