For the past 10 years, the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival (CTFF) has been celebrating the work of filmmakers with Caribbean heritage. CTFF is truly an international event, showcasing films from across the Caribbean diaspora: Europe, Africa, China, India and the Middle East are represented alongside the Americas in a multi-ethnic mix of shared stories and cultures.
Mala Mala directors Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles are emotionally fearless in their stark but affectionate view of trans life in Puerto Rico. Whether it’s accompanying trans activist Ivana Fred as she hands out condoms to friends plying their trade on the streets, or following the community’s quest for acceptance and dignity, Sickles and Santini have a knack for showing their subjects’ humour and optimism even in difficult circumstances.
Fred is perhaps the most mesmerizing subject — a sort of trans Tyra Banks, complete with silky hair, perfect make-up and a figure that would make J Lo weep. Attractive and accessible, Fred is in high demand by newscasts and television talk shows when it comes to issues pertaining to the transgender community.
This contrasts starkly with other subjects profiled: Sandy has done porn and works the streets every night, but dreams of completing her transition and sharing a more traditional life with her hot blond boyfriend. Samantha is a bit of a wreck, her health has been compromised by black market hormone drugs. Then there’s the tempestuous Soryaya, who flatly refuses to be identified as trans anything and disparages her sisters who go the glam route. “One thing is to feel like a woman, and another to feel like a beauty queen,” she thunders.
This glimpse into the women’s lives is played out against the journey of Bill 238 through the Puerto Rican senate, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As the friends gather together to march for peace, one can’t help but wonder if it will make a difference for some of them.
CTFF will also be showcasing short films, including Francisco Lupini Basagoiti’s delightful TÚ. YO. BAÑO. SEXO. AHORA (YOU. ME. BATHROOM. SEX. NOW). It’s the timeless tale of love, betrayal and how to fuck your way out of depression.
After discovering his lover performing analingus on a stranger, Tony seeks refuge at his local bar. There he pours out his troubles to trans bartender Roberta (Puy Navarro) and perpetually inebriated regular Pepín (played by Francisco Feurtes).
“It’s basically how we use sex, how we forget to deaden the pain,” says Feurtes. “Tony is heartbroken, and he meets a stranger who doesn’t speak English. The stranger slaps this note on the bar, and they end up having sex in the backroom. It’s a timeless story.”
Running at only 17 minutes, TÚ never outstays its welcome, offering lots of laughs while also following Tony’s bittersweet coital monologue regarding fidelity and disappointment. But the best line, of course, goes to the bartender in response to Tony’s frustrated outburst that “heartbreak is for pussies.”
“Well, if we’re talking pussies,” Roberta responds, “Mine is a piece of art after the doctors made all my lips match.”