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S.F.’s Transgender & Arab Film Festivals Are Here!

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Tired of the GQP and the right-wing mediasphere spouting tons of public lies about trans kids and Arabs?  Need some real and accurate images of the transgendered and the Arabs?  Then two film festivals happening this week have what you need.  Starting this week are the 25th San Francisco Transgender Film Festival (November 10-20, 2022) (hereafter “TFF”) and the 26th Arab Film Festival of San Francisco (November 11-20, 2022) (hereafter “AFF”).   

The similarities between TFF and AFF extend beyond the nearly identical dates for their individual festivals.  In their respective demographic niches, both festivals are the oldest of their kind in this country.  TFF began in 1997 while AFF launched in 1996.  The Roxie Theatre will serve as an in-person venue for both festivals.  Both TFF and AFF offer online chances to see their offerings even if you can’t make it to the SF Bay Area.  Most importantly, both festivals deliver increased and authentic visibility for their respective demographics while also showing why the negative stereotypes are lies.

Obviously, TFF and AFF have some significant differences aside from subject matter.  TFF, which started off as “Tranny Fest”, began as a bi-annual event before going annual in 2005.  The Roxie will not be the only AFF in-person screening venue.  The other AFF venues will be the New Parkway Theater and the Pacific Film Archive.  Only a couple of the TFF programs will be shown at the Roxie; however every program will be available for virtual streaming.  By contrast, all AFF programs will be shown in theaters but a smaller number of programs will be shown online.

What are TFF and AFF offering in their 2022 editions?


San Francisco Transgender Film Festival

Mama Has A Mustache

This year’s TFF consists of seven short film programs offering a total of over 40 films.  Of them, only programs 1 & 2 will screen at the Roxie.  The other programs will stream online in chunks.  Program 7 starts streaming on November 10.  Programs 3 & 4 start up on November 12.  Programs 5 & 6 debut on November 13.   The encore streaming of programs 1 & 2 begins on November 14.  Once the programs start streaming, they’ll be available online until 11:59 PM on November 20.

While each program mixes everything from documentary to dance video, two programs have specific themes.  Program 3 is the Family-Friendly block, which will hopefully induce mental meltdowns in a few transphobic haters.  Program 5 offers more explicitly adult-themed short films for those 18 and older.

If you’re doing the in-person screenings at the Roxie, remember to be up to date on your vaccinations and to be KN95 masked.  KN95 masks will be provided if you don’t have one.  Also, seating will be on a socially distanced basis.

Here are some intriguing titles being shown at this year’s TFF:

The Beauty President–It was 1992 and AIDS was still raging unchecked throughout America.  Activist Terence Alan Smith knew this was not a time to politically sit back.  So in the drag persona of Joan Jett Blakk, Smith ran for President of the United States.  The activist reminisces about that campaign and its historic impact.

Chaac And Yum–Two queer Mayan-descended Two Spirits meet at a queer San Francisco bar.  They soon realize they’ve got a connection.  But could the roots of that relationship be related to the Mayan gods of Rain (Chaac) and Corn (Yum)?

Mama Has A Mustache–In this charming animated documentary, kids aged 5-10 are interviewed about alternatives to the gender binary and the roles within them.  The kids turn out to be more open and accepting of non-traditional gender roles than the hysterical transphobes sucking up media oxygen.

Mannequin–What do you do if you’re not quite comfortable living in suburban banality?  For 40-something trans-masc lesbian MK, the answer is to lean in to a fantasy life.  But when an opportunity arises to make that fantasy life real, how many lies do they have to tell to build a solid home?     

Sean Dorsey Dance: Dreaming Trans And Queer Futures

Pink Lips (Levres Roses)–In this experimental ode to translovers, a watchman discovers a pair of corpses in a blind kiss position.  The otherworldliness of this encounter fascinates him.  Will the experience also lead him to liberation and self-transformation?

Prayers For Sweet Waters–A deep dive into the lives of a trio of Cape Town, South Africa transgender sex workers as the COVID-19 pandemic affects their profession. 

Sean Dorsey Dance: Dreaming Trans And Queer Futures–What happens when the transgender haven you envisioned San Francisco to be turns out to fall short of expectations?  For openly transgender modern dancer Sean Dorsey, the answer was simple.  If nobody was putting trans and queer performers on San Francisco stages, he’d do so himself.  With the help of partner and activist Shawna Virago, Dorsey launched the Fresh Meat Festival, now in its 21st season of showcasing trans and queer performers.  

Soak–This experimental documentary offers a chance to reflect on trans, gender non-conforming, and otherwise queer bodies in a safe space.  Freed of the diktat of conservative social expectations, what beauty or joy can be found in such fleshly forms?

A Trip–Pvt. Seth Malone wants to be both his authentic self and to serve his country.  Yet the military environment pushes Malone to shrink his personality down so he won’t make his fellow soldiers “uncomfortable.”  But a ride with cocky and close-minded SPC Ryan Keith may offer Malone an opportunity to save lives and even change a few thought patterns.

We March (Stronger Together)–Award-winning singer-songwriter and transgender activist Ryan Cassata and Los Angeles-based rock band Hello Noon lead this combination protest song and music video documentary.  They head a group of over 60 artists and activists to raise awareness about fighting transphobic oppression and violence.  Included in the video are donated images of Black Lives Matter marches, transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson, and transgender flag creator Monica Helms.


Arab Film Festival Of San Francisco

This year’s cinematic sampling of the diversity of authentic Arab experiences features 60 films from 18 different countries.  Over a third of the offerings are directed by women.  The selections include Foreign Film Oscar submissions, films from queer Arabs around the world, and even a documentary about a boundary breaking musician.

The virtual screenings start on November 12.  Only four narratives, three documentaries, and four shorts programs selected from this year’s AFF will be shown online.

Little Palestine (Diary Of A Siege)

If you need ideas, try some of these films for starters:


The Alleys–Ali and Lana have what they think is a clandestine relationship in their East Amman neighborhood.  Given that gossip and violence spreads easily in this claustrophobic neighborhood, it wouldn’t do to let word of their affair get out.  Unfortunately, Lana’s mother Aseel gets blackmailed with a videotape of Ali and Lana together.  Hoping to avoid public embarrassment, Aseel persuades ruthless gangster Abbas to discreetly “put a stop to it.”  But the blowback from Abbas’ efforts soon entangles the lives of the other residents of the Alleys.

The Blue Caftan–In one of the older medinas of Morocco, Halim and Mina run a traditional caftan store.  Lately, their customers’ special requests have started to pile up.  Youssef gets hired as an apprentice to help out, and he displays a talent for embroidery and a desire to learn more from Halim.  But Mina’s worried Halim’s interest is going way beyond the student-teacher relationship.

The Desert Rocker–Meet pioneering Gnawa artist Hasna El Becharia.  She became incredibly proficient in a musical tradition that was previously male-only.  But with each performance, El Becharia inspires other women to challenge sexist cultural norms and redefine their roles in life.

Fadia’s Tree–Director Sarah Beddington is friends with Palestinain refugee Fadia.  Unlike the migratory birds flying freely in the skies above, the refugee is painfully aware she can’t leave Lebanon to return to her ancestral homeland.  So she challenges Beddington to find the old mulberry tree that marked the spot where her family once lived.  However, the only clues Beddington has to work with are inherited memories, a blind man, and a two-headed dragon.  Could ornithologists who understand the science of birds’ homing behavior provide the extra clues Beddington needs to fulfill Fadia’s challenge?  

In The Long Run–7-year-old Ahmed is sent by his mother to buy bread for lunch before the guests arrive.  But as the boy moves through the alleyways of the Yemeni city of Ibb’s Old City quarter, he gets constantly distracted by the hum of city life.  Whether it’s hearing an 82-year-old narrate folktales or just noticing the landscape, will Ahmed’s curiosity about everything prevent him from getting home in time?  


Little Palestine, Diary Of A Siege–Damascus’ Yarmouk district was home for over six decades to the world’s largest Palestinian refugee camp.  What destroyed the camp by 2018 was the Syrian Revolution.  Bashar Al-Assad’s regime saw the Yarmouk camp as a refuge for rebels and the resistance, so its forces started laying siege to the camp in 2013.  Filmmaker Abdallah Al-Khatib was born in Yarmouk, and he and his friends decided to document daily life in the besieged camp.  The inhabitants of the camp may have kept their spirits high, but it’s hard to maintain mass morale when you’re gradually denied food, medicine, and electricity.  

Perhaps What I Fear Does Not Exist–The sudden paralysis of filmmaker Corine Shawi’s father sends her on a four year odyssey to make her father walk again.  But among the visits to rehab centers, experiments with VR, and voice notes, could Shawi’s fervor conceal a desire to find a way to heal her broken family? 

Shall I Compare You To A Summer’s Day?–This contemporary queer musical draws from filmmaker Mohammad Shawky Hassan’s personal love diary to tell stories in the vein of the “Thousand And One Nights.”  Against a sonic backdrop of Egyptian pop songs, conversations take place among Scheherazade, an unseen narrator, and the ghosts of Hassan’s former lovers.

Share The Pie–Reem’s bakery struggled to survive in the wake of the pandemic and government inaction.  Now this award-winning Palestinian chef decides to use a prestigious awards ceremony to take a very risky stand for fellow small business owners, her workers, and herself.  This is another episode from the Rosario Dawson-produced Bay Area-set webseries “Normal Ain’t Normal,” tales of working class people navigating the U.S.’ so-called “post”-COVID terrain.

Warsha–Why would Beirut crane operator Mohammad volunteer to operate one of Lebanon’s tallest and most dangerous cranes?  It’s because up in the operator’s booth he has the privacy needed to freely live out his secret passion.


For those who want more information about TFF’s other offerings and to order tickets, go here.  For those who want to get more information about all of AFF’s films screening this year and to order tickets, go here.

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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