Trans Stories, Trans Lives

Otherness Archive Makes the Past Present

As soon as the Otherness Archive came into my periphery, I knew it was something to be excited about. The archive, which billed itself as a space “spotlighting emerging trans masc* films and artists”, was the kind of collection that seemed wildly necessary. With no archive out there existing as a singular resource for transmasc film collections, its accessibility and ability to grow exponentially sounded magnificent. 

The website, which launched on January 31st, is already filled to the brim with titles ready for people to discover. The archive’s definition of trans masculinity* is particularly inclusive, noting that this refers to “the nuances of the trans masc experience in moving image work and to the variations of masculinities including but not limited to trans men, non-binary, dyke, butch, bull dagger, stud, and gender non-conforming people.” This sincere interest in cataloging and sharing the trans masc experience has resulted in dozens of titles and descriptions already existing on the site, as well as directing folks on where these works can be accessed (with some being offered for free). 

Ahead of its release, INTO spoke with Otherness Archive’s creator, Sweatmother, over email about everything from the archive’s inception to the live screenings that bring these works to the people. 

Reading about the archive, I loved seeing the screening success stories, but I’d love to know a little more about how the journey to creating Otherness Archive began. Where and how did it start? 

The archive was fueled out of being othered and not feeling a sense of myself was represented in the traditional categories of the LGBTQIA spectrum. Otherness Archive defies the historic censorship of homosexual, trans and racial themes, and instead highlights them as representations of otherness that deserve equal, if not greater, recognition. Otherness acts as a route into complex narratives and subjectivities that make for richer cinema. 

Otherness Archive was created out of being othered, thus reimagining the term as a form of empowerment and celebration. The term otherness felt like a word I had known for so long, however it was through discovering Puerto Rican cinema that I fully understood It as something I had experienced. The Puerto Rican cinema that contained homosexual tendencies is typically considered the “other” cinema. It felt right to begin a process of championing filmmakers who fell under the umbrella of otherness whether it be in relation to race, gender or sexuality, and archiving their work. I understand identities are not fixed in time or space; fighting on behalf of identity politics is not a new concept. What I hope to do is acknowledge the forgotten: the pioneers who influenced cinema and the contemporary filmmakers who are creating new modes of filmmaking today. Those whose films, representations, and themes celebrate and center the multiplicity of experiences that exist beyond those solely of white heterosexual men.

Would you mind telling me about the team behind the archive, including yourself? I’m always very interested in getting to know the people who dedicate their lives to making and preserving art, especially art for underrepresented communities and creatives. 

At first, I was the sole team member and received peer support. There wasn’t a team per se. Slowly over time, I received volunteer requests; I was able to establish a dedicated team of volunteers who are the archive team. Also, I want to acknowledge and emphasize this project includes the wider queer community as part of the team. They have helped immensely, not only through validating the work, but they’ve helped provide lighting, venues, and projectors, as well as outreach. These non-traditional DIY screenings and spaces provided by the community allowed the archival project to become fully realized; it was by and for the queer community.

I think archival projects are often very individual and isolating. For example, you’re in a space searching through content, often by yourself for hours and hours. My work in building the archive could not have been achieved without the teamwork of the queer community, so I really consider them part of the team. This is really important to me as, again, archival research and projects can become spaces of exclusion through gatekeeping who and what content is included, or who has access to materials and even who can become involved. The Otherness Archive aims to be inclusive, in the sense that other people who don’t have curational experience, or perhaps do, can still apply to participate with the archive. 

Otherness Archive defies the historic censorship of homosexual, trans and racial themes, and instead highlights them as representations of otherness that deserve equal, if not greater, recognition.

On the point of the archive practicing inclusivity, I’ve recently been reflecting on how Otherness has given fellow artists jobs, as well as opportunities in curation. As a filmmaker myself, I felt like before there was so much gatekeeping and oppressive power dynamics within film communities and collectives. Opportunities to curate are gatekept through knowing how to successfully navigate funding applications and/or the economic (and social) benefits of nepotism that enable certain work to be shown in exhibitions. By opening access to curation, we are able to see work recovering unseen past art and media. It also aligns with the ethos of Otherness Archive that it be changing and developing, always welcoming new perspectives and ideas – it can never be just one, to make up otherness it requires many.

What in particular made the archive want to be focused on the realm of film, performance, and video art? Was it primarily because of the lack of an existing archive and a longing to highlight transmasc film?

Through cruising LGBT+ archives, I found that they only contained certain genres of moving image work. And I feel the wider scope of work, specifically trans work, exists outside these traditional formats of moving image work. In the broadest sense, I think there are two types of archives: institutional archives and non-traditional ones, like ours. For me, traditional LGBTQ+ archives seem to have specific criteria for selecting what content is included in the archive. These archives have a specific genre of materials e.g. memoirs, images, letters, etc. As a trans filmmaker, I am very interested in nonmainstream genres such as exploitation and punk cinema. This kind of material and genre seems underrepresented and even taboo, and therefore more difficult to find in archives. I go through a lot of different archives and am sensitive to the ways LGBT+ films or moving images are categorized, and how this process marginalizes work and artists alike. They’re cast off to this realm of the experimental or underground and potentially not worthy of archiving—I find that most of the contemporary work we have by trans artists and filmmakers use alternative ways of storytelling to share their lived experiences, it’s through the experimentations, defying genres such as performance and video art that trans people feel authentically represent the stories they want to tell.

As a filmmaker myself, I felt like before there was so much gatekeeping and oppressive power dynamics within film communities and collectives.

Originally it started with wanting to highlight a lack of trans experiences. From my experiences cruising archives, I noticed that the vast material available and work that existed in these spaces were trans femme films and art. One day, I had a memorable encounter and feedback that immediately shaped how I expanded the archive going forward. I organized a trans film screening and was approached by a group of women after the event. They asked where the films that depicted the transmasc experience were. Their feedback motivated me to fill that evident gap. Importantly, it made me realize there was a wider desire to experience transmasc films and artwork just beyond myself and that people were as thirsty as I was for it. 

From that point onwards, I was obsessed with expanding representations of trans masculinity. My passion is to fill the gap and recover trans masc films. When the London Short Film Festival and TAPE Collective reached out to me to curate a screening, I decided to focus on the forgotten archives of the transmasc experience. I found a lot of really exciting and important work through Vimeo. It was like an abyss of transmasc work with like six views scattered without a place to view such incredible work. 

I think creating an archive because there is a lack of one, and wanting to highlight transmasc representations aren’t mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand. The Forgotten Archives of Trans Masc event allowed Otherness Archive to become fully realized, and therefore expand—our original venue was capacity for 25 people, but the event sold out three times as our venue changed for capacity reasons. We ended up showing the work at Genesis Cinema in London with a capacity of 350 people.

What can folks who come to the site upon its opening expect at first and how will the archive continue to grow beyond that? 

Otherness Archive is an online archive multimedia portfolio: an open-access library and freely available resource of transmasculine* moving-image, contemporary and preexisting film, performance and video art. They can expect to be affirmed that this online space is a resource for our trans masculine community and those that love us. 

We hope and strive for the archive to continue with accepting open submissions. We want to encourage any individual irregardless of experience to submit work where appropriate. Secondly, future funding shapes how much the archive can expand. The next archive category will be transfemme focused and our hope is to secure future funding so that more transfemme films, performances, and video art are preserved and showcased.

Are you at all actively interested in transmasc filmmakers contacting you and working with them to draw a further spotlight? How can folks help and reach out? 

Yes, especially since building the archive over the last 9 months. I have been contacted by transmasc filmmakers that have asked to showcase work and new work. 

It’s definitely a place for spotlighting and highlighting transmasc filmmakers, and hopefully offering support through peers. 

For example, Cat Jones reached out about wanting to organize an expanded cinema performance where he would do a movement-based performance on masculinity. However, we didn’t have enough funding to fly him out from Los Angeles to London. There’s also Brooklyn-based filmmaker Genevieve Kuzak, who creates porn and erotic works of art, who will be showcasing his newest work on our site. Additionally, with our archive launch, we will be premiering Henry Hanson’s film, Bros Before internationally. Henry is allowing us to host the international premiere for his film, which is currently receiving distribution in the US. I feel this gives the archival project further legitimacy and represents how we are supporting the community: this work is made for us and by the communities we live in. 

After a conversation with Henry and inspired by his generosity (giving us the opportunity to platform his new film), I was inspired to create a spotlight page. I felt compelled to create this page to platform individual artists on the website. It is really special Henry will be the first artist we spotlight on a website and we hope to spotlight more in future.

I find one of the barriers to film is the unaffordability of film premieres. You need to have money in order to attend and view films. One of the aims of Otherness is to defy these kinds of barriers that trans and queer filmmakers experience. We want to make the film process accessible, so that also means affordable and free when possible.

You noted that accessibility is key—how does it work in terms of leading people to films while also supporting the filmmakers? 

As we continue to build the archive we want to be transparent as to what we are discovering about the nature of archival work and what it means to feature different mediums. While we originally said our online archive would be totally devoid of paywalls (free) in order to guarantee maximum accessibility, we have realized during the course of building it that the majority of the porn and erotic work featured in the archive cannot be shown free of charge in their entirety. 

This is because access to these films is directly connected to the artists’ livelihoods and means of survival. While access to archives should be free, we should all pay for porn! Instead, when it comes to porn and erotic films our archive will function as a directory, providing trailers as well as information guiding people to where they can watch the work. Since we value transparency, we wanted to be upfront about this before our archive launch in Jan 2023, since previously we had said there would be no paywalls. We appreciate the continued support and are so excited to share the archive with you.♦

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