The film festival closes May 14 with the film, 'Die Beautiful,' about a trans woman's last wish to be dressed as her favorite celebrities every night of her wake.
The film festival closes May 14 with the film, 'Die Beautiful,' about a trans woman's last wish to be dressed as her favorite celebrities every night of her wake.

This year's Translations has doubled in size and, with more than 70 films from 20 countries, organizers say it is now the largest transgender film festival in the world.

"Really, it's been a long time coming," said Sam Berliner, who has directed and curated the Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival since 2013. "We've just gotten so many more submissions, and there are so many more films being made that fit really well with our festival."

Berliner got his start with festival producer and Capitol Hill-based nonprofit Three Dollar Bill Cinema in 2010, that year showing his “Genderbusters” film about superheroes driving around San Francisco and dealing with gender-binary situation at Translations.

Even seven years later, the amount of short films, full-length features and documentaries focused on trans issues and culture has increased immensely, Berliner said. That's why Translations planning begins in November.

"That's part of why we had to start earlier, is that we got a lot more submissions than previous years, and each year it just goes up," he said, "and I think that's a really great thing."

This year's film festival spans two weekends, from May 4-14, which meant more work for Berliner, but also being able to program more films rather than pick one over the other because the topics were too similar.

"In the past, it's been very difficult to pick five films or eight, as well as a few shorts submissions," he said.

Three Dollar Bill Cinema's Translations festival will have venues around the neighborhood, including 12th Avenue Arts, the Northwest Film Forum, SIFF Cinema Egyptian and the Hill branch of the Seattle Public Library.

Berliner said more volunteer staff is needed this year to cover more shifts, with coupons for a ticket to any movies shown throughout the year as an incentive.

"We really need our volunteers," he said, "and people have been coming back year after year."

Transgender rights are again under attack in Washington, as well as in D.C. Following the failure to get enough signatures for Initiative 1515 to get it on November ballots last year, proponents of this year's I-1552 have had more time to gather support for legislation that would require people to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender at birth.

LGBTQ Allyship is teaming up with Three Dollar Bill Cinema this year, tabling during a few showings. There volunteers will help people register to vote and provide information about the Decline to Sign campaign against I-1552.

"I think the current political climate has been the driving force behind a lot of things that we've been doing with Three Dollar Bill Cinema, with people that needed to be reported and see films that represent them."

Last year's opening night film was "Major!," about Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a Stonewall Rebellion veteran and formerly incarcerated black transgender elder and activist. Berliner said the success of last year's opening led to the selection of "Free CeCe" for this year's opening night film 7 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at the Egyptian, which addresses the issue of transwomen of color being incarcerated in men's prisons. Berliner said he doesn't want the start of the film festival to be a downer.

"That's why I chose 'Free Cece,'" he said, "because it actually is a story of overcoming these things and inspiration, because CeCe McDonald is who Laverne Cox was thinking about all the time when she was on Orange is the New Black."

McDonald, the focus of the film, and director Jack Gares will present the film, then attend an event at the University of Washington's Q Center the following night.

Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black fame, "explores the roles that race, class, and gender played in CeCe's case, which incited a nationwide 'Free CeCe' protest movement," according to a Translations news release.

Berliner said he witnessed the strength of that movement while he was living in San Francisco.

Translations closes May 14 with a 7 p.m. showing of "Die Beautiful" at the Northwest Film Forum. The drama from the Phillipines tells the story of Trisha, a beauty pageant contestant whose final request is to be dressed as a different celebrity every night of her wake, with flashbacks about the relationships she cultivated in life woven into the film.

"Don't be fooled by the tile," Berliner said. "'Die Beautiful' is actually this really wonderful film that goes back and forth in time. ... You're actually able to get a real clear picture of someone who's amazing."

Three Dollar Bill Cinema also is partnering with Out of the Closet during the festival. People can go to the LGBT nonprofit thrift shop during that time and exchange clothes, such as someone looking to trade in a pair of pants for a nice skirt.

"I think it's a really special thing that we are able to make that happen during the festival," Berliner said.

Educational programming hadn't been a strong focus during previous Translations, and is another big change for this year's festival.

No Dumb Questions: How to be a Trans Ally is one of those programs, Berliner said. Starting 6 p.m. Monday, May 8, the program includes a showing of "No Dumb Questions," followed by a discussion. The 2001 documentary tells the story of three young girls as they learn what it means when their uncle becomes their aunt.

"Then people can literally ask me anything they want," Berliner said. "I'm just really happy that we're doing that."

Find a full schedule for Translations and how to purchase tickets at translationsfilmfest.org.