A new short film tackling homophobia and transphobia in London’s clubbing scene, Brace is the work of trans filmmaker Jake Graf, who wrote, produced and starred in this affecting tale of troubled young love on the streets of the nation’s capital.
Fresh from his International Jury Award for Best Gay Drama Short at the Durban International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Graf spoke to Attitude about trans representation, the reaction the film’s gotten on the festival circuit – and making a world-class film on a teeny tiny budget…
Transgender issues are in the public spotlight at the moment thanks to celebs like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox, but do you feel like female-to-male trans stories are still less represented and understood?
I do think that there is a huge lack of trans masculine representation on screen, which was one reason I wanted to make Brace. My previous short, XWHY, also had a trans storyline, and I am currently working on two more projects that will heavily feature trans male characters. I just know that when I was growing up, I never saw myself represented on screen, and for a film-obsessed teenager hiding in his room, that made for a very lonely and isolating experience!
When you look around in the media, there are still very few visible trans men, as the girls have always taken the lead, which is great, but I think it’s time now for the boys to put themselves out there too.
I would really hope that as the audience watches Brace, that they are able to just see two young men, struggling to find love and acceptance in a pretty tough world. When people stop seeing us as trans, and simply as people, then we’ll be making progress!
Pictured: From left, Jake Graf as Adam and Harry Rundle as Rocky.
There’s a scene where your character encounters a transphobic nurse that’s quite hard to watch – a reminder that bigotry can still exist in those big institutions. Was any of that based on real-life experiences?
I think that in the last few years, things have really moved on very quickly in regards to trans issues, understanding and legislation, but a very similar thing did happen to a male trans friend, who was pre op, passed out in a club, and woke up in the women’s ward. All particularly traumatic, especially as he had also had his drink spiked! I would hope that nowadays something like that wouldn’t happen, but I think it’s a genuine fear for many trans folk.
Sometimes it’s easy to think of London as a bit of an oasis of LGBT acceptance, but as we see in Brace, that’s not always the case, is it?
I think that the perception that everything’s okay in the Big City is somewhat skewed, certainly. Having dated both men and women, I can attest to the fact that homophobia is still rife, that holding my boyfriend’s hand on the tube still draws stares and comments, that people still think it’s acceptable to yell abuse in the street. Frankly, you’d think they’d have found something better to do with their time by now!
Typically for a short, independent film like this the budget’s always minuscule, but Brace was beautifully shot in some recognisable locations. Was that all a challenge to pull off?
I recently met with a production company who estimated the budget for Brace at 50k, and they were floored when I told them it cost us 10k! We had an amazing crew who all worked for free, and Heaven, Manbar, Ed’s Diner and Be At One all gave us their locations. I think that the script was so original, and the team so strong that people really wanted to give of their time. I do love it when people ask how we got the helicopter shots though. A clever idea called Shutterstock..!
Brace has already done a tour of festivals – how have the reactions been?
The festival circuit has been amazing. I’ve presented the film in NY, San Francisco, France, London, Wales, Manchester, Amsterdam. I wish I could have followed Brace to Honolulu and Tokyo, where it screened last month. Reactions have been phenomenal: people have cried pretty much at every screening, which I always love, as it shows that you’ve really connected with your audience. Other times I’ve had people thanking me for giving them an insight into the trans experience, and one guy did actually come up and tell me that he was going to go home and call his best friend, whom he had not spoken to since he transitioned, and credited Brace for that breakthrough! It’s been an absolute blast.
Brace launches online today – and you can watch it in full below: