Berlin Transgression is a collection of untold stories of lovelorn queens of Berlin fighting to tear down a new, invisible wall which is the basis of our isolation.
The film documents how the transvestite, transgender and transsexual artists struggle between two genders, two identities, two lives. It sheds light on the life of the artists who perform mainly at gay bars and fetish clubs. We followed our main characters not only to back-stage but also to their homes where they opened up their hearts about their deepest dreams and desires. Directed by Joel Lei, Yuki Terada
Queer Voices Berlin Transgression
Recently, we had a chance to sit down with Yuki to talk about the film and its KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN.
Can you tell us a little bit of your background?
I was born and raised in Japan and Joel is from China. I am a researcher but always dreamt of making a documentary film. I believe the documentary format provides one of the best ways to explore human stories. I met Joel at the University of Tokyo and we happened to travel to Berlin at the same time. We shared a passion for film, and started the Berlin Transgression documentary project.
Why does this story need to be told?
We believe that after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 there has not been a comprehensive and honest portrait of this group of struggling queer artists in Berlin. By hearing the stories told by these artists we gain a valuable insight into the LGBTQ community not only of Berlin but all over the world. 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, 2014 when our filming starts, Berlin is a haven for striving young artists and also a symbolic place for the freedom of action.
Berlin’s nightlife is famous for being mind-blowing, diverse, and shockingly open, as if without boundary. Berlin Transgression documents this, but also questions if this image of an un-walled, un-divided and undiscriminating sanctuary is the reality for our cast.
We aim to bring a better understanding of the LGBTQ community from both inside and outside. Berlin Transgression hopes to contribute to breaking down barriers between the queer community and the “outside world.” One of our goals is to increase the overall visibility of the queer community. To serve this end, we included different voices of the community: drag queens, drag kings, “tunten,” as well as transsexual and transgender artists currently active in Berlin. We learn about what it means to be in a community, and what work there is still to do. We learn about a new Berlin wall, one that is becoming the basis of our isolation and individuality.
What led you to Berlin Transgression?
In November 2014 I heard the news that Detox Icunt from RuPaul’s drag race was performing in Berlin, so I invited Joel to go with me because I knew it was going to be great. I’d been to drag shows several times before making this film, but this was my first time going to a show in Berlin. We met local drag queens and a drag king there and everything evolved naturally afterwards. The more we hear their stories, the more we feel the urge to capture and tell their stories to the world. So we quickly assembled an international team (including German cinematographer Jakob Seemann and Estonian photographer Reelika Ramot) and endeavoured to discover more about the community. Our characters not only opened a new world to us, but they also opened their hearts to us. The intimate moments we captured are an essential element in our film.
How were you received by the community? Were you considered outsiders?
First of all, Joel and I are both East Asian and female so we kind of stood out in gay bars. I think it was easy for people there to remember us. But I was so surprised by how welcoming the community in Berlin was and how diverse it is. Societies in general have a tendency to build a wall against the LGBT community (or for that matter any community that is considered “minority” or “different”) but the LGBT community itself is very inclusive. I hope that our film will be able to contribute to the idea that no one should be categorised as “outsiders”. We all share the desire to love and to be loved, while being accepted for who we are.
And what made you choose this element of the community to share their stories?
The communal aspect is, Joel and I believe, something everyone should pay more attention to. Nowadays, we live in a society which is too individualistic and profit driven, and it’s easy to forget how to listen to each other and support each other. Drag queens and queer artists in Berlin taught us friends can build a family together and overcome difficulties. In RuPaul’s words, “We as gay people, we get to choose our family. We get to choose the people that we’re around.”
With over 100 hours filmed, how do you edit that down to a 90 minute film?
We will have several chapters highlighting the issues of identity, community, and the characters dreams and desires. We followed about seven main characters. Some of them are gay and some of them are transsexuals living as females. Their individual stories have connections to each other, so we will edit the footage accordingly. The unique history of Berlin will also be shown. We interviewed drag queens who have been in the scene for several decades or more.
What surprised you most about your subjects?
Their openness, and the fact that they are vulnerable yet strong. While it is so common nowadays that people “edit” their lives and only show “perfection” on social media, the artists we followed were not afraid to share their stories of struggle and rejection. One of them said she has a “big shadow” over her life. It made me think that their true star on the stage might come from these inner reflections.
Their attitude towards life is very courageous. Those artists, even through difficult situations, never stopped communicating with the outside world. In fact, they are delivering important messages that I think everyone can relate to.
Do you remain in contact with any of them?
Absolutely! The first place Joel and I will go when we go back to Berlin will be the local gay bars where our characters perform.
Did you have a favorite hang out? I recognize Hamburger Mary’s in your clips.
I loved all the locations as each one has different and unique aspects, but I am particularly fond of Lieblingsbar close to Nollendorfplatz, where Erna Pachulke hosts The Mitternachts-Show every Saturday. The show has a very intimate feeling. Erna also works at the bar during weekdays. It is the place where I can always drop by and talk to someone.
The bars where they perform are not one of those extravagantly designed theaters or music halls that middle-classed families frequent. They are small local gay bars, whose regular customers also have a 9-to-5 job. In the film, we follow our characters to their workplace, where they go every day to survive, as well as to the local gay bars, where, after a nine-hour working day, they live.
What’s it going to take to finish the film? Tell us about your fund raising effort.
We will be working with professional editors and musicians to show their performances and valuable moments at the highest quality. It is very important for us to reach our goal in the Kickstarter campaign (which runs until 17th March) as we feel it is our responsibility to bring the untold stories to a worldwide audience.
Our project has been featured in many different languages (Japan & China too), so we are expecting a worldwide audience. Backers with 25+ euro will get to see the film online once our post production is done as part of the rewards they get.
How much are you trying to raise?
Our goal is 10K Euro, including a fund for submitting the film to festivals. Visibility is the key and we believe that this film can help increase the visibility of those artists featured.
How will my support make a difference?
Since November 2014, the whole crew has been working on a voluntary basis. Thanks to the kind support of Camelot and our production company, BIGCOUNTRY.BERLIN, we managed to finish the production process with a very low budget. In this process more than 100 hours of footage has been captured. We will need your support to help us turn all this footage into a 90min long documentary which can help us bring our message to the world: “Let’s tear down the wall between us.”
With your support, our post-production crew will be able to work intensely in March and April. If everything goes smoothly, the film will be completed by August 2016!!! Be a part of this amazing journey, and make Berlin Transgression happen!!!
Queer Voices Berlin Transgression
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