Preview: Gender Reel

A new festival changes the way we look at gender through art starting this week

What is gender? That’s the big question the creators of Gender Reel, the East Coast’s only multimedia festival addressing gender issues, are asking when it kicks off Sept. 9th through the 11th at venues around town. Non-conforming, variant and transgender and transsexual experiences will all be documented using visual art, film and other mediums that include 16 artists, three installations and 27 films in this first-ever festival of its kind in Philly.

Started by a collective of gender non-conforming, transgender and ally supporters as a response to the lack of inclusion at more mainstream LGB festivals, the founder Joe Ippolito says, “To my knowledge, there are no multimedia festivals in this area that focus on gender non-conforming and transgender experiences and identities.” Calling Gender Reel a “grassroots project,” he says, “our mission goes beyond just showing art for art’s sake. We are interested in using art and film as a platform to raise awareness and educate others about gender non-conforming and transgender issues and experiences.”

Ippolito has received submissions from around the world this year, from artists from as far away as Japan, France, Latin America and Australia, as well as local, regional and national artists and filmmakers.

Rachelle Lee Smith is a Philly-based photographer taking part in Gender Reel – she’s been inspired by the subject matter, and particularly how it relates to young people, for many years. She’ll be showcasing new works in her ongoing Voices of LGBTQ Youth series.

“I’ve learned a great deal about what it means to conform or not conform, to identify or not identify, and to ultimately be living life to best suit one’s internal happiness,” she says. “I have had the amazing opportunity to not only photograph – but get to know and form friendships with people in all stages of their life, sexuality and gender.”

Smith will exhibit photographs that also consider her own gender identity. “I am definitely more conscious and aware of myself, my identity and those I meet,” she admits. “As for my own personal work, I want to be able to positively and accurately reflect the thoughts, feelings and experiences.”

Courtesy of Pauline Park

In addition to the art exhibitions, there will also be a keynote address with New York City trans activist Pauline Park following her documentary film Envisioning Justice. The short film documents her founding of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy and leading the campaign to pass a local rights transrights ordinance a few years ago. It also shares personal anecdotes about being a transracial adoptee born in Korea. There will also be a Q&A with Park, a silent auction and after party at Tabu during the festival.

“There are also a number of Philadelphia-based artists involved,” says Ippolito, including Saterius Roberts, a trans male artist; Liberty City Kings Drag & Burlesque; Josephine Palovic, a trans woman artist; Wren Warner, filmmaker of the Gender Sticker Film; Link Ross, Said & Done filmmaker; Luce Capro Lincoln, It’s a Transfag Life filmmaker; Nile Livingston, an African-American artist, and many more. “We also have panelists, like Kelly Burkhardt, Ebonie Miles and Qui Alexander who are all local and will be speaking about issues related to gender non-conforming identities in film and art,” he says.

Courtesy of DeSilvah Photography

Chance M. DeSilvah of DeSilvah Photography will also be participating in three photo series, including I am Here Too. “My photography is being shown and sold at the festival,” says DeSilvah. “Gender is a daily part of my life. I am a transgender photographer. I use my own experiences, as well as others in the gender non-conforming community, as inspiration in my work.”

Ippolito adds: “Showcasing images like this does not happen very often in more mainstream LGB communities. In fact, the reason Gender Reel was created was in response to the lack of gender non-conforming and trans-inclusion at more mainstream LGBT festivals in Philadelphia and around the country. Issues related to gender, gender identity and gender presentation is not just something that impacts the lives of “GncT” people. Many folks in LGB communities are effected by how they are perceived based on their gender presentation (butch woman and effeminate gay men) and Gender Reel is committed to capturing those issues as well, as a means to bridge gaps, create cohesion and point out ways LGBTQ people are actually more similar then different.”

For a complete list of events and times, click here.