Jim’s Introduction to Gender Identity on the festival circuit
By the end of 2017, Jim’s Introduction to Gender Identity had been featured at three film festivals. In 2018 we played at seven more: the ASIFA-East Animation Festival (WINNER - Excellence in Education), the Florida Animation Festival (WINNER - 1st Place Mixed Media/Experimental), the Westfield International Film Festival (WINNER - Best Animated Short), the Palm Springs LGBTQ Film Festival (WINNER - Festival Favorite), the Peak City International Film Festival (FINALIST), the Splice Film Fest (LGBTIQQ SEMI FINALIST), and the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. I had the honor and privilege of attending several of these festivals personally, and even participated in a couple Q&As (once on a panel on queer animation at Flame Con 2018 which was also exciting). I want to thank all of the event organizers for being so responsive and pleasant to communicate with, both for festivals I attended and those I was unable to attend in person.
Attending ASIFA’s judging screenings and the final awards night helped solidify my feeling of being part of this northeast animation community. I’m glad Jim’s Introduction producer David Grandison Jr. and my friend/colleague (who I’ve worked under on several of their own award-winning films for Amaze.org) Rachel Gitlevich were able to be in attendance at the awards ceremony when we won for Excellence in Education. Attending that evening with my dear friend Jessica Casler was one of the highlights of my year.
It felt like cosmic fate that I would return to North Carolina in August of this year, after having made the trip in August 2017 to witness the eclipse. My friend Christine Anisko joined me to attend the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Durham, NC. Jim Carl, Mark Ambrose, and the rest of the festival team were super welcoming; I enjoyed learning the history of this queer festival (started in 1995) and checking out several other queer films by queer filmmakers. A particularly moving experience for me was when a woman approached me holding back tears as she told me about her transgender child and how—though she was struggling to understand completely—she was trying her best and she appreciated how Jim’s Introduction to Gender Identity showed a cis gender character learning to accept something they didn’t understand. I almost started weeping right there in the lobby of the Carolina Theatre.
It felt particularly special to me when Jim’s Introduction to Gender Identity was accepted into the Westfield International Film Festival in my native New Jersey. Festival directors Gina Marie Rodriguez and Stacy Ignacio could not have been more welcoming, literally rolling out a red carpet. The James Ward Mansion was a totally unique venue (not haunted—I kind of wish it was, but it wasn’t) and I enjoyed strolling around Westfield with my filmmakers swag bag of coupons. I’m grateful Kayla Miller (my friend since high school and the voice of Cassie in the film) was able to join me the first night for the screening. Winning Best Animated Short was a genuine surprise…and Westfield’s been the only place to give me a little statuette! Leaving the festival for a celebratory solo drink then being joined by Nataliya Padilla (director of winning film, This Much), Ksenia Valenti (winner for best actress in This Much), and their gaggle of Russians was a fun memory to close the festival.
Jim’s Introduction to Gender Identity has already been accepted into one more film festival in 2019: the New Haven International Film Festival scheduled for May 2019. But I accept the film’s festival life is coming to a close. This is just further encouragement to finally get the next thing done! But I know whatever the next thing is it will not impact people in quite the same way this little film has been able to. As time goes by I become increasingly grateful for the opportunities Amaze.org and this film have provided me. It has personally been a very useful tool in having conversations about gender identity with others and I hope it has been just as (or more) helpful for the kids and parents who have had access to it.
Personal work (with Milkweed in Sugar Loaf, NY)
To celebrate Vaschel’s 10th birthday this year, I re-edited and added music to Vaschel: Portrait of a Paper Bag for a screening event at the Milkweed art gallery in Sugar Loaf, NY. Most who know me personally know Vaschel: he is an allegedly French Canadian brown paper bag with a passion for IHOP. Back in 2012 I edited video shot between 2010-2012 into a feature-length project and uploaded it in parts to Youtube, but this new version was infinitely more watchable. The film documents the life and relationships Vaschel has forged over the years, in New Jersey, Boston, Philadelphia, and (of course) French Canada. The full movie is not available publicly online but I can offer a Dropbox link by request.
The turnout was a decent mix of individuals who knew who Vaschel was and people who had no idea what they were walking into—they had just seen the postcard advertisements I had left in local businesses for a birthday party for a paper bag. My friends Christine Anisko, Orlando Vasquez, and Rich Kersting helped cater the evening with poutine and French toast. Guests admired a popup “Musée de la Vaschel": a collection of photos and artifacts documenting the first 10 years of Vaschel’s life. It was the kind of reception event I think I would have liked the film to have in 2013 but maybe the world (or Vaschel, or maybe just I, myself) wasn’t ready for it. I know at least one attendee cried; another (a complete stranger) hugged me for 20 seconds and thanked me for a beautiful experience. The moral of the story is: give me a paper bag puppet and ten years and I’ll do something worthwhile with it.
In April the Milkweed Poetry Workshop released the second volume of the Milkweed Poetry Journal, of which I was honored to be a part of. (Available for purchase here!) Although the poem they selected for publication, Caroll Spinney’s Identity Crisis: How The Trash Could Have Fallen Differently, was written in 2017, I feel my consistent attendance on Wednesday nights has made me a better writer. I feel I’ve written some decent poems this year, even if I’m currently sitting on them waiting to potentially submit places.
The Milkweed Poetry Workshop has been a constant creative outlet throughout this year and for the past several years. Wendy Insinger and Rich Kersting offer their time and energy to put together this invaluable service for the local community. I got a taste of what they go through every week (picking poems to review and a prompt to write from) when I got to lead a workshop in July discussing the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen. (Check out the playlist of songs we discussed on Spotify.)
Continued freelance life
December of 2017 was a strange, emotional rollercoaster. Contributing to this was being asked to return to Massachusetts (where I lived/worked from 2013-2015) in January for a short-term storyboarding job with Hero4Hire. I would once again be working under the direction of Dan Flynn (who directed the series I worked on at Soup2Nuts, Astroblast!) on a series of short videos emphasizing empathy: the Everfi Compassion Project. I packed up my things and moved back to Boston, couch surfing for a while as I looked for a place to sublet. Ultimately, finding my own space was proving more difficult (and more expensive) than it was worth. After about three weeks I wound up completing the project (it went on until March) remotely from New Jersey, but I was grateful for the opportunity to start the year in a different space. Hero4Hire has been one of the most consistent sources of work for me throughout 2018.
Another studio I’ve had the opportunity to work for in 2018 has been Cartuna—I was a clean-up/color artist on the Facebook Watch original series, Liverspots and Astronots. Liverspots is a silly, new adult cartoon series with a doodly style, impressive voice cast, and a crazy story arch centered around the cosmic significance of a three-eyed gorilla named Bigman. Although I worked on this project remotely, it was fun how this project brought together a good number of my former classmates from University of the Arts—some working on-site in Brooklyn, some working remotely from California.
And finally, I’d be remiss if I did not close by acknowledging the success of Brian Lonano’s BFF Girls. BFF Girls is an absurd, live-action, short film about puberty and friendship. Brian brought me on board to animate a few flower graphics for the credits as well as a sequence where a ghostly tampon monster absorbs a woman’s blood and then wrings itself out over the film’s antagonist. Although I wrapped up my involvement on this project the last days of 2017 (literally the last days; I think I sent my final email to Brian on December 30), the finished film has gone on to be selected for 37 national and international film festivals, earning several awards and honors along the way. The film is currently available to purchase on Vimeo, with a handful of special features including my initial storyboards for the tampon ghost. If you use the promo code bff2018 before January 1, 2019, you can get 50% off!
Seeing everything typed up like this, I realize a lot was actually going on in 2018. I hope 2019 continues this trend of personal and professional growth. Wishing everyone a happy new year; may you find peace with your past and look boldly towards the future (or some other cliché).