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Framing Agnes

By Sabina Dana Plasse | January 23, 2022

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Framing Agnes is an intimate and personal documentary that deconstructs the historical importance of a transgender woman, Agnes, from a significant and fascinating point of view. Director Chase Joynt offers several engaging areas of understanding in this multi-faceted exploration and examination of transgender life, especially when society was in complete denial of its existence. The feature-length film is based on a short of the same name, which screened at Sundance in 2020.

In the 1950s, Harold Garfinkel conducted gender health research at UCLA. A young trans woman, Agnes, went through the research study and revealed how she used the medical system to navigate her transgender existence. Agnes sacrificed many truths to live her life, which are finally being discussed openly. Largely considered the outlier of the study until newly discovered files shed more light on the truth to Agnes’ life as well as others like her at that time. This is the premise of the documentaryIt is a timeline of affirmation and discovery for understanding transgender day-to-day existence.

Throughout Framing Agnes, Joynt recreates a 1950s atmosphere with a talk show while interspersing on and off-camera interviews and reenactments. This format is combined with the very educational and interesting commentary by Jules Gill-Peterson, author of Histories of the Transgender Child. Gill-Peterson provides an exceptional wealth of information and allows one to properly understand trans history, its growing acceptance, and how trans men and women are finding their place in today’s society.

“…properly understand trans history, its growing acceptance, and how trans men and women are finding their place in today’s society.”

Creating a point of reference to examine and discuss how trans people have lived since the 1950s, the fictional talk show host, played by Joynt, sets up the conversation to receive unexpected answers, epitomizing mainstream society’s thinking. In addition, and within the talk show context, Joynt also “frames” the off and on-camera interviews and dramatizations on how transgender males and females walk a tightrope of shame, humiliation, and survival. Every interview has the transgender guests discuss their partners along with details about their daily existence and the truths of their present lives. For instance, they have to avoid running afoul of the law because of the limited gender options on their license or finding partners who physically fit their lives, and, most of all, informing others of the need for acceptance.

What’s most engaging about Framing Agnes is how the subjects transformed and presented their on and off-screen characters thoughtfully and uncomplicated even though they led complicated lives and existed in a blurred line of sexuality that’s now discussed and understood. Every fascinating aspect relates to and reflects how people live regardless of their sexual identity.

The archival footage, reenactment, well-executed cinematography, and stunning wardrobe and makeup allow Framing Agnes to linger in your thoughts much past its ending. Joynt created an exquisite beauty that banishes the notions that trans is wrong or dirty and highlights how it is wildly misunderstood. There is an outcome of care and artistic license that drapes this documentary, and it is fascinating. This education-minded and creative expression allow the film to realize truth, dignity, courtesy, and grace for all.

Framing Agnes screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Framing Agnes (2022)

Directed: Chase Joynt

Written: Chase Joynt, Morgan M. Page

Starring: Angelica Ross, Jen Richards, Zackary Drucker, Silas Howard, Max Wolf Valerio, Stephen Ira, Jules Gill-Peterson, Chase Joynt, Kristen Schilt, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

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"…creative expression allow the film to realize truth, dignity, courtesy, and grace for all."

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