April 20, 2010

Film debuts at pancake breakfast

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (HPNC) premiered its new oral history film, “A Chance to Listen,” at a breakfast fundraiser on Sunday. The film, which is a collaboration between HPNC and the Howard Brown Health Center, documents high school students interviewing a transgendered senior citizen about her life and sexuality.

Teenagers from HPNC worked with producer Emily Schuttenberg to interview Gloria Allen, a senior citizen and Hyde Park resident who was born male. The interview ranged from deep issues of discrimination and acceptance to more lighthearted matters—Allen boasted that she makes “the best gumbo in the world”.

In the film, Allen told the teenagers about the experiences she had when she was their age. She recounted one time when she was 15, wearing a dress, and trying to sneak out the back of the house. Her mom asked why, and Allen responded, “I didn’t want the neighbors to see. And [my mom] told me to walk out the front door with my head up and I did just that. And I’ve been doing that ever since.”

The footage of Allen was interspersed with a teenaged interviewer talking about his experience making the oral history. Revon Walker said, “I had seen some [transgendered people] but I guess [Allen] is the first one I’ve met.”

However, not all of the oral history participants felt comfortable being affiliated with the film. Two senior citizens declined to be interviewed on camera, and two of the teenage interviewers requested anonymity in the film’s credits. One audience member, Linda Swift, said “that’s exactly the kind of attitude this program is trying to shed a light on—we don’t need to be like this.”

The motivation for the film came out of HPNC’s oral history program. “We wanted to do an oral history not about the simple chronology of someone’s life…We wanted something with a broader social impact, to try to instill empathetic traits into a teenage audience, to give them a broader perspective on life,” Executive Director of the HPNC Jennifer Bosch said.

The audience reaction was largely positive, laughing along with Ms. Allen’s travails. In the film, Allen emphasized that she was happy to share her story. “No, no, no, no, no,” she exclaimed. “[I have] no doubts at all!”