Review by Sean Boelman
Chase Joynt’s feature debut No Ordinary Man debuted at TIFF in 2020, and explored the issue of trans history through the context of modern interpretation of trans identity. And while his second feature Framing Agnes is similar in context and form, it is even more compelling in its approach.
The film follows the experiences of six subjects from the UCLA gender clinic in the 1950s, many of whose stories have previously been untold. It’s a really interesting way of connecting some of these stories that are already historically significant with those that should be as well as the experiences of trans individuals today.
To tell these stories, Joynt sets up a series of reenactments in the form of talk show interviews. And while this does give these portions of the movie a very scripted feel, they feel very genuine, and the talking head interviews are so authentic and intimate that it hardly distracts from the topic at hand.
The film does a very good job of making the audience empathize with these case studies even though many of them have to this point gone down in anonymity in LGBTQ history. Although Joynt clearly wants to explore how these stories were representative of the trans community as a whole, he is also interested in them as individuals, which really helps the movie to connect even more deeply.
However, the arguably more interesting angle that the film offers is that of the actors who are portraying these historical figures in the reenactments. Joynt interviews them after their reenactments, and they discuss the ways in which they relate to the experiences of the person they portrayed. It gives the movie an even more personal touch.
The issue of trans healthcare is something that is definitely very important and timely, especially given that there have been some significant political controversies to arise recently. Joynt explores the topic in a way that is genuinely enlightening and insightful, yet without feeling like it is overtly political in nature.
There is also some interesting commentary here about the way in which the media tends to otherize the trans experience. A portion of the film discusses how talk shows like the ones emulated by the reenactments took advantage of trans trauma for the sake of entertainment, which is something that really needs to be called out.
Framing Agnes definitely feels like an evolution of Chase Joynt’s style after his already impressive feature debut. It’s a really interesting approach to documentary filmmaking that offers a necessary look at LGBTQ history.
Framing Agnes screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 20-30.