In the opening moments of Transition, Jordan Bryon, the subject of the documentary and one of the directors, turns his face to the camera. He approaches and inspects his chin on her. There are faint signs of growth, short whiskers that Bryon strokes as he talks to us.
“My nerves are shattered,” he says, referring to his current circumstances. “There are too many intertwined threads that get very messy.” The precarious situation caused by these threads is the subject of Bryon’s film, which premiered this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. Co-directed with journalist Monica Villamizar, Transition describes Bryon’s gender reassignment while embedded in a Taliban unit in Afghanistan. The stakes are high for the documentary filmmaker, who decided to stay in the country after the insurgents took the city in August 2021.
It comes down to
A gestural portrait that needs more elaboration.
Location: Tribeca Film Festival (Documentary Competition)
Drivers: Jordan Bryon, Monica Villamizar
1 hour 29 minutes
Even before the takeover of power, Afghanistan was not a haven for gays: same-sex relationships were legally banned in 2017, For example. Any chance to live a relatively quiet life vanished with the presence of the Taliban, which has created new obstacles for these individuals. Not only do queer Afghans have fewer job opportunities, they are also at risk of being reported to the insurgents by family and friends. Recent reports show that while the Taliban have denied allegations of harassment of queer Afghans, abuse is widespread. As Bryon says early on Transitionthe queer community in Afghanistan is “very, very underground”.
So it’s understandable that Bryon, undergoing his gender reassignment while filming the Taliban, is nervous. The men with whom he and his colleague Farzad Fetrat (affectionately called Teddy) spend their days know nothing about the filmmaker’s testosterone shots or upcoming top surgery in Iran. Transition is built on the tension between the secrets of Bryon and the rigid ideology of these insurgents. The more time the documentary filmmaker spends with the Taliban – learning about their daily lives and occasionally questioning their beliefs – the more concerned he becomes about possible exposure.
The risk of prosecution or death hangs in the air Transition, which begins a year before the fall of Kabul. The doc opens with a sense of Bryon’s day-to-day life: roaming the city day and night; capturing footage for his projects; getting testosterone injections from an Afghan doctor; having video calls with his mother in Australia and chatting with friends about his gender dysphoria. In a short introductory voice-over, Bryon tells us about a life defined by binary thinking. He always felt caught between identities, he says, and “always tried to get away from labels and the shame that comes with them.”
Bryon’s story joins a small (but growing) number of recent projects about the transmasculine experience, including Nicolò Bassetti’s tender Berlin documentary In my name and the riveting drama of Vuk Lungulov-Klotz Mutt. In a world determined to strip transgender people of their basic rights and humanity, these stories provide space to reflect on the depth, scope, and differences within this experience.
It is then strange that Transition stays so close to Bryon, stepping away only briefly to consider questions raised by his own confessions. Ironically, for the documentary filmmaker, Afghanistan was a haven from the oppressive labels he longed to escape: “When I moved here, those things didn’t follow me,” he says. “Afghanistan took me in.” There is no doubt that Bryon felt liberated by the anonymity the country offered him: leaving behind what you know and what knows you is a gift in terms of self-examination. But it is not accessible to everyone.
Bryon spends a lot of time with Teddy and photojournalist Kiana Hayeri to talk about keeping secrets from the Taliban unit, his obligation to come out as transgender to people in a conservative, Muslim society, and the rights he has as a man. in the Taliban. occupied Afghanistan. These conversations are interesting and give us a chance to understand Bryon’s position in the country. At one point, Hayeri refutes a point Bryon is making by saying that he is not only a man, but a foreigner. One wonders if Transition might have been better served by paying more attention to that last point. As a white Australian citizen and filmmaker, Bryon encounters both suspicion and curiosity. A scene in which the men of the Taliban unit take pictures of him confirms his status as an outsider.
What does Bryon’s position mean in a country whose current regime seeks international diplomatic approval? That initiative does not mitigate the dangerous stakes faced by the filmmaker and his friends and colleagues. But it does suggest how his harrowing position is helped at least marginally by the access and freedoms his passport affords. Further exploration or acknowledgment of that context might have compelled the doctor to point out – if not necessarily explain in depth – how Bryon is able to get hormone injections in Afghanistan and top surgery in Iran, procedures that, from my limited point of view, seem , beyond the realm of possibility for the average queer Afghan. These are the messy, intertwined things one could wish for Transition alongside the moral questions facing the individual subject.
The doc does offer insights. There’s a real tension when Bryon spends time with members of the Taliban, allowing viewers to eavesdrop on interesting conversations between the group that poke holes in their ideology. At one point, a Taliban figure says there is more to being a man than having a beard, showing the leeway afforded to men, but not to women, whom the regime has effectively excluded from free existence. It also contains special images Transition, which deepens our understanding of Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Abandoned planes on deserted tarmac, rows of shuttered shops and empty parking lots are no less terrifying here than in In her hands (for which Bryon served as cameraman) and Bread and roseswhich premiered at Cannes last month.
These glimpses of Afghanistan are deftly edited into images of Bryon’s own life. While filming Transition, Bryon was working on a commissioned feature film in the final stages of post-production. Even if the documentary doesn’t fulfill its aspirations or potential, it does give a taste of the director’s exciting work.