This All-Trans Cult Thriller is Raising the Bar for LGBTQ+ Filmmaking
Ask any trans person how they feel about trans representation in film and they’ll probably say there’s much to be desired.
While movies and tv shows are sharing more trans stories, they mostly accomplish that with cis writers and actors. They may get some things right but the result is stories that aren’t authentically, completely ours. Pose is one of the first stories written by and about trans people, and it is setting the stage for more trans stories to be told, the right way.
Trans filmmaker Ariel Mahler’s next film, Flock, is bringing more trans voices to film — demonstrating the power of simply letting trans people tell our own stories. The short cult thriller has just launched their seed funding round to create a film where the characters just happen to be majority trans, rather than their trans identities being the center of the film.
Trans people deserve to be represented in every sector and genre of film, in stories that don’t overly focus on our transitions: because we won’t be defined by the systems that oppress us.
Trans filmmakers like Ariel Mahler are taking a stand and saying that trans people deserve to be at the forefront of trans stories — and film in general.
This is the revolutionary step we need to take for the world to begin to see trans people as people with lives like everybody else that don’t always center on their transness. When trans people tell our own stories it’s less about being trans and more about just existing and navigating a cis world. It flips the perspective so that we are the norm, and cis culture is on the outside as something to be studied, understood, and dismantled. Just by merely existing we fight the oppression of cis culture. We don’t need to talk about being trans all the time for this to be evident, and it’s important that we have stories that aren’t centered on our transness. The media already sensationalizes us far too much.
Flock is a dramatic short thriller about a man traveling to Maine to save his lover from a lethal cult, and the characters just happen to be majority trans. The film will be shot in September as part of a residency with the Barn Arts Collective, a nonprofit arts organization in Bass Harbor, Maine. Flock is written and created by an entirely trans creative team, and they all have a majority-trans cast and crew.
Crew member Syd Baloue shared with Qwear:
"It's important to support films like Flock as trans representation in media is important, especially when it is actually done by trans and nonbinary folks! Oftentimes our stories are told by cisgender people and they lack the complexity, the richness, and the authenticity of our experience. Just as much as any other group or identity on the planet, we deserve the right to share our story and add our voices to the mix to create a better understanding of what it means to be human. For me as a Black trans writer and filmmaker, I am over the moon to be working on Flock with such an amazing group of trans and nonbinary filmmakers! It is revolutionary for us to even exist and for us to dare to tell our own stories. I hope others will be inspired by this work and that more trans and nonbinary stories will get to be told in the future."
The film stars Will Krisanda from Brothers the Web Series, Death and Bowling and Will I Say So. The crew includes Ariel Mahler (writer/director), Iris Devins and Rafael "Q" Quinde (producers), Easton Carter Angle (writer/director of photography), and Calvin Woodruff (writer/editor.) Flock is a trans film that pushes the boundaries of LGBTQ+ filmmaking. We believe that queer and trans storytelling should not be limited to one-dimensional representation and coming out stories. We deserve media across-genre, and we think the time is nigh for trans dramatic cult thriller.
Read on to learn more about Ariel’s goals for the film.
What made you decide to do a cult thriller with trans people?
The thriller theme was purely inspired by the location — Maine has often been the setting for creepy films and stories, the most famous of which being Stephen King's novels and movies. The woods of Maine are stunningly gorgeous, liberating, and at times, unsettling. In this way, Maine is itself a character in the film.
We want to make a cult thriller with trans people specifically because we don't have enough trans-made films that cross genre, and we'd like to see a dramatic, creepy thriller about a cult added to the roster of trans films!
Your film statement says that you are pushing "the boundaries of LGBTQ+ filmmaking." Can you elaborate?
Part of this is technical: we're investing a lot of our resources into advanced cinematography techniques. This includes using aerial drone shots, underwater filming, car rigging, dolly, jib, and steadicam. This will not only allow us to push ourselves as filmmakers but it will help raise the bar for the potential for trans-centered film in general.
We're also pushing boundaries with the content. Flock, although created by a trans team, is not “about” being trans. It's not a coming out story. It's an action thriller about a cult. We don't have enough trans films that cross genre to expand beyond narrow calls for representation — that's what Flock is doing.
What other thrillers would you compare this to in terms of how scary it is?
The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, You, American Horror Story. The film is more chilling and psychologically thrilling, not jump-out-of-your-seat scary.
How do you see fashion's role in this story?
Fashion defines individuality. The cult in Flock is doing everything it can to reject individuality, to blend into the 'flock' as opposed to standing out from the crowd. The cult members' wardrobe will reflect this; they'll be in stale, monochromatic 'uniforms.' Our protagonist Hunter, the only non-member of the cult, will be a complete contrast. His wardrobe will be individualistic and stylized. This will also be true of Weston, Hunter's lover, in flashback sequences in which we see him before joining the cult.
What message are you hoping for people to take away from the film?
I hope Flock makes the audience think and critically question what they know about relationships. The cult in Flock is comprised of couples who seek literal enlightenment through their relationship and through dangerous acts of near-death. Their ultimate goal of spiritual awakening is a noble one, but the means through which they hope to get there are dangerous and misguided. I hope Flock makes people question their desires and the human instinct to seek satisfaction in the external.
If you had all the funding in the world... tell me what the film would look like
With all the funding in the world we would make a feature film! I think this story will work really well as a short, but the stories and characters are rich and complex, and a feature-length screenplay would allow us to more fully flesh them out.
What are you hoping that cis filmmakers will learn from this film?
I hope that cis filmmakers will begin to take trans filmmakers seriously. If we're not completely invisible to the cis film world, we are certainly marginalized and are rarely invited to the creative table. Films like Flock will show that we deserve to be in the room, especially when trans content is being created.