The documentary, “Before the Last Curtain Falls”, directed by Thomas Wallner, is not your average documentary. It is a moving film that goes beyond telling a story, and emotionally impacts anyone who watches it. Wallner has not only found, but gracefully told the stories of a transsexual female and six drag queens who are now all in their sixties or seventies. These seven individuals, all European, have found each other by preforming a cabaret show together called Gardenia, and they have all been on tour together for the past 2 years. The film circles in and surrounds itself around the shows final performance. The movie takes off with a brief introduction to each of the individuals starring in the show, and a clip of the show itself. The film mirrors that of their cabaret show, beginning with the opening clips of the show and concluding with the finale. Wallner creates a parallel for his audience between the show and the real life transitions each of the performers’ went through in their lives from being born male and identifying as a female. Throughout the film the audience is exposed to more and more personal aspects of these individuals lives, which allows the audience to build a connection with, and respect for, these performers. It is obvious that these individuals challenge the notion of hegemonic masculinity through their choice of lifestyle, and it is extremely refreshing to witness. Like the cabaret show, directed by Alian Patel and Frank van Laecke, the film builds. It starts with the image you would receive from each individual if you did not know them very well, but as the film progresses it is revealed how each as struggled and some have even been ostracized by their families or loved one because of their sexual orientation. Race does not have a very large role in this theme, however gender obviously has an overwhelming presence and it is refreshing to see this open minded and courageous approach to gender.
It is clear that gender is something that all the stars of this documentary take very personally, however it is obvious that the social constrictions that have been known to come with gender have greatly influenced and upset several of the members of the cast. Vanessa Van Durme, a transsexual female, has a leading role in Gardenia and is one of the most confident members starring in this film. One extremely striking scene took place while director, Thomas Wallner, is interviewing Vanessa and begins inquiring about her childhood and life before she made the transition to female. He asks her what her name was before she had her surgery, at this question you watch Vanessa become very emotional and upset; she expresses how much she dislikes this question because she was never truly that person with that name. She asks Wallner to not ask her questions surrounding this topic because it is “someone she hardly knew”. Including this scene in the final copy of the film was a bold but powerful move by Wallner. It is a scene that truly opens the audience’s eyes up to the emotion and extreme feelings of discomfort that one goes through when they do not feel right in the skin in which they are born, and how society has created this mold of how people should behave and how truly challenging and impressive it is to break this mold.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my Reelout experience! I found that the film I watched took a very different direction than I had predicted and I was very taken aback by how moved I was by this particular film. I am honestly grateful that I chose to take this course because it has opened up my eyes already in so many ways and I think in order to grow as a person, everyone should have that opportunity. Reelout is a film festival that I probably would not have attended on my own, outside of the requirements for this class, but after attending it once I believe that I will look for more opportunities to attend similar festivals. I also noticed how diverse the audience was; there were people of all different ages, races, and genders which was really nice to see. The community and overall feel of the festival was extremely welcoming and friendly. I was greeted by almost every single person who was working the festival, which made it a very pleasant experience. I think Reelout is a fantastic way to introduce people to the realities of the LGBT community.