Queer Life

An Interview With Milwaukee Filmmaker Ashley Altadonna

-by Paul Masterson

Ashley Altadonna graduated from the University of Wisconsin. She has produced numerous short films including “Whatever Suits You”, an autobiographical film about her transtion. “Whatever Suits You” was recently shown at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival as well as at the 2006 Seattle Transgendered Film Festival. It will be playing in the Milwaukee LGBT Film and Video Festival in September.

PM: Ashley, as a transgendered woman, how would you describe yourself?

AA: I’m a transgender, transsexual, lesbian, bi-sexual, femme feminist.

PM: That covers a lot. As a feminist, people might presume you’re a militant.

AA: I’m an activist, but it’s a misconception that feminism is militant. It should be for everyone. The separations in the queer community are due to misconceptions and the disassociation of older activists. They’re trying to maintain the gender binary and its definitions. The result is false perceptions. People impose preconceived notions on what transgender should be.

PM: Have you been accepted in the lesbian feminist circle?

AA: Trans-men are well received in the lesbian community but trans-women aren’t – even if they consider themselves lesbian. For example, my partner, another woman, and I were denied admission to a lesbian event at Pridefest 2006.

PM: Because you’re trans?

AA: Yes. It has to do with trying to maintain gender norms like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival that denies trans-women. Transgender people throw that off balance and force society to question gender definitions. Exclusion only shows their need to define their specific “woman”.

PM: It must be frustrating to transition and be scorned by your new gender as if you’re trespassing. Are you angry?

AA: The result can be anger – on both sides. Anger can be good as motivation but it needs to be used for positive change and not simply for it’s own sake.

PM: So what about your films? You just returned from the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, where “Whatever Suits You” was shown. How was it received?

AA: It was great and a real learning experience. It’s interesting, San Francisco placed my film in the “bi” category. Another film was pulled because it was considered “transphobic”. There were protesters on both sides. Some protested censorship, others the film itself. Censorship is tricky – calling something offensive requires weighing the piece’s merits against the rationale of the offense.

PM: Will you be in the Milwaukee LGBT Film/Video Festival?

AA: Yes, “Whatever Suits You” shows on September 8th, opening for an amazing documentary called “Red Without Blue”. I’ll also be at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center in December. I’ll be producing three films for that show. I’d love to be in the Milwaukee International Film Festival. My distributor, Altcinema, is working on it.

PM: So, what about your style? How do you approach filmmaking?

AA:I do videos, preferably in black and white. Adding color to a film is another aesthetic choice, like lighting. I try to shoot video that looks like film. I like the grainy quality that film has that video doesn’t. Film has a different aesthetic.

Videos are crisp with defined visibility that can be used in good ways but film has a much more painterly quality- pointillism to the enth-degree. The grain on celluloid is like a photograph. As a culture we’re not quite used to perfect images.

Video is so much more advanced, but it’s cold. The trend is that film will become archaic and replaced by video – they’re cheaper too. Movie-goers are going to regret it as video becomes the norm.