BUBBY & THEM
Winner: EMERGING ARTISTS
Crew: Producers: Hazel Katz – Screenwriters: Je’Jae Daniels
When Je’Jae is kicked out of their home, attacked on the street, and ostracized by religious leaders, adoptive grandmother Bubby Razi provides a space of refuge and resilience.
Hazel Katz’s short videos focus on trans experience, employ found footage archives, and use essayistic storytelling. Her 2017 short film, Bubby & Them is a docufictional short about the relationship between two liminal members of the Orthodox Jewish community: Je’Jae Daniels, a trans college student, and Razi, their adoptive grandmother. In 2018, she finished Florida Water, her first feature length documentary, a verité film about the challenges of aging in a rural working class retirement community in central Florida. Hazel’s art practice includes her youth media work. She is lead media educator at Global Action Project, a grassroots organization that cultivates and trains youth from low-income, new immigrant, and LGBTQ communities to tell innovative stories that promote and amplify movements for social justice. She has produced videos in collaboration with community groups including Equality for Flatbush, BYP100, and Picture the Homeless. Her films have been shown on public TV and festivals internationally, and her short film Acting Erratically recently won top experimental film at Art of Brooklyn Film Festival. Hazel recently completed a yearlong collaborative residency at UnionDocs and is currently pursuing an MFA at Hunter College.
I met Je’Jae in a mentorship program for young filmmakers. We were paired together and I supported Je’Jae in producing Mx. Enigma, a personal essay video about their intersectional experience of queer trans arab orthodox Judaism. The project was a success, winning an award at the BRIC youth media film festival in New York. It was both a joyous and challenging experience for both of us and we decided to work on a more robust project together, borne out of themes explored in Mx. Enigma and Je’Jae’s idea for a web series about living with their adoptive grandmother, Bubby Razi. With Bubby and Them, Je’Jae and I wanted to push our eclectic formal style further and provide just enough of a narrative structure for the audience to feel Je’Jae’s trauma of growing up trans in an orthodox Jewish world. We started from the following question: how do we communicate the trauma of systemic transphobia and religious intolerance without continuing to populate the image economy with scenes of trans suffering? We sought to communicate that Je’Jae’s inner power is already a happy ending and that there’s no amount of overcoming or coming out that they need to do in order to prove their humanity. Narratively we drew inspiration from the telenovela, romantic comedy, and erotic thriller— pop genres dominated by straight hetero stories of love and loss—in order to foster an uncanniness growing out of a familiar mold. I was also influenced by queer science fiction narratives whose characters’ inner struggles are externalized through magical transcendence, often through humor, sarcasm, and irony. Magical images, like the green-screen scenes in Bubby and Them give straight audiences a visual metaphor for trans and POC resilience while keeping the public at a distance from stories that aren’t theirs. We were able to accomplish these narrative goals through formal experimentation: usage of video art (a historically queer style), non-linearity, and traditional verite nonfiction scenes. There are too many movies about trans experience that recapitulate caricatures of trans femmes as pathetic sexual deviants who are criminally insane and have endogenous schizoid personalities that swing back and forth erratically from binary poles of masculine and feminine. Trans femme characters are routinely killed, institutionalized, or “cured” as the resolution of the movie. In Bubby and Them, we felt strongly about creating a story that speaks back to this type of representation without assenting to visibility as a solution-in-itself. Jewish texts that have historically spoken truth to power inspired us to move beyond a frame of realist documentary to a drama of superhuman righteousness.