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IDFA 2021

Samira Elagoz • Director of and performer in Seek Bromance

"I wanted to make a real story where the trans protagonists are complex and troubled, progressive and admirable, problematic and relatable"

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- We discussed trans-masculinity and performative cinema with the director and protagonist of the cinematic performance

Samira Elagoz • Director of and performer in Seek Bromance

Finnish-Egyptian artist and performer Samira Elagoz merges the theatrical and the cinematic in his works that revolve largely around sexuality and gender. While his previous works explored cis-men and masculinity in its different forms from an outside position, his latest work Seek Bromance [+see also:
interview: Samira Elagoz
film profile
]
– an intimate video journal, a multimedia happening and essay – changes the vantage point as Elagoz captured his own transition and "a relationship between three lovers, the camera being one of them." We talked with him at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

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Cineuropa: Your latest work Seek Bromance remains partially in the line with your previous project Craigslist Allstars [+see also:
trailer
interview: Samira Elagoz
film profile
]
and the larger umbrella of Strangers Project but takes a very intimate turn. When and how did this happen?
Samira Elagoz: Craigslist Allstars featured 15 men, Cock, Cock Who's There? 68, Seek Bromance features only one. My previous works were about first encounters. The subjects came and went quickly and therefore remained more static. This time I spent three months with someone, an artist and trans guy called Cade Moga.

When I was planning this work, I knew I wanted something more lasting, and more collaborative. When before I filmed completely random people, now I wanted to work with artists whose work I appreciate, and with whom I felt some type of connection. And most importantly, who are directors, but also performers in their work, as that's what I am. I was curious what tone and style and performance would come about when both people inside the frame had that type of awareness of the camera. Will we strive for authenticity, or highlight moments of performance?

So yeah, the plan was to meet several artists and the project was going to be an exploration of different notions of togetherness. However, when 2020 hit and I finally had the time to start this project, two major things occurred - a global pandemic that prevented travel to most of the collaborators I was to stay with. And, I finally admitted to myself I was not happy in my presentation of identity and started to transition as trans masculine. 

Seek Bromance is defined as "a cinematic performance." How does reality intertwine with performance here?
I actually think it's the other way around this time. Performative cinema. This work is 95% film, with some live monologue. Seek Bromance is an almost 4h saga, a real trans romance situated at the end of the world. It shows a relationship between two trans-masculines who met during the pandemic, who both have a history of performing extremely feminine characters but who have very different attitudes as to what masculinity can be.

As someone who made their personal transition and love story into a work, I found it crucial to be present in front of the audience, even though my appearance on stage is minimal. This work is as much about transformation as heartache, I found it makes it more real if I'm there. The length was very much experimental, and I was not sure it would carry, but so far the consensus is that I should not cut anything. The topic of trans masculinity is so rarely talked about that I guess I felt the need to have it be expansive. Besides, there are many 3h war movies by cis men, this will serve as a nice contrast.

How did you approach the question of authorship?
I introduced the concept and the footage was collaborated on together. But I edited all the material into its final form.

In your works, you explored conventional perceptions of "man meets woman," female sexualisation and loneliness. Did these motifs change with the shift to a trans-masculine point of view?
I set out to make a work that I needed to see while struggling with my gender. I wanted to make a trans work where it's not about educating cis people or being shiny positive examples, but a real story, where the trans protagonists are complex and troubled, progressive and admirable, problematic and relatable. Where they are rebels, lovers, creators. And for me, at this moment, the most political thing I could do as a trans artist was to cinematically show love towards another trans person.

Trans characters in the media have often been depicted as lonely outliers, some exceptional figures detached from the people around them. In this movie, though, I didn't want to explain our gender and identities to the audience, but rather show how we do that to each other, from one trans person to another, where it's not about justifying our existence but about sharing our process.

Seek Bromance also resembles an artistic as well as a social experiment. What did you take out of the explorations of the integral dynamic between masculinity and femininity?
Like in all my work, life happens first, then I make something out of it. That's why I work without a script so that there is unpredictability. Transitioning is like editing. You don't know immediately what you are building. But when you look back on it and start to get some perspective you can see how these steps were made in the corner of your eye. You don't know the thread of the story until the end.

For any test audience who has seen this, the most common comment is how it's so relatable. This is really quite interesting to me, cause, to be honest Cade and I have quite unusual stories which I'm sure are not that recognisable. But fundamentally, heartache is heartache, whatever gender you are. So although it's a trans work, it does seem to evoke something in cis people. And if I make even a few audience members reconsider their gender, or how they relate to trans people, I feel I succeeded.

Do you plan the continue with your Strangers Project?
I find it endlessly fascinating to work without a script and with people I've never met before. While my work has been about filming other people, in the end, it always felt more about my own experiences, about documenting a significant period in my life, when I was figuring something out about myself. The charm of my transition and its enigmatic lesson are that nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.

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