San Francisco Transgender Film Festival screens trans & gender-non-conforming resilience

Due to the pandemic, the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival (SFTFF) is returning as an online event.

On Nov. 11-14, SFTFF will showcase 42 feature-length and short films in seven different programs promoting the trans-gender and gender-variant community and culture.

“I always think our film festival is more of a 1980s independent music label, seeking out the gems found on the margins,” said Shawna Virago, SFTFF Artistic Director. “We consciously hold space for more films off the mainstream track.”

Virago is a writer, musician, and activist. She has served as Artistic Director since 2003; her responsibilities range from selecting the films and videos to organizing the event and coordinating the volunteers.

PrideIndex interviewed Ms. Virago via email. She talks about the importance of this festival, how the festival has changed in light of the pandemic, and what the future holds. 

SHAVING SHORN Photo Courtesy of Lorin Murphy, Director

PrideIndex (PI): How did the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival come about?

Shawna Virago (SV): My friends Christopher Lee and Alex Austin started the festival in 1997 and were originally called Tranny Fest. I became the Artistic Director in 2003. We are the world’s first and longest-running transgender film festival. The festival started because no one was putting our stories on screen.

JTHIII Photo Courtesy of Alan Amaya, Director

PI: Talk about the film selection process. How does SFTFF balance its film offerings to include the entire transgender community?

SV: Nowadays, there are more transgender film festivals than when we started, and some of them are more focused on commercially focused films. I always think our film festival is more of a 1980s independent music label, seeking out the gems found on the margins. We consciously hold space for more films off the mainstream track. We’re a politicized festival. We screen films that offer empowered visions for movement-building, social justice, and radical artistic visions. In some ways, we consciously hold space for movies that may expose white supremacy or police abuse in trans communities — so content matters a lot for us.

PI: Briefly describe some of the obstacles faced to get the festival off the ground since the Covid-19 pandemic altered in-person events; what was done to overcome those challenges?

SV: Last year, because of sheltering-in-place and the impact of Covid-19, we held the festival online, and this year we’ll be online again to make our film selections accessible to our communities. All our tickets start at $0 and are pay-what-you-can. Also, all films are closed-captioned for Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences. 

LITTLE SKY Photo courtesy of Jess X. Snow, Director

PI: Tell us more about the films and genres that will be screened this year. What can viewers expect from the filmmakers?

SV: This year’s festival features seven different programs that illustrate our curatorial vision, which tends toward the intersectional, experimental, and non-linear. We have thrillers, documentaries, music videos, and rom-coms. Viewers will see trans and gender-non-conforming communities’ resilience, strength, talents, street smarts, sass, sexuality, friendship, and courage.

PI: What is the one thing you hope to accomplish with the festival year after year? 

SV: I think people of all genders can enjoy the festival and have a good time, and even though our aesthetic might be a little edgier than some festivals, we also want lots of people to view the films of talented filmmakers.

NIMZO Photo Courtesy of Adelina Anthony, Director

PI: What do you have in store for the festival’s 25th anniversary next year? Anything that our readers can look forward to in 2022?

SV: Historically, it’s an in-person event where we can safely gather in our communities. Whether we meet in person or online, for our 25th anniversary, we’ll continue embracing under-represented voices, DIY-aesthetics and showcase truly brave filmmaking and films with super-queer quirkiness and lots of innovation.

PI: Is there anything else you would like to add?

SV: Thanks for the great interview! People can go to our website,, to see the full festival lineup of programs and films and how to get tickets. You can also find SFTFF on our social media channels: FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube.