By David-Elijah Nahmod, September 2015 Issue.
With DYLAN, a short documentary about a transgender man’s personal journey, filmmaker Elizabeth Rohrbaugh seeks to demystify what it means to be trans.
Based on an interview with real life transman Dylan Winn Garner, the straightforward film follows Dylan (portrayed by New York performance artist Becca Blackwell) as he “explains his story, his exploration in the trans community, his family’s acceptance of his identity, and his physical and emotional transformation,” according to dylanmovie.com.
When viewers first see Dylan, he’s riding an elevated subway train in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rohrbaugh follows him as he walks from the train station to the beach a few blocks away. He tells the audience stories from his life – from his first sexual encounter with a woman, prior to his transition, to his intense love affair with a somewhat-confused transman – which culminate with a newfound freedom in self-love and acceptance.
The message of DYLAN is simple: transgender individuals are regular people trying to find themselves just like everyone else.
“I originally wrote the script for DYLAN as part of a documentary theater writing workshop that was being taught by Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank of The Exonerated,” Rohrbaugh told Echo. “We were tasked to do a long, in-depth interview and then edit that down into an artful monologue.”
Dylan, the subject of that interview, was a childhood friend of the filmmaker who, at that time, had recently come out as a transman.
“I thought his story would make an interesting piece,” Rohrbaugh said. “He was my only friend to have had this kind of life experience at the time. I was so happy with the final writing piece but didn’t think to turn it into a film until about a year ago.”
In her director’s statement, Rohrbaugh talks openly about her casting the role of Dylan.
“My first instinct was to cast a man in the role but was not sure if that was really the correct choice,” she explained. “Through a friend of a friend I was introduced to Becca Blackwell, an incredible transgender performer out of NYC. When speaking to Becca, we discussed casting the role and they told me that if there was one thing a man could never understand, it was what it was like to want to be a man. That statement resonated with me. Becca is a superb actor who took this role and performance very seriously.”
Rohrbaugh explained her choice to shoot DYLAN on location at Coney Island, Brooklyn’s iconic beachfront amusement area.
“Coney Island was a perfect place to film this because of its quintessential New York City association and its natural connection to nature through the ocean,” she said. “I was looking for Dylan to remove layers of clothing throughout the piece as he is shedding layers of baggage to reveal his true identity.”
The film’s dramatic impact comes from its simplicity; something Rohrbaugh has spent years perfecting. The Emmy winner worked at MTV for 10 years and is currently working with Logo TV.
“I hope that the message of self-discovery and acceptance will be embraced by all different communities,” Rohrbaugh said. “I hope that young people who are trans or questioning will feel embraced by this film. I would like them to know that there are people who care about them and that the transition process, while challenging, will ultimately be worth it in the end.”
To view DYLAN, visit vimeo.com/channels/staffpicks/110822721.