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'THE CHUNTA' TRANSFORMS TRADITION
In January each year, men gather in Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico, and dress up as women in a decades-long tradition and celebration.
It's been mostly straight men, although transgender women and gay men have started to assemble at the festival called the Fiesta Grande, an aspect of the story that led Portland filmmaker Genevieve Roudané to make the documentary film "The Chunta," which makes its U.S. premiere at the Portland Film Festival.
The film is part of the festival's opening night, Tuesday, Oct. 23, and the fest continues through Oct. 28 at the new Custom Blocks theater venue, 920 S.E. Main St. It's part of the event's LatinX programming, which features gender-bending work by filmmakers.
Roudané's film documents the transformation into the female character "the chunta," following two gangs of gay/transgender dancers as they race to prepare for the big night while contending with tradition and belonging.
Originally from Minnesota, Roudané lived in Mexico for eight years. She learned about Fiesta Grande while making friends and joining Mexico's equivalent of the LGBTQ community where she lived; she identifies as queer, while also being married to a man.
Roudané attended the festival, which opened her eyes.
"It's this incredible time of year where everyone is celebrating, everyone is joyous, but it's an unusual tradition where men dress as women," she says. "Locally, they don't like to compare it to Carnivale or Mardi Gras, but it does have things in common with those events.
"I started going year after year and attended it for eight years in a row when living down there. ... I felt so attracted to that world. For two weeks you can be who you are and break barriers of gender. It's a safe space for them. I fell in love with that."
She says about 1 million people, mostly Mexican and from the state of Chiapas (which borders Guatemala), attend the event.
"The tradition itself is not gay; it's mostly straight men who cross-dress as part of the tradition," Roudané adds. "I don't know where it comes from. The dates when the festival happens means it's kind of a New Year's celebration. It's fun, but it's also serious and religious. The main saint they're worshipping is St. Sebastian, who's coincidentally the patron saint of the gay community. But it's not why they're worshipping."
"The Chunta" follows gay and trans women who want to be part of the festival, but it's done in a light-hearted way. "It's such a fun story," Roudané says.
The 62-minute film was released in Spanish and premiered at Mexico's national theater and screened around the country. It also has been shown in Argentina, Peru and Spain. The English language premiere screened in Stockholm, Sweden, at its Latin American Film Festival.
Roudané met and married a man from Mexico. She's actively involved in the Portland film community. She's co-leader of the local chapter of the Portland Film Fatales.
She moved to Portland a year and a half ago. Roudané lived here years ago while attending Reed College.
While living in Mexico, "we had always wanted to move back to the States," she says. "(Mexico) is a difficult place to build a career. I'm 32, loving Portland, and I came back to grow professionally."
It's Roudané's first feature film, and she's happy to show a positive story about Mexico.
"The news we get about Mexico is often focused on violence and negative stereotypes, and this blows it out of the water," she says. "In the movie, we have men embroidering amazing gowns. There's spirituality. So many angles to it.
"And, when you hear about the gay/trans community, you hear tragedy, murder — this is a triumph. They're able to build a safe space for themselves. They love it. 'We're going to triumph.' We need a little bit of that in the queer communities."
"The Chunta" screens at 5:45 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Custom Blocks, 920 S.E. Main St.
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