The Stroll - BFI Flare Film Review
Mar 14, 2023
Kristen Lovell and Zackary Drucker
Opening 2023 BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival is Kristen Lovell’s The Stroll, after its successful premiere at Sundance Film Festival. The Stroll is a documentary that highlights the history of New York’s Meatpacking District and the transgender sex workers who lived and worked there. Filmmaker and co-director Kristen Lovell reunites her community of transgender and non-binary sex workers in her beautifully crafted debut film and in conversation, they recount the violence, homelessness and gentrification they overcame to continue to build a movement for transgender rights. This is the deeply personal and direct story of these transgender women of colour, including Lovell herself, in their own words.
This is a New York City unseen, yet it has always been there. Society shunned and discriminated against the transgender community out of the workforce, leaving them to turn to sex work to survive. “The Stroll” itself is so-described as it is a strip of 14th Street in Lower Manhattan in the Meatpacking District where transgender sex workers lived, worked, loved and died from the 1970s until the early 2000s. Trans women of colour and trans sex workers had a pivotal role in the LGBTQ+ rights movement, particularly in the United States and these women who created history now reunite to tell their own story.
Throughout the film, viewers are hit with a flush of images of a world that no longer exists, as heavy policing, violence against trans women and mass gentrification have ripped apart and rebuilt Manhattan as it is seen today. The film is an eye-opening insight into a generation lost to a lack of acceptance, but also how a community continues to come together to collaborate on a film where they can share their experiences and empower each other to embrace their history.
Despite deeply moving shared stories and experiences, humour is also injected throughout the documentary as every woman’s personality shines through as the best aspect of this film. From the way that they interact with each other, to their self-confidence and powerful stories, this lost community is brought to life. Brilliant animation facilitates story retelling too in some scenes, with viewers being given a true sense of what these individuals experienced and how they were neglected by the so-described ‘ruling classes’. Despite everything that these women have been through, today they are still able to live their authentic selves and it is very emotionally raw from all angles.
Many of these women have similar stories about being kicked out of their homes as teenagers, or having to run away to escape familial or religious violence. Plenty of them were also homeless, or assaulted, or imprisoned and disrespected by everyone they met. Yet, this is also a film that celebrates uniqueness and community despite difference. Despite adversity and being treated appallingly, the film shows how Kristen Lovell and her community of found family members continue to work as activists and support trans youth today.
Through this, they recognise and remember the trailblazers that came before them in their history, including prominent transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. These two women worked together to co-found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which helped homeless young drag queens, queer youth and trans women. The Stroll acknowledges their personal sacrifice and dedication to transgender rights in a beautiful way, as the women featured in this film still continue their work and help to house LGBTQ+ youth with a greater level of activism and financial donations. It is a beautiful legacy and testament to Marsha and Sylvia and their huge role in the transgender movement.
What makes The Stroll special is Kristen Lovell’s proximity to the documentary itself, as she also shares her story in her own way. The film conveys such a sense of collaboration and camaraderie, but also care in the way that each contributor is able to take ownership of their own story. It is a fantastic film to start 2023 BFI Flare with and well worth a watch.
To find out more about The Stroll and other films featured at BFI Flare 2023, see the BFI website or read more of our BFI Flare coverage at www.ukfilmreview.co.uk